What’s in a name?
How important are names?
Primarily, of course, names give identity. They are more personal than numbers and are often given for family reasons, after some famous or respected person whose qualities we admire. In the Bible, names were often given for their meaning. When it comes to naming a local church there is a difference between naming the building and naming the congregation. The chosen name will convey an “image” to local people and to attenders/members. This image may be quite different depending on people’s background and even where they come from geographically!
The dictionary definition of “church” refers to 1. A building for Christian worship and 2. A group of Christians considered as a whole.
The Biblical word “church” (or so translated in our versions) is the Greek word ekklesia which is usually seen as coming from two words — ek, out of, and klesis, a calling. The “correct” translation is often said to be “assembly” or “congregation”.
So, the word “church” biblically actually refers to people rather than buildings and can relate equally to a local group or to all Christians worldwide.
The dictionary definition of “chapel” refers to 1. A place of Christian worship e.g. attached to an organisation 2. a part of a larger church with its own altar.
I cannot find any word in Scripture to equate to this. The word has become used to refer to a non-conformist, less elaborate building set aside for worship and was often adopted by Methodists, the Open Brethren and especially in non-conformist congregations in Wales. Here there was a strong social distinction between “church” and “chapel” where one was seen as more formal even intended for those of a higher social status. In some areas this distinction, although always entirely an attitude of mind, still prevails when this language is used.
The only other biblical word is “synagogue” which comes from syn, together, and ago, to bring. Hence, a place where people came together.
With the above thoughts in mind, I am suggesting that “Main Street Chapel”, whilst primarily being the name local people associate with the building, does not wholly describe what we are and could even be giving an image to the community which is not completely in harmony with what we want to say.
It is possible that “Main Street Church” would better describe what we are and present a fuller image for attenders/members and non-churchgoers alike. However, there is still something missing.
- A group of people having the same religion or nationality and living in the same general area.
- The public in general.
We, that is the church that meets in Main Street Chapel, have shown ourselves to be a community, in that there is a common faith and care for each other. We show ourselves to be a church for the community by reaching out to the local population not just in evangelism but in community involvement with a view to obeying Jesus’ injunction to be salt and light in the world. We are also a family — the family of God in Christ — and function as such, taking on each others cares and concerns, practically and prayerfully. However, sadly, not everyone today is able to see family in a positive light due to rising divorce rates and breakdown of relationships. So, whilst “Main Street Family Church” would be a great name it may, in the 21st century, not have positive connotations for everyone. In Acts 2, verses 42 to 47, we see the local church acting as a community as well as acting in the community!
With the above in mind I am therefore proposing that we change the name of our local fellowship to “Main Street Community Church”. I believe this better describes who we are and what we do and may well be both a talking point for local people and a renewal of direction for us. This change would be promoted with local churches, schools, businesses and perhaps even in the local press.
I believe that this small change could be a starting point to re-invigorating our witness to our community! If you passionately agree, or passionately disagree, or have a better name for the elders to consider please come and talk to me.
Tim Coad, February 2007