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June 16, 1999






The Bottom Line for Innovative Churches

___By James Leo Garrett Jr.
___Distinguished professor emeritus of theology,
___Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

___In seventeenth-century England, the name "Baptist" was given as a nickname of reproach to a group of Christian believers who insisted on believer's baptism.
___At the end of the twentieth century in the United States, new leadershipcongregations are being constituted under Baptist auspices that are choosing not to take the name "Baptist." Why are such decisions being made relative to the name "Baptist?" What are the likely consequences of such decisions? What issue, if any, may be even more important than the naming of such churches?
___Perhaps the most often given reason for not placing "Baptist" in the name of a congregation is the assumption that its omission will be an asset in reaching more non-believers for Christian faith and discipleship.
___Particularly, this is true of new churches that intend to reach "baby-busters" and/or "generation X." Such would-be believers, it is said, have no denominational preferences or attachments and would be more likely to be attracted to a church whose denominational identity is not very visible or easily identifiable.
___A second reason for not including the word "Baptist" in a church's name is the adoption of the view that the age of denominationalism is passing away and a post-denominational or non-denominational age is emerging. Consequently in this new age a congregation will not need to major on its denominational identity, even if indeed it does maintain such.
___A third reason for omission of "Baptist," among Southern Baptists at least, seems to be the desire to dissociate the new or innovative churches from the denominational controversy of the past two decades. New Christians of a younger generation, it is said, have no real understanding of or interest in conflict, controversy, strident criticism, division, and the like. If "Baptist" means such, then the identifying name should be removed.
___Are these reasons tenable or really significant? As to the first, there need to be statistical studies of growth patterns of churches that omit the Baptist name and those that retain the Baptist name. Concerning the second, more time may be needed to discern the nature and extent of the post-denominational age. Relative to the third, it is difficult to assess how
___ "The ultimate question may not be, 'Shall we drop or retain the name Baptist?' It will most likely be, 'Are we or are we not forming Baptist Christians?'"
prevalent a reason it is.
___Is it possible to determine the likely consequences of the omission of the name "Baptist" from congregational names? Answers are surely not easy. Does the omission really lead to more baptisms and rapid numerical growth? The name taken by a new congregation, however, is only one of many factors in church growth.
___The music used in worship, the effectiveness of the church's means of outreach, the preaching by the pastor, the spiritual unity and prayer life of the congregation, the nurturing and placement in service of new members, and the location of the church's building may be as important or even more important than the church's name.
___But a more somber question needs to be asked. Does the omission of the name "Baptist" lead in fact to the development of generic or non-denominational churches rather than distinctly Baptist churches?
___Again, answers do not come easily. How does one determine the Baptist distinctness of a congregation? Among Southern Baptists there has been a tendency to measure a church's commitment to the denomination by its monetary gifts to the Cooperative Program, its special mission offerings, and its designated gifts processed through the state convention.
___A perusal of records in Texas shows that some innovative churches without the Baptist name contribute generously and others do not. Hence a monetary standard for measuring Baptist distinctness may have its limits.
___A more accurate measurement of Baptist distinctness may be the extent to which a congregation, whether innovative or traditional, is actually forming Baptists.
___ To what extent are its members taught about and trained in Baptist history, Baptist doctrine, Baptist ethics, Baptist church-life, and Baptist missions? Do its members have any conception of the role of Baptists in the larger history of Christianity? Are they able to explain to their non-Baptist friends what Baptists stand for? Are they able to find the basis for Baptist belief in the New Testament? Are they personally committed to the global fellowship of Baptist Christians?
___A church that is not forming Baptists at the dawn of the twenty-first century may find within a few years that it has become a generic church, whether or not it bears the Baptist name. Such generic churches will be less likely to sustain Baptist missionaries or Baptist institutions.
___Consequently the ultimate question may not be, "Shall we drop or retain the name Baptist?" It will most likely be, "Are we or are we not forming Baptist Christians?"

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