What's In a (Church) Name?
Our historic church finds renewed meaning in a new name (and in the slow process of changing it).

Gordon MacDonald told us a while back that the church he serves was considering changing its name. It has finally happened. His account of a 180-year-old congregation's year-long wrestling with its identity is amusing and instructive. Read on.

About a year ago I filled some of this space with comments about changing a church's name. At the time our New England congregation (Baptist in background) was thinking about exchanging its 180-year-old name for something more adaptable to the times. I invited comment from all my readers. And all four of you wrote to me. (Just fooling). Actually, there were a significant number of responses.

Many e-mails were thoughtful and gave evidence that people had done their homework and accumulated useful insight about how and why a church's public moniker ought to be reappraised occasionally and sometimes changed. One or two respondents trumped me by writing that if I prayed more, Jesus would provide the name since it is his church.

A name is important. It can say something about who you are or who you want to be.

There are name-changes throughout the Scriptures. Jesus renamed Simon Peter in order to map out his journey to maturity. The early church called Joseph of Cyprus Barnabas because he was a fountainhead of encouragement. And Saul of Tarsus became Paul in order to contextualize himself in the Greek-speaking world.

I'm one who believes a church name ought to arouse curiosity, reflect congregational character, or provide some sense of meaning as to why a church or organization exists. My opinion? First Baptist Church doesn't cut it any longer. And most of our people agreed - some enthusiastically; others with a compliant shrug of the shoulders.

Our people studied church names and the stories of name changes all across the country. Some stories they collected ended well; others reflected the anguish a congregation can go through when a few become determined to fight change of any kind. Here in this church we're New Englanders, the people who didn't go west many decades ago when Horace Greeley suggested it. Those who did embrace change left us and moved to California. We who stayed behind continued to love our stained-glass windows, our pipe organs, and our hard wooden pews. Why should it surprise you, then, that name changes come hard?

It was a big day when our leaders unanimously affirmed their desire to go for a change. It was an even bigger day when we identified a name that every one liked. It just popped up in conversation. I'm not sure that any of us remember who had the idea. Jesus, perhaps! When we first heard it, we raised holy hands and said in concert, "That's it!" And we stopped looking. The name we picked was CenterPoint Church. It grabbed us, and it offered a meaning that we quickly embraced.

December 07, 2006

Displaying 1–7 of 7 comments

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April 29, 2010  12:50pm

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Andrew Zoppelt

March 25, 2009  8:30pm

I woke up in the middle of the night (1 am 3/20/09) and the Lord spoke to me these words, "I am bringing down all the names that man has put on my body" Naming something does several things: it gives identity and it shows difference. It the case of naming churches etc., it robs Jesus of His glory and mixes in ANOTHER name besides His and it thus adds confusion to the mix: "Which church or which movement is right?" if this doesn't send confusion throughout the nations, I would like to know what does? Where do we get the freedom to divide and name our special groups? It is heresy! I saw this heresy shortly after I gave my life to the Lord and have been troubled over our justifications and blindness ever since. How could anyone miss such an obvious gargantuan sin? John 17 without a doubt is the strongest prayer that Jesus ever prayed. So what revelation do we have that is so important to divide and name His body? We are the called-out ones, but not called out from one another. Be assured, division is not of God. Naming our ministries for our exclusive use is not of God. Calling the ekklesia a building is not of God. The name church is not of God. Clergy/laity is not of God. Don't tell me that you know the church is the people, the next time you take a collection for the church, where does the money go? "For where two or three are gathered together IN MY NAME, I am there in the midst of them." Matt 18:20, NKJV Deut 28:10, "Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you." NKJV Deut 28:58, "that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD" NKJV Read http://www.therealchurch.com/articles/naming_his_church.html

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December 13, 2006  3:06am

You had a reason indeed. I was curious to understand why you changed the name, but I understood it. I think it is better like this, really.

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fresno dave

December 08, 2006  6:51pm

great story.. Thanks Gordon, you are a great inspiration. My pastor friend was able to swing First Baptist in his city (a church so traditional it's motto was "Oldest Church in California" !!). He navigated not only a style transition, but a name change...a great one: New Vintage...which with "Vintage" emaning something old but good...shows old and new can mesh even in a new name..That amazing story here.. Church website here.. The church I pastor is a five year old plant, so we got to choose name at the beginning: Third Day Fellowship of Fresno. We just this year took out the word "Fellowship," not because we don't believe in fellowship anymore...but because the words is kind of archaic...and it shows we are city-focused church...our version of Center-Point. So we are now Third Day Fresno...Church website here or our church myspace page here...doesn't every church have a myspace page??(:

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December 08, 2006  5:00am

Great stuff. The corporation I work for has changed its name not very long ago out of change in the market place and desiring to keep it's head above water by influence at any rate. Changing names as being descriptive; we all love the one Jesus used of Himself " Son of man." Gordon, perhaps you would have saved a lot of time and enjoyed the outcome as much if you all would have picked straws as some other Christians had years ago to replace an apostle.

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Rick Shott

December 07, 2006  6:26pm

Here I am a young pastor and we are having a board meeting. One member brings up that at one point in time the church was considering a name change. I stopped that by remembering that we are in a small town. Most farms are remembered by their ORIGINAL owners not the current ones. A name change would be fairly futile, our best way of reaching the community is to become more like Jesus in a very public way. There are times when it just does not matter. I hope that there are good changes happening to back up the name change lest its meaning is only semantical. All the name changes accompanied a change in attitude or direction in life. It sounds like this New England congregation is doing that. May God bless you for it. @Kent - that is priceless with the mistakes in your church name. I loved it.

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Thomas R.

December 07, 2006  2:32pm

I pastor a "Baptist" church and we are doing well being a "Baptist" church. I do not intend to propose a change in the church's name. I have been blessed, with God's help, to lead members in refocusing their spiritual energies and visions on the mission of the church - bringing in and building up souls for the kingdom. In 5 years, we have accomplished much - and we didn't change our name. Here's my intepretation of Jesus' plan for bringing people into the church - GO TO WHERE THEY ARE AND ASK THEM TO FOLLOW YOU. They will come - come to see a Man whose name has remained the same for over 2000 years - JESUS! Don't change the name to attract people to your church. Just go to where they are and invite them to come.

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