What’s In A Name – Baptist Temple, Alexandria, Virginia

The Washington Post published an article entitled, “Shrinking Flock Examines Its Identity, Churches Renamed to Escape Stigma Some Say ‘Baptist’ Carries.” It’s an interesting read with too many issues to discuss here. There are various identifiable factors which led to a near demise of Baptist Temple in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s a dying church which opted for a name change as a strategy for broader appeal in its diverse cultural context. The article explores this strategy as an option for struggling churches. Schulte affirms the argument that denominational distinction in a church’s name is a hindrance or “turn off” in many communities. While I believe that denominational labels can negatively impact a church (I realized this when starting a church in Tampa, Florida in 1995) a name change strategy cannot be a church’s sole approach for growth and community identity. There’s a lot that goes into a name.

Let me explain. If you’re going to change your name to appeal to a broader audience, that’s an external change. The name change should reflect a previous internal change reflecting transformation in ministry models. You can’t just change your name and serve the same sub-standard ministry model and expect good results. A name change doesn’t earn community credibility; this stuff is earned through relevant ministry. If you change your name and don’t change your model, the attempt is seen more as a “hood winking” than a sincere attempt at relevance. If you change the name, you must change the way you do business.

To be brutally honest, some churches just need to die. Because of a set of circumstance both internal and external, congregations dwindle down to a few who continue on because they remember when. It’s time to wake up and recognize the new reality. Lock the door and turn off the lights for the last time. Give the property to another church or merge with another congregation, these are potentially promising options. Find a congregation with a vision for multi-site work or a plan to do something different than your current model. Sometimes hanging on (with a handful of members) because of sentimentality or a diehard mentality can do more damage for members and community witness than if they just “pulled the plug.”

After reading this article, I’m not certain Baptist Temple or Commonwealth Baptist Church will make it. There are too many issues here and people are not looking to connect with organizations that have lots of unresolved issues. People are looking for a place to help them resolve their personal concerns. Secondly, if it took this much energy to change the name, can you imagine what it will take to change the model?

2 thoughts on “What’s In A Name – Baptist Temple, Alexandria, Virginia

  1. Anonymous

    So, I’m a member of said Baptist Temple Church, also known as Commonwealth Baptist Church, was even quoted in the article in the Post. While I agree with some of what you’ve said, you have to change more than just your name to make a difference, I don’t agree with your other assumption that eludes to the fact that our church should just lock its door for the last time. If you knew the people of our church you would think differently. Our church has been struggling, as have many others. Should all of them just shut the door for the last time? Where would that put us? We would all be at some mega church, or perhaps, all churches would just cease to exist. If church, God and Jesus aren’t worth fighting for to keep your doors open, what is? What you fail to see with the article is that our church is committing to change, we are (and have been) out in the community. You’re post assumes that we’ve done nothing but just let ourselves shrivle up and die and that’s not true. Unfortunately we live in a world where too many other things take precedent over church with families – churches are competing with way too much.

    For the record, Baptist Temple, or Commonwealth Baptist, whatever we call ourselves will be here in the future – the people of the church believe in that church and it’s mission.

  2. Brad Hoffmann

    Hey, thanks for the post and know that my desire is for your church to flourish. As an author, researcher, and practitioner in this area, I’d say that the statistics are not in Baptist Temple’s favor. Becoming and being relevant in the surrounding culture and embracing change isn’t easy for established traditional congregations. What is relevant to a “church attender” isn’t relevant to a non-church attender. How much we’re willing to embrace change may not be enough change to engage the surrounding culture. In my experience, people are more apt to talk about change rather than demonstrate genuine change. Additionally, the change we are willing to make isn’t sufficient to realize a desired outcome.

    I do stand by my proposition that “sometimes” the best thing for a church to do is die in order to be resurrected. The death of an organization isn’t always a bad thing. Going through the motions to perpetuate an “idea” or “illusion” can do more harm than good. Baptist Temple/Commonwealth is not unique in this struggle. I don’t advocate mega churches. I promote culturally relevant entities relationally engaging a community by authentically living faith. The tendency in the mega concept promotes relational disengagement. I am a proponent of the multi-site model, but that’s another story.

    Is Baptist Temple/Commonwealth really willing to change? Has the willingness been demonstrated by substantive action? Real congregational change requires dramatic modifications in ministry models, methods, worship styles, leadership, etc. I don’t discount the busyness of your congregation; I would question the relevance of the activity. If Baptist Temple/Commonwealth was already culturally relevant, we wouldn’t be having this discussion nor would you have been down this path. People get involved and make time to get involved with what they perceive and receive as being of value and relevant. Sometimes we have to be willing to re-think church.

    I really do hope to hear a success story on Baptist Temple/Commonwealth. Prove the statistics wrong!

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