Joe Carter, our newest GetReligionista, referenced Southern Baptist name-change discussions in a post earlier this week. It's a topic that GetReligion has tackled a time or two before — or more. I bring up the subject again because I came across a fascinating Miami Herald news-feature this week with this headline:
For some Baptists, the name of the church is hindrance to saving souls
The top of the story:
After 87 years, the University Baptist Church of Coral Gables recently shed its name for something it felt was more forward looking — Christ Journey.
It was following the lead of First Baptist Church of Perrine, which dropped the name it had held for 89 years in favor of Christ Fellowship.
Coral Baptist Church of Coral Springs relaunched itself in 2006 as Church By the Glades.
And First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale is now known as “First Fort Lauderdale” in its new website. The word "Baptist" is found in a faintly lettered tagline.
These South Florida churches are joining a growing number of Southern Baptist congregations around the country that are quietly moving away from their denomination’s historic namesake — worried that it conjured up images of pipe organs, narrow-mindedness or stuffy, formal services.
The reality, pastors say, is that many modern Baptist churches mix their liturgy with rock bands and gourmet coffee, and sermons are more likely to be about personal growth than fire and brimstone.
This is one of those "growing number" trend stories that never actually provides any concrete statistics to back up the nut graf up high. Alas, I've written similarly vague summaries myself, so I won't be too critical of that lapse. I do wonder, however, if the Southern Baptist Convention actually tracks the number of member churches that don't use "Baptist" and how those figures have changed in recent years.
It's not as if this trend is breaking news: I did an Associated Press feature in 2004 contrasting the approaches of Ed Young's Second Baptist Church in Houston and Ed Young Jr.'s Fellowship Church, a non-Baptist "Baptist" megachurch in Grapevine, Texas. Christianity Today, meanwhile, notes that Rick Warren's Saddleback Community Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Another concern for me: the editorially charged (as in, opinionated) descriptions of Baptist churches as "narrow-minded" and "stuffy" with no specific sources making those claims — and no one who might disagree given an opportunity to dispute the characterization. The same holds true in a later paragraph:
Congregations have been concerned that their denomination’s strict biblical interpretations of creation, women’s roles and homosexuality have been politicized, even by their own members.
"Strict" is an editorial term, not a neutral word befitting an unbiased news story, right?
My biggest beef with this story, however, relates to the lack of context concerning the Baptist trend.
Reading this piece, it's as if the Baptists are the only religious group grappling with the denominational name issue. Yet I live down the street from one of the largest United Methodist churches in Oklahoma. It's called "Church of the Servant." A number of congregations in Churches of Christ — my tribe — have dropped the "of Christ" or put up signs emphasizing "Family of God" and downplaying the association with Churches of Christ. In a 2004 AP profile of best-selling Christian author Max Lucado, I noted that his San Antonio church had changed its name in an effort to attract people hesitant to attend a Church of Christ.
The Herald story isn't terrible. In fact, I enjoyed reading it.
But a little less editorialization (including recognition of the "two-edged sword" involved) and a little more big-picture perspective would have improved it greatly.
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