What’s in a (Church) Name?

I’ve been on vacation the last few weeks and every time that I spend any time in the Bible belt, I become mesmerized with the issue of “church names”.  Frankly, I think that the reason some of the names get so unusual is because they simply run out of them.  In some small North Carolina towns, there are more churches than the actual population, I do believe.  I can pick out a church that keeps rattlesnakes under the front pew from a mile away, for example.  How’s that, why they almost have a name that goes like this… “International House of Deliverance and Prophecy.”  Emergent churches usually have one-word names (not counting the actual word “church”) and it is preferred if that word ends in “-ion” as in Revolution, Restoration, Elevation, Inspiration, Constipation — or something like that.  Actually, there is a lot in a church name — more than usually meets the eye.

So, I have decided to re-post one of the most popular “humor” articles I’ve ever posted here in case you weren’t around 15 months ago when I first published it.

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Observations on church names….

1. Churches with One-Word Names

1rock-worship-center-sign.jpgThese churches have cool, hip-even, names which often sound as much like a rock band or a let’s-open-the-dictionary-and-point-at-any-word-and-use-it exercise.  Here are a few that I’ve seen recently: Kinetic, Elevation, Front-Porch (technically 2 words, but still hip), Mosaic, Celebration, North_______ (as in -ridge, -point, -pointe, -side, -ward, etc…), Impact, Lift, LatterRain, Life, and Fellowship.

These churches are generally for the younger and hipper crowd (that means not me) and their pastor is usually still shaving with a cat and a bowl of milk.  The pastor usually doesn’t own a suit and if he should be caught wearing one, he wouldn’t apologize more if you caught him naked as a jaybird or wearing a silk teddy.  Often, they will shave their head and polish it with lemon pledge which gives them a nice shine and a friendly lemony aroma.  If they don’t shave their head, they will spike it, wax it, mousse it or towel dry it to get that “I just got out of bed” look.  Often, they will produce kewl-looking facial hair (even in the presence of a totally bald head).  Soul patches (that little tuft that grows between the chin and your lower lip), line side burns (which look like someone ran a charcoal briquet from sideburn to near the chin) the 5-day-old-5-o’clock-shadow look (which really is cool unless you have a beard like mine that grows straight out at which point you end up looking like a pubescent porcupine) and the every popular goatee du jour.  State-of-the-art techno worship, stage props and coffee made from beans that have been passed through the digestive system of South American racoons complete the “One-Word” named church experience.

2. Churches with names that prove that they use THE Bible

These churches put it all out front and they are NOT ASHAMED.  They believe that if they offend you before you actually walk in the door, they have begun the work of the Lord.  Often, these names begin with “in-your-face” declarations like “Bible-Believer’s Baptist Church” (which is to imply that other churches may technically be churches, but really they don’t believe the Bible 1churchsign.jpgbecause if they did, they’d have it in their church name like we do.)  But then, some good fundamentalist brethren decided that to merely say “Bible-Believers” was a compromise and so they took it a step further with the “KJV Bible-Believers Baptist Church” (because if the KJV was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it should be good enough for us!  Amen?).  Well, as the FFF would have it (Freakish Fundamentalist Fanatics) that wasn’t good enough, so some decided to adopt the coup de grace of Bible-believing church names…. The 1611 KJV Bible-Believers Baptist Church and all was well in fundamentalism.  Until, of course, someone decided to name their church the Hyles Baptist Church (I’m not making this stuff up) after the legendary (in his own mind) Jack Hyles — universal protector of the KJV after 1988 or so.  At any point, one can anticipate the formation of a Ruckman Baptist Church or a Riplinger Baptist Church.  (No use explaining this to the sane…just do a google search for “Peter Ruckman” or “Gail Riplinger”.)

These churches are usually so exclusive that they break fellowship with themselves every few months at which they refer to their former “Bible-Believers” as members of the Alexandrian Cults.  Their pastors choose hairstyles that are of several approved styles: 1) High and Tight — you know like they give you on the first day of boot camp or the first day in prison; 2) the ever-so-stylish pompadour; 3) recommended by Brylcream or 4) the artistic weave (practiced by guys who have developed a totally clear landing strip down their dome but are still in serious denial thus they weave the few pathetic strands from the sides of the road and which are now six feet long artfully into a poor imitation of a combover which is really quite amusing should you be so lucky as to be near them on a windy day.) 

These guys also sleep in wing-tips and polyester suits (double-breasted preferred).  White shirts are the sign of a true man and if you dare wear a pastel-colored shirt, you should simply join a Metropolitan Community Church as you are surely gay.  Wrinkles are OK, cuff-lins aren’t and navy, gray and black are your only options.  Members are expected to be able to pass dress-check when entering the vestibule.

