Continuing Discussion on Name Change

by Bob Thomason on December 03, 2023

Since our last Congregational Meeting, the Church Name Change Steering Committee has held two listening sessions on Sundays before and after worship. We received excellent feedback from a group of committed church members who love our church. Here is a summary of what we heard from them:

No one was dead set against changing our name but concerns fell into two categories:

  1. Removing “Baptist” from our name? and
  2. What will be our new name?

For perspective, those we heard from were lifelong Baptists with strong ties to the denomination as well as members who came from other denominations including UCC and Presbyterian.

Concerns about Removing “Baptist”:

  • If we change our name, what will ground us to our beloved Baptist principals? (e.g. religious liberty, free pulpit, soul competency, congregational authority, etc.) Changing the name opens the door to new leaders changing everything. 
  • Why can’t we focus on better educating prospective new members about what it means to be Baptist? 
  • Can we consult Bill Leonard again?

We responded to these concerns by noting that if a name change is approved by our Congregation nothing other than our name will change. All of our unifying and governing principals will remain the same including our Covenant, our polity, and in particular, Congregational authority. Should a new leader want to change any of these, Congregational approval would be required.

We agreed that we should proudly educate prospective new members about our Baptist background and beliefs. They are important to understand if someone is to know who we are. But this doesn’t mean the word “Baptist” has to be in our name. Surveys show our name prevents most prospective new members from ever considering us. In other words, keeping the name “Baptist” means fewer prospective members. We can’t educate people who will not even visit us (in person or online).

Our committee is open to consulting with Bill Leonard again, but he stated where he stood on the issue at a Talkback this summer. His message then and in an article he wrote just afterwards for a major Baptist publication is that any Baptist church thinking about changing its name should be sure it has educated its members in Baptist history, theology, and practice. We have done a good job of this in the past and perhaps should do more now but we can’t educate people who will not visit us because of our name. And long term members know from experience that people will not tolerate a lecture on Baptist history when we try to convince them to visit our church. Only a small subset of folks who might want to join will take the time and do the work to learn Baptist history. Our committee remains convinced that our name is a major hurdle for most prospective new members, particularly younger ones.

Concerns Expressed about Selecting a New Church Name:

  • Name changes are sometimes desperate attempts to cure larger systemic problems. We need to make sure we do not lose focus on who we are vs. what we call ourselves.
  • Can we include something in our name that helps define who we are such as “Affirming” or “Ecumenical?”
  • What about a tag line? Can we restore “An Ecumenical Church in the Baptist Tradition” - a tag line we used when Steve Shoemaker was here? Or one that includes welcoming and affirming language?

Our committee is in complete agreement that changing our name is not a magic bullet and will not fix any internal issues we may have. We must continually focus on making sure our church is well run and that we are making steady progress on our Forever Forward strategic plan. The commenter was right: this is much more important than changing our name but our committee feels we need to do both.

It’s certainly possible to have a name that tells the world something about who we are. The most popular name from the 2022 survey was “Myers Park Community Church.” It tells us two things: our location and that community is our priority. Words like “ecumenical” and “affirming” are church words, the meanings of which may not be readily understood by the growing “spiritual but not religious” community who might be interested in a church like ours. We feel it’s best to avoid these insider terms in our name. On the other hand, we like the idea of a tag line as long as it does not include the word “Baptist” which, to most potential members, means “stay away.”

At one of our listening sessions and at the Congregational Meeting in October a question was raised about the legal issues surrounding a name change. Are there covenants or deed restrictions that might prevent us from changing our name? We already had an informal legal opinion that there were no such restrictions but since then we have formally hired a law firm to give our documents a more thorough review and issue a more formal opinion. We don’t yet have their final report but the initial review indicates there will be no issues.

Early next year we hope to conduct a Congregational Survey to learn where our entire church stands on removing “Baptist” from our name and to see which names have the most support. In the meantime our Committee will continue to listen to our members. Our next listening session will be held at the Southminster retirement community on December 20 at 3:00 pm in Great Room B. Members of our group look forward to meeting with many of our committed and long-term members there. If you are a resident at Southminster, please put this date on your calendar. No need for a reservation, just come and join us.

We will continue to report back to you on what we learn from our meetings.

Tags: identity, name change, identity crisis

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