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Baptists must understand what's in a name

January 30, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Before opening Real Life Community Church 10 months ago, Pastor Jim Chevalier did some research that suggested leaving the word Baptist out of the church's name might attract a new audience to church.

"We are reaching primarily unchurched people rather than people in church already. A lot of those folks would not go to a place that would have any denomination in it, not just Baptist," Chevalier said.

About half of the new churches within the Southern Baptist Congregation in the United States have chosen not to use Baptist in their name, said Jim Carpenter, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

The trend has been going on with Baptist churches for five to 10 years, Carpenter said.

Statistical research has shown that many people don't care about denominations anymore, he said.

"Some people resist denominations because they don't understand all of them. They throw up their hands in confusion," Carpenter said.

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Covenant Baptist has started five churches in the local area in the last five years - none of which had Baptist in the name, said Ron Larson, senior pastor at Covenant Baptist Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

They are Real Life, Crossroads Community Church near Falling Waters, W.Va., New Life Community Church in Inwood, W.Va., and Daybreak Community Church in Frederick, Md. The fifth one in Shannondale, W.Va., faded out after less than a year when it lost its leader and merged with a church in Winchester, Va., Larson said.

Pastors in the local Covenant network said some people associate the word Baptist with stereotypes such as narrow-minded, judgmental or anti-Disney.

Larson said 80 percent of the new Southern Baptist churches that started in Maryland last year didn't have Baptist in their name.

Like the newer churches, Covenant Baptist uses contemporary music and drama to teach the Southern Baptist doctrine during church services. Baptist remained in its name because it wasn't an issue 12 years ago when the Shepherdstown, W.Va., church started, Larson said. The church has about 1,300 active members.

Crossroads parishioner Gilbert Gross, 35, of Falling Waters, said Christ doesn't discriminate among denominations.

"Without the name it says that, that Christ is here for everybody, not just one denomination," said Gross, whose father was a Baptist minister.

The decision to drop Baptist from the name didn't occur without criticism.

When New Life Community Church started up in Inwood - without Baptist in the name, several parishioners at South Berkeley Baptist got upset, said Pastor Don Chandler.

Chandler referred his congregation to the Jewish teacher Gamaliel in the Book of Acts.

"If this is God's will, it's going to go and it's not going to hurt us. If it's not God's will, it's going to fail so let's not get upset about it," Chandler said.

Chandler said he sympathizes with his parishioners who are upset about the idea of the new church getting financial assistance from Baptist churches and not using Baptist in the name.

David Rasmussen, pastor at Greencastle Baptist Church in Pennsylvania, said he's not sure what's to be gained by leaving the denomination out of the name.

Some people unfamiliar with the church might wonder what the church's doctrine is, he said.

Pastors at the local Baptist churches that didn't include the denomination in the church's name said new parishioners are made aware the churches teach the Southern Baptist doctrine their first day at the church.

"We very much believe that the Baptist doctrine is a strong and secure doctrine," said New Life Pastor Jim Goforth.

The trend of going without Baptist in the name started several years ago with Saddleback Community Church in California and Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, Chandler said.

Those two churches draw 5,000 or 6,000 people to services so they must be doing something right, Chandler said.

Andy Russell, a parishioner at South Berkeley Baptist, said he doesn't like the idea of leaving Baptist out of the name.

"I just feel the other churches are ashamed of the Baptist name," said Russell, 64, of Inwood.

It's a "cop out" when people say they don't go to church because of denominational labeling, Russell said.

James Moore, pastor at Harvest Baptist Church in Hagerstown, said he sees some validity in leaving the denomination out to appeal to all people, but he prefers Baptist churches take a stand and keep it in the name.

"When people drop the name Baptist it really is a shame because they're dropping all the history that made us what we are," Moore said.

Pastor John Miller of Faith Christian Fellowship in Washington County said he received some criticism from other Baptist preachers over leaving Baptist out of the church's title when it started in June 1997.

"They labeled me as ecumenical, liberal, but that's OK because my devotion is to Christ and not to a man or a denomination," Miller said.

The congregation, which started with five families, has grown to about 120 people at Sunday services, which moved from the Ramada Inn to a church building in Williamsport.

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