3. The More-the-Merrier Named Church

There is a definite co-relation between the number of words in a church name and the racial composition of its congregation.  As a general rule, 3-word named churches will be as lily white as a Brigham Young football game.  Four-word named churches can go either way.  But when you hit five words in a church name, you can bet your tithe check it is a church for “brothers” and I don’t just mean in the spiritual sense of that word.  Any time you see these words used in a collection of four or more  followed by the word “church”, well you just gotta’ know they’ve got some good gospel music happening inside: Apostolic, Deliverance, Faith, Prophecy, Divine, Holiness, Pentacostal, Zion, Horeb, Missionary, Ebenezer, House, Prayer, United, Holy Ghost/Spirit.  These churches also seem to have the market on 15-passenger vans pretty much cornered.  Many a tragic accident has nearly occurred because of a driver’s insistence on trying to read the entire church name from one of these fellowships while driving 70 down the interstate.

4. The Fundamentalist-Sub-Title Church

These particular churches are usually small and want you to know who they are before you even think about walking inside.  At the same time, heaven forbid that you think they might be a black church, so they won’t put all their adjectives in the actual name of their church.  They use “sub-titles” instead.  Watch for their signs, but plan on reading them twice.  They will use the traditional 3-word name like “Bible Baptist Church” or “Calvary Baptist Church”, but then underneath, you get the whole scoop.  In smaller, but still clearly readable letters, they’ll tell you what “kind” of Baptist they are with a series of additional informative adjectives like: Independent, fundamental, missionary, soul-winning, Southern, premillenial, pre-wrath, post-wrath, amillienial, separated, BJU-supporting, GARB, non-charismatic, moral majority, Republican, pro-American, anti-immigration, gun -totin’, “Christ-honoring” music, women-can’t-wear-pants, Christian-school sponsoring, anti-NIV, IFCA, SBC, ABC, CBC, BBF, SWBF, IBBF, FBF, anti-Purpose-Driven, Purpose Driven,  Beka-Book, homeschool, anti-cell group, no drums, CCM, just-say-no-to-wire-rim glasses, etc…  If you don’t line up with all the subtitles, you’re basically not welcome, because, well….what would people think of us if we allowed the likes of you to worship with us?

5. The Obscure Bible Terms/Names Church

1church-sign-2.JPGThese churches seem to look far and wide to find little known places in Biblical geography or obscure or obtuse theological terms that may be “code” to the knowledgeable to name their congregations and give them a unique identity.  Look for these words: Ebenezer, Gilead, Zion, Pisgah, Horeb, Herman, Berean, Corinthian, Laodicean, Pauline, Pergamus, Adventist, Ephesian, Bethany, Desiring God, Christ-Honoring, Believers, Abiding-in-Him, Covenant,  Glad Tidings, Petra, Colossian, etc…  Unless you have a seminary degree, upon seeing the church title, you might simply furrow your brow and say, “Huh?”

6. The Upright (and at times, Uptight) Church Name

All churches are technically institutions, but some are INSTITUTIONS and you can often see that in a name.  For example, any church that has “First” in it’s name is an INSTITUTION.  They have squatter’s rights to the spiritual of that particular denomination.  Yes, you may indeed go to a non-numbered church or on occasion, a lesser-numbered church (in the USA, I’ve never seen a number go higher than 4th, but it is possible.  I once attended a Thirteenth Baptist Church in Santiago, Cuba.)  But if you don’t go to “First Church”, well then, you’ll always just feel a little lower than the others.

Another category of the Upright/Uptight would be churches named after Streets.  This poses somewhat of a dilemma if the church chooses to relocate to a different street (see High Street Baptist in Springfield, MO and Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, VA), but usually they just ignore the address and keep the name.

Another great signal is any name with Memorial in it.   If there is a Memorial in the name, you’d better believe that someone from the individual’s family is still a member there and woe, and I mean WOE, to the pastor or individual who would dare consider changing the name of the church to something else.

These churches usually keep a pipe or Wurlitzer organ in the sanctuary even if no one knows how to play it.  Guests who enter when the pipe organ style is being played have been known to spontaneously genuflect even when they’ve never been in a church before.  When the Wurlitzer organ is playing, guests are known to have experienced episodes of confusion and furtively whispering to their spouses something about forgetting their roller skates.

On some occasions, as a church is transitioning to a more contemporary style or is still at war with itself as to whether or not they should try to keep their teens attending the church, you will find the organ accompanying a praise band which makes for a most-interesting, er, uh, shall we say, “Instrumental Cornucopia” of sounds and rhythms.  One will also note that the organ is always placed as far as is architecturaly possible from the trap set on the platform.  But if the organ ceases to be in view, the upright/uptight church must change it’s name to a one-named church.  (Which is usually easier to accomplish AFTER the split rather than during it.)

There are other groups of churches classified by name categories, but my time for writing is over on this day.  For those of you who are positively foaming at the mouth with rage over my tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor, please relax and get over yourself a little bit.  We can laugh at ourselves and not be apostates.  I’ve actually attended, pastored, preached at, been members at churches that fit all of the above categories and then some.  If you know of a category that really needed to be mentioned, feel free to add it in the comments section.  And if you can’t laugh with us, just laugh at us.  It won’t matter in a hundred years.

11 Comments »

  1. Greg Linscott said,

    July 17, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

    As far as numbers go…

    http://seventhreformedchurch.org/

  2. Watchman said,

    July 18, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    My favorite wildly inappropriate Bible-named church had to be Beth Haven Baptist in Louisville (where Tom Wallace pastored). Beth Haven is in the Bible, but it means “house of idols.” Nice.

