Here is a story about a Baptist church that is changing its name to escape the stigma of being “Baptist.” This is something a number of Lutheran churches have been doing in an attempt, I would say, to seem MORE Baptist.
Here is something advocates of the church growth movement need to consider: In the not too distant past, being “evangelical” was popular. (Important note: We Lutherans ARE evangelical, the first evangelicals, or the first to be called so, and I support all true evangelicals in the actual meaning of that word, which has to do with fidelity to the Gospel. I use it here with quotation marks to refer to a particular manifestation of contemporary Christianity that goes by that name.) So many Lutherans, their numbers stagnating, thought it would promote the growth of the church to employ what was called “evangelical style/Lutheran substance.” This meant jettisoning the Lutheran liturgy and hymnody to do more what Baptists and other evangelicals did on Sunday mornings.
But now, the “evangelical” brand has fallen out of favor. It connotes the religious right, intolerance, fundamentalism, moralism, and–what postmodern relativists particularly hate–”proselytizing,” a.k.a. evangelism! Now these criticisms are unfair and wrong on many levels. But it is no longer culturally popular to seem like an “evangelical.” Remarkably, America’s largest evangelical church body, the Southern Baptists, which Lutherans had been wanting to emulate, is now facing what church leaders are calling a crisis in membership decline. “Evangelicals” are trying to seem less “evangelical” to escape the stigma. (Unfortunately, some are capitulating to the culture to the point of surrendering their valid moral and theological teachings, including the “evangel.”)
Could it be that a church body that embodies an alternative way of being evangelical–one in which the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ really is central, one that is not legalistic, one that is free of the trappings that are now the subject of mockery–might take the stage?