Denominational names carry with them preconceptions about style, theology, and worship formats. Megachurches want to be judged by what they have to offer, not on the latest announcement by the denomination’s national office. … As such, many of the megachurches are functionally nondenominational; they hold both the national body and the denominational label and identity at arm’s length. (p. 27)
If you read the writings of Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church, you’ll find that he’s a very orthodox Southern Baptist. And yet, even though that church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, they never present themselves to the public as Baptists.
The rationale is not so much theological as marketing. The unchurched assume that Baptist Churches are for Baptists. They assume an LA (Los Angeles) Baptist church will think, worship, and act like an LA (Lower Alabama) Baptist church. Warren wants his church judged as a congregation, not as a branch office of his denomination. And there’s no arguing with the success of his approach.
It’s also important to realize that most Americans have very little loyalty to their denomination. Rather, we tend to think like consumers, comparing preachers, youth programs, and worship to “buy” the best church experience we can find with our time and tithes. As a result, even in the South, many people freely transfer among denominations.
My own congregation has members who’ve joined from Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, and Pentecostal churches. To many of them, this is not a change of denomination. It’s just finding a better congregation. (And, yes, we do teach them about baptism.)
I knew a man who moved several times out in the rural areas near here and found himself frequently transferring among Methodist and Baptist churches. He claimed to have been baptized four times! Evidently, the rural Baptist churches felt the need the wash the Methodism off him each time he saw the light and returned to the Baptist fold! But even the requirement to be re-baptized didn’t keep him from relocating his membership when a church down the road hired a better youth minister.
We live in a post-denominational world. People do not care about the doctrinal distinctives of each denomination. Rather, they just want a good place to raise their children and to serve Jesus.
In fact, many consider denominational labels indicative of divisiveness and fetishistic insistence on ancient disputes that just no longer matter. Therefore, any denominational label can be a problem.
Following this line of thinking, some Churches of Christ have dropped the “of Christ.” Some call themselves “the Northside Family of God.” Some of these add the tag line: “a church of Christ.” Most famously, the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ has become the Family of God at Woodmont Hills. The only thing on their web site identifying them with the Church of Christ is their copyright notice!
Should Churches of Christ drop the “Church of Christ” from their name? Here are the pros and cons I’ve heard–
* All denominational labels have negative connotations nowadays.
* In some communities, “Church of Christ” has particularly negative connotations. In some areas, it’s even associated with being a cult. Others associate the name with legalism and divisiveness.
* Insistence on a common name is ultimately denominational — indeed, the very definition of “denomination.” And we’ve always, proudly and correctly, insisted on avoiding denominationalism because denominationalism is divisive of the body of Christ.
* A more generic name makes the church seem more welcoming of those from other backgrounds.
* A change of name may well make us feel free to do things that Churches of Christ traditionally haven’t done but which we believe Christ has given us freedom to do. After all, we’ve eliminated the implicit promise that if you come here, we’ll act like a Church of Christ!
* The Churches of Christ are fiercely proud of the name and of being “of Christ.” Dropping “of Christ” will trigger resentment and even withdrawal by other Churches of Christ.
* People will assume that dropping the name is a step toward digressing from Church of Christ teachings. Hence, we’ll be presumed guilty of false teaching.
* The name helps visitors and newcomers to town locate us as a church that teaches what they believe. Dropping “of Christ” will reduce the number of newcomers to town, relocating from Churches of Christ, placing membership.
* In a post-denominational world, the name isn’t much of a barrier. Richland Hills Church of Christ is our largest congregation and they’ve kept the name.
(Ironic, isn’t it, that if one of our “nondenominational” congregations were to drop the name and list itself in the Yellow Pages under “nondenominational” rather than “Church of Christ,” many of us would consider them to have left the brotherhood! We can be such hypocrites!)
I’m not advocating that we all drop “Church of Christ.” However, I think there are unquestionably places and situations where the name gets in the way of church growth and — more importantly — evangelism. In any such a case, the name has to go! We cannot let pride and prejudice get in the way of bringing the lost to Jesus! It’s not even a close call.
Some churches may want to commission a survey or focus groups by a professional marketing firm to see whether the name hurts its outreach efforts.
You see, successful evangelism greatly outweighs such issues as peer pressure and group identity. I would suffer a thousand disfellowships from sister congregations to bring more souls to Jesus. After all, while I’d mourn the loss of the friendship of any sister congregations, losing their fellowship would not send them or us to hell. Failing to effectively seek and save the lost really does send people to hell. It’s really just that simple.