Magazine article Insight on the News

Non-Doms in Name Only

Magazine article Insight on the News

Non-Doms in Name Only

Article excerpt

Protestant churches hope to attract younger adherents by name dropping -- that is, dropping `brand names' like Baptist in favor of generic labels that seem more `user-friendly.'

It's a Baptist congregation, but the word Baptist appears nowhere to identify the fast-growing Fellowship of Forest Creek church outside Austin, Texas. "Name-brand" denominations still dominate America's religious landscape, but more and more "generic" churches are reaching out to a younger, unchurched population that often harbors stereotypes about Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans and others -- or cannot tell them apart.

Until a year ago, the Fellowship of Forest Creek was known as Trinity Baptist Church. Since dropping the old name, it has expanded by 240 new members in a suburb booming local high-tech industries. "We changed everything about the church inside and out, and the sign was the last thing we changed" says the Rev. Roddy Clyde, pastor of Forest Creek since 1992. Though Texas is Baptist territory, the Baptist name has a "negative connotation" of being strict and judgmental.

Clyde's workshop at the recent Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference thrust the topic of generic churches into the national media spotlight. "There's a tremendous resistance in the ranks" says Clyde, reemphasizing that a name change is just part of a larger package -- a more contemporary, user-friendly ministry and worship with conservative theology but casual dress.

Despite resistance in major denominations, the formula often has proved successful. Willow Creek Community Church, founded outside Chicago in 1975, grew out of a Christian Reformed congregation and now hosts 15,000 worshippers. The huge Saddleback Community Church, named for a mountain spine in Orange County, Calif., originally was founded by a Southern Baptist pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren.

"What's behind it is this antiauthoritarianism that arose in the 1960s" says Barnard College church historian Randall Balmer, who studies contemporary church life. …

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