I will never forget those words, uttered by a messenger at the annual meeting of the Little River Baptist Association in the fall of 2005. They pierced my Baptist heart like a dagger, because he was talking about my church … Crossroads Fellowship in Cadiz, Kentucky. God allowed me the honor and joy of planting Crossroads in March 2002. We immediately affiliated with the SBC and the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Indeed, we were welcomed into full fellowship within the KBC in the fall of 2003. Our church letterhead and our web site include the note, “A Southern Baptist Congregation,” beneath our logo. We were a Southern Baptist church from the moment of our inception.
We had been welcomed into the Little River association under “watch-care” at the spring meeting in 2005. But over the six months that followed, despite our financial cooperation and active involvement in the association’s ministries, some began to take issue with our church … particularly its name. As they say in Western Kentucky, we did not have the word, “Baptist,” “on the sign.” Funny thing was … we didn’t even have a sign … we were meeting in a local high school, with no facility of our own, when we submitted our desire to affiliate.
So it all “boiled over” at that fall meeting. Despite the assurances from the credentials committee and the ample evidence that we were a Southern Baptist congregation, several repeated the mantras: “There’s no Baptist on the sign!” “Just put Baptist on the sign and we’ll welcome you.” Since I was not given the opportunity to respond, I sat in silence.
Moments later a vote was cast. By a vote of 52-50, Crossroads Fellowship was denied full fellowship with the Little River Baptist Association. We were not even retained under “watch-care.” We were simply dropped, dis-fellowshiped, and forgotten. It was, by far, my lowest of low points (and there have been several) in my experiences in Southern Baptist life.
Yet we remain, still, a Southern Baptist congregation. We cooperate through the KBC. We give to Lottie Moon. We have partnered with an IMB team in Peru to reach an unreached micro people group over the next four years. We are SBC.
I guess my question is this … Must a Southern Baptist church identify itself, by name (on the sign), in order to be a truly Baptist church?
Obviously, I don’t think so.
Names, particularly church names, are important. But how descriptive must they be? Consider the names of some common businesses or entities in our culture:
- Best Buy
- Dollar Tree
No other descriptions are necessary. These businesses are defined by the products that they sell and the quality of their services. Not by detailed descriptions on their signs.
Should it not be the same with our churches? After all, signs can lie, can they not? We are all familiar with churches that are Southern Baptist in name, but independent, fundamentalist Baptist in attitude and practice. What is truly important is not what is on the “sign” on the outside, but what is truly being “served” on the inside.
At Crossroads we deliberately, intentionally, and strategically chose to leave the word “Baptist” out of our church name. It is our desire to reach (yes … we “target” them) unchurched young adults with children. We found that many of the people in our target group had pretty vivid preconceived notions when they read the word, “Baptist.” Most often, these notions were very traditional (pews, organs, Sunday School, suits & ties, hymnals) … and we are a very non-traditional congregation. Furthermore, we found that even if these young adults have a denominational background, they are not usually loyal to it. They are simply seeking a church where they can connect, be engaged in service, and be equipped to meet the spiritual needs of their families. Also, there are scores of people relocating to our area from the northern states. Again, there are many preconceived notions and misunderstandings regarding Baptists. So, we decided that we did not want the very name of our church to be any kind of barrier for the people were were actually trying to reach. We chose Crossroads Fellowship, because it describes the philosophy and atmosphere of our church. Most often, we just call ourselves, “Crossroads,” and so do the people in our community. It has worked. God has blessed our wonderful, growing church.
The simple reality in Southern Baptist church planting today is that the vast majority of new Southern Baptist church plants do not have the word, “Baptist,” in their name. Though I cannot prove it, I believe that the only reason some church planters include “Baptist” in their new church’s name is because someone holding the funding “purse strings” requires it.
Why are planters starting churches without “Baptist” in the moniker? Why are so many churches changing their names to remove the word “Baptist?” Are they ashamed of their heritage? I really don’t think so. No more that the people of LifeWay Christian Resources or Guidestone Financial Resources. Are they ashamed of the behaviors and “baggage” associated with some churches which call themselves, “Baptist?” Probably so. Or do they simply want to do everything they can to reach the people in their target community? Most definitely.
Personally, I cannot believe that we are still fighting this archaic battle over church names. Yet, here in the deep south of traditional SBC life, this same battle … with all of its arguments, accusations, and mischaracterizations of new church plants … happens every autumn at some associational annual meeting … somewhere …
What makes us truly, “Baptist?” Is it the names on the front of our churches? Or is it the doctrinal stands of our churches?
So what do you think? In your view, am I “on target,” or a “Baptist heretic?” Be honest … trust me, I can take it.