What’s in a Name?

Posted on July 27, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

It seems that more and more organizations, and even churches, are changing their names. Recognizing that our society is constantly changing, it is understandable that public institutions would be concerned about rebranding and portraying an image that would be considered relevant.

I am seeking to reflect a commentary and opinion on current topics in this blog column, and this issue surfaced once again when I received a press release last week that Campus Crusade for Christ had changed its name to “Cru.”  I wasn’t surprised with the fact of a new name as I have been aware CCC has been engaged in a study regarding its name and identity for sometime.

I have watched a number of mission agencies change their names, and with it, hope to establish a fresh identification among constituents, supporters and partners. Several years ago Conservative Baptist International, CBI, became World Venture. The Sudan Interior Mission has greatly expanded its global scope over the years and no longer represented its provincial legacy. Retaining its familiar SIM identity, it was renamed “Serving in Missions.”

Most Southern Baptist entities have changed their name in recent years. The historic Sunday School Board became LifeWay Christian Resources. The Annuity Board became Guidestone. Both have continued to fulfill ministry assignments with excellence but felt it necessary to modernize their identity to reflect what they do today as well as a more contemporary vision for the future.

I went through two such changes at the International Mission Board. The previous identity of Foreign Mission Board, which many in an older generation continue to use, was problematic.  “Foreign” was condescending in expressing our perspective toward Baptist partners in other countries. It begged the question, who does it refer to as foreign, since Americans going out were actually the foreigners on mission fields around the world. “International” was a much more appropriate expression of our Great Commission assignment in the globalization taking place throughout the world.

More recently we faced the challenge of how relate a new face and strategy to a diverse denomination. A consultant told us we actually needed multiple identities to relate to various constituencies. The 160-year legacy of the IMB could not be casually set aside but having “Mission” in the name created a problem for many personnel being sent out and supported who could not be identified as missionaries. The “Board” aspect of our identity exuded an impression of bureaucracy which was a turn-off to a growing younger generation.

The compromised solution was IMB Connecting, hoping the initials would come to be known and excepted as a stand-alone just like IBM or KFC.  One seldom hears IBM being referred to as International Business Machines!  We wanted to be seen not as an organization existing for itself but connecting the gospel to a lost world and connecting churches to their mission task.

Back to “Cru”—that was a shocker, but this has been the identity of this effective organization for a number of years on campuses around the world. To be identified as a campus ministry alienated the many other valuable ministries under their umbrella such as The JESUS Film and Family Life Today. To confront a lost world from the context of a “crusade” did not endear people to their message and effort to make a sensitive, relevant evangelistic presentation.

Many churches are changing their names and even eliminating “church” from their identity in an effort to offset a negative legacy that have turned people off from church.

I don’t have a problem with that as what a body of believers are and what they do are more important than what they are called. I do wonder, however, at what point members are told that they are a church, and when they may be informed that they are actually a “Baptist” church.

One Comment on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Don Miller

    I especially like that last paragraph. We have a new “church” that uses neither the word “Baptist” or “church”. The pastor claims they are Baptist, but does not give to anything outside their four walls. I wonder if he claims to be Baptist in front of his “attenders”?

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