Update and resources for discussion on denominational name change

—This past summer, at the 2010 General Conference of North American Brethren in Christ (Grantham, Pa.), the Canadian Conference petitioned the delegate body to initiate a process that considers a new denominational name.

The need for such a study, as explained by the Conference, is that the word “Brethren,” while readily understood and accepted in some areas of the Church, can be confusing and distracting in an urban, more secularized context. In some instances, the Conference states, the name has been so misunderstood that it has created a barrier for sharing the Gospel message.

Clarifying the issue
The Canadian Conference’s name-change petition has sparked discussion across the BIC Church, with people feeling passionate on both sides of the issue. However, as Warren Hoffman, moderator of the North American BIC Church, observes, such conversations should be expected in a Church family that has experienced an unprecedented growth in diversity over the last decade.

“Whereas we used to be a primarily English-speaking group, now, one out of five BIC churches worships in Spanish. Through the efforts of church planters in cities such as Miami, Philadelphia, and Toronto, we have moved from a primarily rural fellowship to an increasingly urban body. And two-thirds of our members and pastors were not born into BIC households,” Hoffman states.

He adds, “As a Church family, we want to embrace our differences, entrust them into the creative hands of God, and be shaped into a splendid mosaic of God-honoring community. Inevitably, these soaring aspirations will meet the hard realities of living and serving together. This means that occasionally, we will encounter matters that are problematic for some and not for others.”

Hoffman also notes that it’s vital for people to understand what the petition calls for.

“It’s important to note that the petition did not call for an actual name change,” Hoffman states, “but for a ‘process that considers’ a new name.”

Study group to determine steps forward
To get this conversation underway, the General Conference Board, the governing board of the Church, has created a study group charged with the task of developing a process to determine the thoughts and needs of various constituencies across North America.

Rather than creating a large group in an attempt to equitably represent the various constitu­encies and opinions across the Church, it was decided to create a small team of individu­als who could strategi­cally guide this process. Members of the study group approved by the board are Randy Basinger, of Grantham (Pa.) BIC; Ron Burwell, of Eliza­bethtown (Pa.) BIC; Rachel Diaz (chair), of La Roca Firme (Hialeah, Fla.); Perry Engle, bishop of the Pacific Conference; Kim Lester, of Westheights Community Church (Kitchener, ON); Christine Sharp, executive director of BIC World Missions; Warren Hoffman, BIC Church moderator; and Don McNiven, BIC Church general secretary.

Study group progress report
The study group has met twice by conference call, concen­trating on preparatory work. In initial discussion, the group worked to clarify the options for use of the denominational name in local church settings, and, although the mechanics of the process are still to be decided, the study group identified four key compo­nents to work on in the years leading up the next General Conference in 2012:

  1. Discern receptivity of constituents toward name change
    • Assess the receptivity of church leadership at all levels
    • Listen to the views of laity from various demographics (e.g., youth, women, etc.)
    • Consider the views of national, ethnic, and geographical constituents
    • Solicit input from potential constituents (i.e., the unchurched)
    • Confer with global BIC community
    • Consider impact on affiliate ministry partners (e.g., MCC, MWC, etc.)
  2. Identify legal implications
  3. Identify financial implications (e.g., cost of study process, implementing change)
  4. Identify willingness of churches to comply with and capacity of leadership to enforce change

The study group plans to collect input from across the Church in order to develop its recommendation(s) to the General Conference Board for presentation at the 2012 General Conference. The proposed action could encompass a number of options, ranging from a formal proposal for a name change, to a recommendation to redefine the mandate and con­tinue study, to a recommendation to abandon the study altogether.

Maintaining focus and unity
As the study group continues its work, General Church leaders are encouraging members of the BIC Church family to remain focused.

“As we move ahead with Church-wide consideration of a name change,” Warren states, “we cannot allow this process to divert us, in any way, from wholehearted pursuit of our shared Transformation 2020 vision to be ‘a mosaic of churches, all seeing lives transformed by Jesus Christ.’”

Church leaders also call Brethren in Christ to practice grace and patience with each other, embracing the questions that arise from increasing diversity rather than fearing them.

“This is challenging work,” Hoffman admits. “Nevertheless, we realize that issues like this are an inevitable part of building and sustaining a diverse faith community. We will need to exhibit forbearance, patience and trust. And as we do—even on issues such as this that ‘test’ our solidar­ity—God can continue to fashion us into a beautiful, multi-colored, multi-textured mosaic that is increasingly enriched by the different ethnicities and cultures present in our Church community.”

Name-change handout now available
Download or print out “Understanding the name change consideration process” handout >>