What does Baptist mean today? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

What does Baptist mean today?

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  February 15, 2007            

Albany  --  What's in a name?  For some it can speak of a history, ethnicity, even beliefs. But what is it about the name Baptist that's turning people away? Why are some churches are choosing to drop the word Baptist from their name?

It's standing room only Sunday morning at Rhema Word International Ministries. But it wasn't always like this. "It was only when we started this church with a different name that we began to see the holy spirit move in a different way, and now we're out of seating room," said Pastor Victor Powell.

Pastor Powell says when he first started preaching here in 1990, the church was called Williams Spring Baptist.  About 40 people came to services every week, including children.  That's the way it stayed for the next ten years. "We did realize that the traditional name, Williams Spring Baptist Church, had some type of boundaries.  It had limitations," said Powell.

Perception or real, they existed. Powell says the Baptist name sent out a message that there were more rules in place than reasons to attend. "I knew that people have a perception of what you are when you are specifically attached to a group.  Sometimes that can push people away who are looking for something different."

That doesn't quite seem to be the case at Sherwood Baptist, the largest church in Albany with close to 3,000 members, and it's growing weekly. "They join it based on the people in the church and the spirit and the attitude of the church more than the denominational label."

Sherwood Pastor Michael Catt says he thinks people worry less about that label these days and more about what the church can offer, but admits there are some cases where the name scares people off. "I think it's a rejection of that label "Baptist" and that label of legalism that some of these guys want to break from."

Catt says for so long Baptists have been known for what you can't do.  He even remembers those sermons from when he was growing up. "I always knew what the preacher was against.  He was against card playing, he was against dancing, he was against this.  He had his filthy five or his nasty nine or his dirty dozen, and that's legalism."

Instead, he says churches should point out what they believe in, not only what they're against.  That's what Catt tries to do, while keeping the Baptist name, but understands why some churches feel the need to change. "They just want a break from that and say, hey, this is what we're for."

Powell says changing the church name was a symbol of something bigger taking place. "Something is happening and I can come and be a part of that, and I don't necessarily have to fit.  I can be myself.  I can be who I am and I'm not limited."

Not limited by a name, no longer limited in numbers. Which is bigger than the church was when you got here.

There used to be pulpit where Pastor Powell preached his Sunday sermons.  The sanctuary was almost never full.  Now, this is where the children's area is held, and every Sunday those children overflow this room. "It has been a 500% level of growth.  It has been just that phenomenal, and that happened when the name changed."

A new sanctuary was built, and another entire facility is being planned across the street. "I think with the name change it brought vision, it brought momentum, it brought enthusiasm, it brought in a whole group of people with a vision to change and transform a community."

A community of believers, whichever name they so choose. Remah Word is now an interdenominational church with 480 members. Powell says most of the people who were members when the name changed remain, though some did leave.   

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