What’s in a Name?

This week I saw news articles that Campus Crusade for Christ was changing its name to “Cru.”  I was not surprised that they changed their name given that the word “crusade” has taken on very negative connotations in recent years particularly in the Middle East.  The Crusades were one of Christianity’s darker times.  And we still suffer the repercussions of what happened in the Crusades today.

I was a bit surprised however by the name “Cru.”  I gather now that I read articles that it had become a nickname of the organization.  But the new name, unlike its previous name, really does not tell much of anything about the organization.  “Cru” could be just about anything. It could be a line of clothing or a sports team for all I can tell by the name.   I hope the name works for them.  But I have serious doubts that it will as clearly communicate what they are about.

Strangely this kind of new name with no discernible meaning has become common place both in religious circles and in businesses.  When I was still an American Baptist an organization called “American Baptist Evangelicals” renamed itself “Cornerstone Network Group.”  That sounded to me like the name of an insurance company rather than a Christian organization.  (They later re-re-named the organization “Cornerstone Church Network, a better name but still nebulous.) Churches have taken to the trend of dropping denominational names from their churches or their formerly church related organizations.  The Cedar Falls Lutheran Home recently renamed itself “NewAldaya Lifescapes.”  (No, I’m not kidding.)   John Deere Credit became Veridian.  Again, “Veridian” could mean almost anything.

There are also churches in just about every denomination that have chosen not to put the name of the denomination in the name of the church so that a person might have to do a little digging into a church’s website or actually have to make an enquirery to find out a church’s denominational affiliation and thereby also figure out what their doctrinal views may be.

Maybe this makes me a fuddy duddy or less marketting savvy than some but I do not think so.    I personally do not like the current trend in generic non-descriptive names.  I think it does a disservice to a business, Christian organization, or church when you cannot tell a single thing about the organization by its name.  I believe some marketing companies are making big money advising people that it is cool, hip, and savvy to use these kind of names.  But that in the long run it will create a disconnect between organizations and their intended users or members.

If someone tells me they go to First United Methodist Church that tells me something about their faith.  It tells me that they are Wesleyan in their theology.  It tells me what they believe about the sacraments. And it tells me what kind of structure the church has among other things.  But something like Cedar Falls Worship Campus (I just made this one up) tells me nothing at all, not even if the organization is Christian.  And if I’m going to have to dig, explore and search to find out  then why should I go to that trouble?  Or will I wonder why you do not really want me to know who or what you are affiliated with?

So what’s in a name?  Who are we serving when we pick names which do not inform?  Should churches think about bucking this trend in the name of spreading the light of the gospel more clearly by clearly saying something about who we are in our name?

I know someone may respond that most people are not looking for a specific church denomination when they are looking at churches.  I agree with that.  Last I read only about 10% placed denomination as a major factor in the church choice.  But for me that still does not give us a good reason for leaving the name out and obscuring our heritage.  Instead, no matter why someone first came to our church, we have an opportunity and in fact an obligation to teach who we are and what our church believes.

In the fall I will be helping teach confirmation at First UMC.  I’m looking forward to working with our young people in this class.  We are conducting a community wide confirmation program with confirmands from almost half a dozen United Methodist Churches in the Cedar Falls and Waterloo area.  It is going to be informative and I also believe it is going to be a lot of fun.  As we lead young people through confirmation we will be teaching them about the faith of Jesus Christ, what it means to be a baptized and professing believer and what it means to be a Christian in the United Methodist tradition.

When people are guests at our church for the first time it should never be a surprise to them that we are Christian and that we are United Methodist. Our faith and our heritage should positively and openly shine through in who we are and what we do.  Again to quote Bishop Trimble, we should be unapoligetically Christian and unashamedly United Methodist.  We should never hide who we are and who God has called us to be.