Dr. Jamie Jenkins: What's in a (church) name?

What is in a name? Sometimes it is obvious but sometimes it is hard to tell.

I have always been interested and am often amused at the names of churches. One survey of 95,000 churches shows that there are 11,852 "first" churches. 20,219 are named after "saints" (St. James, St. Paul). 6,749 carry names of various mountains and hills that include many biblical sites (Mt. Nebo, Mt. Bethel) and some are probably derived from the city or some other geographic designation (Pleasant Hill, Sugar Hill).


The name serves a practical purpose for many, such as Second Avenue and Tenth Street United Methodist Churches, in identifying the location. Then you have the churches whose name indicates some biblical or theological principle or concept. These include grace, faith, messiah, covenant, harmony, prince of peace, good shepherd, and others.


Most of the church names listed above are very ordinary and common place. There are others that catch my attention and pique my interest. For instance, I wonder if the Baby Farms Baptist Church is memorializing a particular infant or is it located where babies are produced in quantity.


There are many Methodist churches named after their founder, John Wesley. But I am curious about the theology of the John Wesley Baptist Church.

What about the Original Church of God #2? How do you duplicate originality?

In the Celebration Church is everything a party or is there a place for grief and mourning? I feel sadness when I see the parking lot of The Church in the Now empty and the buildings abandoned. Is the Community Church only for people with relatives in the area or is it open to a single person that lives far from their kin?


Calvary is an appropriate name since it is one of the central symbols of the Christian faith. A current trend seems to be to include "cross" in the name, as in Cross Pointe? Is the addition of the "e" supposed to indicate sophistication?


Attempts to be creative and contemporary give rise to names like Church of The Way, Quest, The Well, The Bridge, The Vine, and Connection, just to name a few. Their names hope to project an image that will draw folks who might not ever venture into First Church. The Scum of The Earth Church (I am not making this up) presents itself as the "Church of the Right Brained and the Left Out" and invites you to "Come see the crazy bathroom and stay for a sermon."


Every time I go to an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field I pass The Perfect Church at the corner of James P. Brawley Drive and McDaniel Street. Their website proclaims that "Christians are perfect." I have a feeling I would not be comfortable there and they might not want an imperfect person like me. I more easily identify with what is called a "Christian Under Construction."


Whatever the name of the church I hope that the Gospel is proclaimed and people are empowered to more closely conform to the lifestyle that Jesus left as an example. If the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the name is not a real concern to me.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," 1/30/2012. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]