What do all these companies have in common: L’Oreal, Pepsi Cola, Google, Nike, Paypal, Subway and Nissan? They all changed their names at some point in their corporate history (the above companies were once known as Cosmair, Brad’s Drink, Backrub, Blue Ribbon Sports, Confinity, Peter’s Super Submarines and Datsun). Sometimes names are changed to create distance from the past and poor public images. Sometimes names are changed to better conform to the products or mission of the present and future. Oftentimes names are changed simply to be provocative, creating interest by “rebranding” in some clever way.
The church that I am blessed to pastor is contemplating a name-change. This discussion has begun due to logistics – our sign blew over in a storm a number of months ago and needs to be replaced; if we were to change our name, now would be the time. This opportunity to rename the church has begun a dialogue which touches on all the above matters: we’ve discussed whether or not we need to distance ourselves from the ‘negative’ image the name Baptist presents to some in our community; we’ve talked about what sort of title would best describe our mission in the community in which God has planted us; we’ve voiced concern that we may simply be trying to ‘catch lightning in a bottle’ and rebranding solely to be clever.
All these streams of conversation are important in discovering God’s will in this decision. Some in our community equate ‘Baptist’ with legalism and intolerance; others find identity in the title. Is there a better term which would clearly present our theological distinctives without incurring unnecessary ‘baggage” over words? It is important to recognize and reflect our purpose in Christ. Is there terminology we could embrace that would better express our mission – Ashmont Evangelical Church, Calvary Gospel Fellowship, Dorchester Community Church? We also need to manage our expectations. How do we avoid simply changing our signs without changing our sights (after all, is there any value in identifying a new name if we are unwilling to identify with the new name)?
“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:26c (NIV)
This reminds me of a story I once heard about a businessman who needed his suit cleaned for a business meeting later that day. He searched online for a dry cleaner which could satisfy his needs and chose “One-Hour Cleaners”, which was not far from his hotel. When he went to the storefront, he told the guy at the counter that he needed the suit cleaned by 2PM, allowing 3 hours for the job to be completed. “We can’t do that,” the clerk said. “But you are a one-hour cleaner….” “Oh”, he said, “That’s just the name that came with the building. We don’t really do that.”
The last thing we need is for someone to get the wrong idea about who we are, what we are and why we are where we are. Our name ought to reflect who we really are – not what we once were or what we hope one day to be. That goes for churches and that goes for church-goers. We ought to be what our name implies, whether we are called Baptist, Evangelical, Bible-Based, Gospel-Centered or whatever else fits on a church sign. Now, if you have any suggestions for a pithy way to express all that, please let me know.