Name change motivated by desire to better reach community
By Myra Holmes
Memorial Road MB Church, Edmond, Okla., has changed their name to Cross Timbers Church in an effort to create a more welcoming identity in their community. The congregation marked the new name with an internal celebration September 4 and a city-wide launch under the new identity September 25.
Name had become an obstacle
While the church remains solidly Mennonite Brethren in theology and practice, the congregation felt the “Mennonite Brethren” name had become a hindrance to outreach.
Edmond is a suburb of Oklahoma City, and Mennonite Brethren aren’t well known in the area. Pastor Jeremy Jordan says that residents who are not familiar with the church often had negative connotations with the name. Some assumed the church was part of the Mormon faith. Others associated Mennonite Brethren with Amish or other closed communities. He tells of a phone call asking to borrow horses and buggies, a local pastor who thought the church was part of a cult and conversations that come to a grinding halt as he takes time to explain Mennonite Brethren when he’d rather be talking about Jesus.
In addition, another, larger church nearby also has Memorial Road in the name, creating further confusion.
As the congregation focused increasingly on reaching their community, they kept bumping into the name as an obstacle. “If we were going to reach our community in the best way possible, perhaps we should consider a name change,” Jordan says. So church leaders decided to lead the congregation through a process to talk about the name.
Process involved lots of conversation
Once the question was raised with the congregation, the process involved lots of conversation: one formal meeting to hear concerns and untold numbers of one-on-one conversations between church members and leaders. Church leaders, meanwhile, had conversations with Mennonite Brethren district and national leaders. After about five or six months of these kinds of conversations, a congregational vote overwhelmingly affirmed pursuing a name change.
Church attendees then helped brainstorm possible names. Over several months, church leaders prayerfully narrowed the list to three. Those possibilities were presented to the congregation and the options were allowed two or three months to “sink in.”
A congregational vote in spring solidly affirmed “Cross Timbers Church” as the congregation’s new name.
Cross Timbers is the name of a heavily forested area that runs through parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and includes the area around the church. Early explorers found the dense forest almost impenetrable, which is an apt picture of a dark and sin-filled world, