On Naming Churches Today

by Terry M. Smith

As we plant new churches, naming them, as always, is best done carefully.

For various reasons, the EMC has periodically favoured words such as Gemeinde, EMC, Fellowship, Chapel, and Community. What might we keep in mind as we name congregations today?

Christianity—and Anabaptism within it—sees the Church as people, not a building. Early Anabaptists met in homes, forests, and caves. Yet wherever they met, they were committed to Christ and to each other. In light of this, a name does well to focus on people, not the building—Church rather than Chapel.

What about Mennonite? If the term is used within circles where it has a rich, attractive meaning, it can be effectively used.

What about Community? If its use means a congregation is located in a setting (village, town, or corner of a city) where it seeks to warmly welcome people of all cultures and church or non-church backgrounds, it’s a rich term. Canada needs more community churches.

These are only a few of many names used by EMC congregations.

Some key questions: to whom is the church’s name to speak? Those who attend, or it seeks to attract, or both? And what signals are intended to be given? In a few words a church’s name can build bridges or barriers.

In my view, a church’s name does well to join the faith and a local setting while avoiding barriers. In some locations, a simple name such as River Bend Church would serve its purpose, I suggest.

EM Conference 2019
Terry M. Smith

A name serves well if it attracts newcomers as intended. What happens next is up to the people (the congregation) they meet. This is more important than the name.

Do you think differently about some of this? That’s okay, of course. Who said naming children was easy?

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