On September 1, we gathered the leaders of First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, for an information meeting. We wanted to make sure we were all on the same page as we move into our fall season of ministry. Among the topics we discussed was a proposal to revisit the idea of changing the name of our church. Below is the information we distributed at the meeting that explains the timeline, possible next steps, and rationale for making a change.
Changing the name of the church
January 2013 – Jay Croteau recommended we consider dropping the word “Baptist” from the name of the church
Spring 2013 – the Deacon Board spent several months debating the question and suggesting possible alternatives. The consensus of the board was that we should move forward.
June 2013 – Pastor Mark made a brief presentation to the congregation on the issues related to the name of a church.
June 2014 – Church voted at the semi-annual meeting on whether or not to change the name. The vote was split—35 in favor; 34 against.
January 2015 – During the reading and discussion of The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, by James Emery White, it was recommended that we revisit the subject of changing the name.
Spring 2015 – The elders revisited the issue and felt we should move forward in presenting it to the church a second time.
June 2015 – Elders announced at annual meeting that we would have Q&A session in the fall 2015, with another vote at the annual meeting in January 2016.
Next steps (possible)
- Q&A session on Sunday, November 22, 6PM.
- Annual meeting, January 31, 2016. The church votes formally whether or not to change the name of the church. No alternative names would be suggested at this point. A “Yes” or “No” decision must be made before investing more time and energy.
- Assuming a “Yes” vote, alternative names will be suggested and proposed
- We could use a committee to develop suggestions
- We could allow the congregation to make recommendations
- We could implement a process to gradually narrow down the possibilities to the top two suggestions
- The church chooses between the top two candidates for the new name of the church
Why Change the Name of First Central Baptist Church?
What’s in a name? Does a name speak of values? Does it provide identity? Can a name be a stereotype? Can a name confuse people? Does there ever come a time when a name should be changed?
The idea of removing “Baptist” from our name was suggested at the annual meeting in 2013. The Deacon Board spent several months debating the issue and came to the consensus that it was worth considering. The congregation was split over the issue at the semi-annual meeting in June 2014. After revisiting the discussion, the elders felt we should ask the congregation to reconsider the issue.
The primary reason for changing the name is make us more effective in reaching the lost.
The meaning of a word changes over time. This is certainly true in the area of church and religion. At one point, “fundamentalist” signified those who held to the fundamentals of the faith. Now, the term suggests narrow minded extremists. “Evangelical” used to speak of one who held to the teachings of Scripture. The phrase is now associated with right wing politics.
At one time, the term “Baptist” referred to strong, Bible centered, sound doctrinal teaching. Today, it is often confused with narrow mindedness, legalistic practices, and fundamentalist, right wing politics.
In 2011, Lifeway Press published a report, “Study: Americans Have Mixed Impressions of Southern Baptists’ Identity.” It points out that 40 percent of the respondents have a negative view of the denomination based on the name alone. A website called adherents.com compiled numerous articles on why Baptist churches are changing their names. The overwhelming reason is the recognition that a label or brand name might be an unnecessary barrier that keeps people from attending.
In January 2015, 30 leaders of FCBC met to discuss the book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, by James Emery White. We realized that having the label “Baptist” in our name may be an unnecessary barrier that keeps people away from our church. Many may never darken our doorway simply because of our name.
While a mature Christian may look past the name to discover what the church believes, a non‑Christian may never give us the opportunity. If we want to reach mature Christians and good Baptists, then maintaining tradition, heritage, and current values will attract like-minded believers. If we want to attract non-Christians, immature believers, unchurched or unaffiliated, then removing any unnecessary barriers that keep people away is very important and appropriate. Rather than attract mature believers, we want to be more effective in reaching the lost.
A name should help us reach achieve our purpose and reach our target. Instead of helping us, we believe our name is hindering us.
A second reason for changing the name is in recognizing that God is doing a new work at First Central. In the Old Testament, God changed the name of Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah when he called them to follow him in faith. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and gave him new promises for the future. Simon become Peter when he encountered Jesus. After being transformed by his encounter with Christ, Saul became Paul.
While First Central has a strong heritage, we now have a new vision for ministry. We believe a new name will better position us for even more effective ministry.
A third reason for changing our name comes from recognizing what a name communicates. Most church names are composed of three parts. The first part is often a geographical location (Chicopee, Beaverton, Snohomish), region (Crossroads, Mid-Town, College), value (Hope, Victory, Fellowship, Grace), biblical place (Calvary, Bethlehem), or famous Christian (Judson). The second part is typically a value (Community), distinctive (Bible), or denomination (Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free). The third element generally describes the type of church (Fellowship, Church, Assembly, Congregation). Tying these elements together, the name of the church communicates who they are, what they believe, and what makes them distinct from another church down the street.
The name, First Central Baptist Church, came from the merger of two churches, First Baptist Church and Central Baptist Church. It communicated who we were at that time. As we move forward, we believe we need a name that communicates who we are today.