Screven Memorial Baptist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire—New England's oldest Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) congregation—has become Seacoast Community Church, joining a trend of seeking new attendees by dropping a denominational label.
Although there are more Baptist churches than any other Protestant denomination, these days Seacoast has joined an even larger group: churches with the word community in their name. That is now America's most popular ecclesial "denominator."
"We didn't drop our denominational label to be trendy," says pastor Ed Parker. "We asked if our name helped or hindered us with our vision, which is to reach unchurched people. Our old name hindered us in a lot of ways."
Favored by a 3-to-1 margin in a random survey of non churchgoers, the new name has stimulated interest. Within six weeks, regular attendance rose 8 percent and weekly visitors jumped from a handful to 20.
Although the vast majority of denominational churches still keep the affiliation moniker, the trend to drop it has picked up steam recently in an effort to attract outsiders.
Ed Young, pastor of suburban Dallas's Fellowship Church, says changing the name from Los Colinas Baptist "is one of the greatest things we've ever done." Composed largely of baby boomers and busters, Fellowship has exploded to 7,300 from 150 when it opened in 1990.
"Most of our church wouldn't be here today if we had Baptist in the name," Young says.