    As for numbers, you could also check out Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia. http://www.tenth.org. And another thing on numbers is the remnants of racism. In Murfreesboro there are two First Baptist Churches (one black, one white) and Third, but no Second. Go figure.

  3. Diane Heeney said,

    July 19, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    You forgot “dinner-on-the-grounds” in your #4 list (but don’t use the words “pot luck”…make sure to say “carry-in” or “covered dish”). =)

  4. Ros Horton said,

    July 21, 2009 @ 12:21 am

    One of my all time high . . ok, maybe it was an all time low, soulwinning experiences was when a woman in all seriousness asked if our church had a Minister of Constipation. My partner and I exchanged puzzled glances wondering if she meant consecration or something like that. Then the woman went on to describe her physical symptoms in most unpleasant terms. When she said “Minister of Constipation”, that’s EXACTLY what she meant!!

  5. Tom B said,

    July 21, 2009 @ 8:58 am

    Where I live there is a SBC church named United Faith International Baptist Church. It is an interesting church to say the least.

  6. Jonathan said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

    I have never heard the statment about “shaving with a cat and bowl of milk.” I even Googled it and can find it nowhere. I’m too lazy to think about what it means/pictures So, what does it mean?

  7. Dan Burrell said,

    July 26, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

    Jonathan….it’s a country saying I’ve heard for years. When boys first started growing peach fuzz, someone was bound to use this expression to him. If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, they have a very rough tongue — like sand paper. The “joke” was that when you dabbed milk on a boy’s peach fuzz and had a cat lick it off, it ended up shaving them. And now you know the rest of the story…..

    Dan

  8. Silverghost said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 2:53 am

    Interesting blog, Dan! I’ve always looked at names, finding some witty, like your column, “Whirled Views,” some thought provoking, some a bit crazy, yet some seem to lack any insight or effort in selecting it.

    One of my favorite strange names is: “Two Seeds in the Spirit Predestination Baptist Church. Up here we have a church named “Open Door Number Four Pentecostal Church. Another strange arrangement on a sign is “Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church,” with the caption just below: “Las Vegas Bingo…” When we were in the Binghamton, NY area, there was a tavern named “the Deacon’s bench. I was wondering where those guys disappeared!

    Having inherited in our own church the name: “Maranatha Baptist,” I found that, in the world, too many couldn’t spell it, were ignorant of it’s meaning and often couldn’t pronounce it. We recently changed it to Charity Baptist, which people in the world understand somewhat and it has a rich meaning to the church. Maranatha maybe good for a Christian school, but I would not recommend it for a church.

    BTW, I knew Pastor Pedrone when He was in Chambersburg, PA, at the Open Door Church. What do you think of the name, New Testament Baptist? I never met an Old Testament Baptist, but I wouldn’t be surprised. LOL

  9. chris said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

    Very Clever. I found your site looking for a name for a young adult small group I am starting. It is interesting in that you can build a demographic tendency off of a name, but in some ways that is the point of a name – a shorthand communication for preferences and style.

  10. Wally said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 12:57 am

    Dan,

    Great article! You and I go to the same church…you preach and I listen! You do a great job.

    What’s in a name? I have often pondered this as well. One of my favorites is from a small church near Cooper City. They have a sign out front that says something like ” Bible Southern Baptist Church…Conservative, Biblical, King James, Fundamentalist, Not Purpose-Driven, Only relevant to those who love God…” or something like that.

    The Emergent ‘Church’ names are really funny. They always seem to sound like they are communicating “We are not really a church but a place to have fun” which may actually be the case…

    What also gets me are the pastors’ self promotional websites that are shown on billboards 2-acres-large in front of the churches. Find me at http://www.troyi‘mastar.com or http://www.sexypastor.com or http://www.i‘msorelevantievensmeelgood.com or somthing even more rediculous. What ever happened to being humble?

    Anyway, I see the point of churches trying to be modern and unoffensive but I also see the connundrum churches may find themselves in. Branding is a difficult issue. I struggled with ‘The Gathering Place’ for a while not being sure if it was a cop-out or not. A gathering place could be a soda shop, a coffee house, a tatoo parlor… but when you also include ‘a ministry of New Testament Baptist Church’ that balances it out pretty well. I suppose I like the name better than ‘Relevantville Social Club’…

    Thanks for your blog and your ministry. You are appreciated more than you know. It’s good to know that young men still know how to preach…

    Wally
    Miami, FL

  11. Wayne McDaniel said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 1:54 am

    Dan,
    A friend fwd your satire and it did what satire is supposed to do– made me smile. A reformer of the early 1800′s, Alexander Campbell, wrote a satire about proud and covetous ministers of his day. He named it 3rd Peter. It is very pointed, and unfortunately true of some — to this day.

    I appreciated your reminder that we should not take ourselves too seriously. Our pride disguises itself in many ways, and produces all sorts of selfish behavior. While we condemn the errors of others, we are blind to our own sins. No wonder churchmen are so often seen as hypocritical.

    Keep on puncturing our pride.

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