MIAMI After 87 years, the University Baptist Church of Coral Gables, Fla., recently shed its name for something it felt was more forward looking – Christ Journey.
It was following the lede of First Baptist Church of Perrine, Fla., which dropped the name it had held for 89 years in favor of Christ Fellowship.
Coral Baptist Church of Coral Springs, Fla., 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 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.
While their approach to saving souls has kept up with the times, some pastors feel the name has not.
“Baptist today has as many flavors as Baskin and Robbins ice cream. It has no defined meaning, and where it does, no positive meaning,” explained Bill White, Christ Journey’s lead pastor. Ninety-three percent of his congregation voted to change the name.
Their restlessness isn’t new. The 168-year-old Southern Baptist Convention – the country’s largest Protestant denomination with 46,000 cooperating U.S. churches and over 4,800 field personnel worldwide – was asked to consider changing its name at least seven times between 1965 and 2004, said spokesman Roger Oldham.
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.
In 2012 – just as the SBC selected the Rev. Fred Luter as its first black president – the body allowed churches to use an alternate name, Great Commission Baptists, in place of “Southern,” which conjured painful racial memories and a regionalism that Oldham said member churches had outgrown.
Southern Baptists can be found in every state and U.S. territory, with most in the South and Southwest. The Great Commission name was at once global and unifying, evoking Jesus’ instructions to his followers to go into the world and make disciples by baptizing and teaching them.
Around the same time, the Baptist convention’s research arm undertook a study to look at how people reacted to the word “Baptist.”
In the study, 44 percent of the participants said the words Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to join or even visit. The negative perceptions came mainly from people with no church affiliation. For a denomination committed to the directive, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” that was not good news.
Some churches turn to consultants to help them rebrand.
Alex Rodrigues, creative director of Broward, Fla.-based Paradox Design Studio, helped several churches freshen their images, including Christ Journey and Church By the Glades.
“We were dying,” said David Kling, who attends the former Immanuel Presbyterian in Pinecrest. “We needed to change drastically to attract more and younger people.”
King’s pastor, Felipe Assis, closed the church for a month and “replanted” it as Crossbridge, with a focus on diversity and community service.
“It’s a more inclusive name, a consumerist attempt to recast a super conservative image,” said Kling, chairman of the University of Miami religious studies department.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less