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Churches Take ‘Baptist’ From Name

January 12, 1999 GMT

DALLAS (AP) _ The Rev. Roddy Clyde discovered that he could add hundreds of parishioners to his church simply by subtracting the word ``Baptist″ from its name.

``I’m not ashamed to be a Baptist, but a brand name can be a hindrance,″ Clyde said. ``Some people mistakenly associate the Baptist name with an angry, judgmental kind of fundamentalism.″

Clyde’s Trinity Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas, became the Fellowship of Forest Creek in 1992. Around the country, many other churches are dropping ``Baptist″ from their names.

The North Point Community Church outside Columbia, S.C., dropped Southern Baptist from its name, and John Sharp, its 26-year-old pastor, prefers not to use the title of Reverend.

Although some ministers have been able to attract new members after the change, more conservative Southern Baptist pastors believe deleting the designation goes against Scripture.

``Most Southern Baptist churches have dropped the word `Southern’ from their name _ we’re no longer just in the South. But dropping the word `Baptist,′ I don’t think there’s anything to gain from doing it,″ said Harvey Tingle, pastor at the Hampton Place Baptist Church in Dallas.

Tingle said he supports anything that will help Baptists reach more people, but ``dropping the word from church names is a change from traditional values.″

Tradition is revered at the Southern Baptist Convention, which has 15.6 million members and is dominated by theological conservatives. In 1997, the church called for a boycott of the Walt Disney Co. over what it called gay-friendly policies. Last June, the convention said women should ``submit graciously″ to their husbands.

Ken Hemphill, president of the Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said he doesn’t think removing the denomination from a church’s name can bring in more members.

``Many of the fastest growing churches in the country still have `Baptist’ in the label,″ he said. ``The key issue is not necessarily the name, but changes in the content of what happens in the church.″

Most of the churches that drop their Baptist label are otherwise adhering to Southern Baptist doctrine in many respects.

In Grapevine, just outside Dallas, senior pastor Ed Young wanted to draw a new crowd _ younger people, even Jews _ to his 6,000-member church. And so, the Las Colinas Baptist Church became the Fellowship Church.


``Basically, we changed the name for one reason _ to reach as many people as possible,″ Young said. ``People now don’t have the product loyalty, or the denomination loyalty, they once had.″

Young has also tried passing out neon yellow sunglasses promoting a lecture series and T-shirts pushing Saturday services to get what he calls ``unchurched″ people to attend.

He said the number of members increased dramatically when the name changed, but he admitted some conservative members left because of it.

``I tell people my church is not for everyone,″ Young said. ``Each church is autonomous and has a different style for different styles of people.″

At Lake Hills Church in Austin, pastor Mack Richard took ``Baptist″ out of the title to remove what he regarded as a barrier to people of other denominations.

Vaughn Stanford, a 28-year-old real estate agent who attends Lake Hills, said he grew up in a Southern Baptist home and understands that the word is associated with ``the old way, the hard way of doing things.″

``To some degree, leaving it out of a name does matter, but I have enough knowledge about Baptists to know that it doesn’t matter to me,″ Stanford said.