CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - One of the city's oldest churches has a new name, reflecting a local trend of moving away from denominational titles in the evangelical movement.
The 188-year-old First Baptist Church, one of the first churches built in Concord, was renamed Centerpoint Church earlier this month. According to the Rev. David Spencer, the change was designed to distance the church from some of the negative connotations of the word "Baptist."
"People tend to think of Baptists as very narrow-minded, sometimes mean-spirited and self-righteous," he said. "That's not who we are at all."
By its most basic definition, a Baptist is a Protestant who practices baptism by immersion following a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. But there are at least 50 distinct groups within the denomination with views ranging from conservative to fairly moderate, and since Baptist churches traditionally are autonomous, great variety exists within each group.
In the Concord region, at least two Baptist churches have closed in recent years and at least five others have changed their names. At First Baptist Church, the new name was just one element in a major repackaging that began several years ago.
"We're trying to connect with our community," said Spencer, who said the church's core values remain much the same. "We want to remove as many obstacles as we can."
Spencer's sermons now feature PowerPoint presentations and clips from popular movies. A "worship team" that includes drummers and guitarists replaced the choir and organ music. Though 81 percent of the 400 members approved the name change, for one family, the change was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
"It infuriated me," said Bob Thomas, who left the church just before the congregation voted on the new name. "We're Baptists, and we believe in the Baptist distinctives. To me, if you don't like the word 'Baptist,' you can go someplace else."
In Loudon, the Faith Community Bible Church recently removed "Baptist" from its name to mark a decision to break ties with the American Baptist denomination, a group it believes has grown too liberal on issues such as homosexuality. At the same time, members worried that the Baptist name sounded too starched and conservative for non-churchgoers they were trying to attract.
"People get all kinds of funny ideas when they hear the word 'Baptist,'" said the Rev. Jeffrey Owen.
The Rev. David Pickney grew up at Epsom Baptist Church, which recently changed its name to Epsom Bible Church, and was instrumental in changing the name of Contoocook Baptist Church to Countryside Community Church when he serve as pastor there for 10 years. His new church, River of Grace Church in Concord, is part of the increasingly generic evangelical landscape in the region.
"The church has a mission, and it's not about protecting its 200-year-old history," he said. "If you can complete detach yourself from any sort of stigma, you're better positioned to advance the Gospel ... and I'm in favor of anything that helps advance the Gospel, as long as it's not outlawed in the Bible."
But others say abandoning the Baptist name is not the answer.
"We feel like having 'Baptist' in our name is important because that lest people know that we practice those things that are important to Baptists," said the Rev. Scott Secrest, pastor of the Baptist Church of Franklin. "I don't think we should misrepresent ourselves ... Most of the churches in our community identify themselves. I think that's healthy."
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