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Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) is embarking on a nine-month mission to change its name to Cru, years after its founder, Bill Bright, wondered whether the evangelistic ministry should alter the brand.

It's already a popular shorthand for the ministry, though other evangelicals often call it simply "Crusade," the half of its name that has caused it problems overseas. The word carries connotations to the Crusades, military conquests by European Christians intended to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslims in the 11th to 13th centuries.

"It's become a flash word for a lot of people. It harkens back to other periods of time and has a negative connotation for lots of people across the world, especially in the Middle East," said Steve Sellers, the CCCI vice president and U.S. national director who is leading the name change project. "In the '50s, crusade was the evangelistic term in the United States. Over time, different words take on different meanings to different groups."

The 60-year-old ministry is one of the largest evangelical parachurch organizations in the world, with about 25,000 staff members in 191 countries and $490 million in annual revenue. Founder Bill Bright always assumed it would become broader than its "campus" ministries at colleges and universities.

"There will be any number of people who will say, 'Finally, it's about time you changed your name.' On the other extreme, there might be people who have been part of the ministry who think, 'Oh, you've gone liberal. You've changed your mission,'" Sellers said. "We don't shy away from our desire to communicate the gospel."

With the name Crusade, Sellers said people might conjure images of people being forced into something.

"We think the name of Jesus and his love is the most attractive thing on the planet, and to do anything to make it seem forced or that we're trying to cram it down anyone's throat is just not necessary," Sellers said. "We're constantly trying to eliminate things that are a barrier or obstacle."

The change will be implemented in the United States, since leaders of the international ministries affiliated with CCCI operate as individual organizations. Sellers estimates that of the 191 country affiliates, 95 percent have already changed their name. Among them is the Canadian affiliate, which changed to Power to Change Ministries in 2007.

Bright, who founded the organization in 1951, brought up the question of changing the ministry's name to the board in the late 1970s and early '80s but never followed through. CCCI's board approved the decision to change the name two years ago. The staff began with a white board and considered 1,600 unique names, Sellers said.

"Since Cru began as a nickname at the local level in the mid-90s it has taken on much of the positive equity of the organization without any of the negatives," the organization said in a FAQ posted on its website. "Like Google, Starbucks, and other abstract names, we expect to fill Cru with meaning as it embodies all that we are as we go to the world with the gospel."

Campus Crusade is not the first organization to distance itself from the term. In 2000, Wheaton College removed its Crusader mascot and eventually became the Thunder. Only this year, the school unveiled a physical mascot, "Stertorous 'Tor' Thunder," a 2-person mastodon costume weighing 99 pounds (the largest mascot in the NCAA). In 2002, evangelist Billy Graham began using the word "mission" to describe what he always called "crusades." His son Franklin Graham and evangelist Luis Palau call their gatherings "festivals," while Greg Laurie uses "crusade."

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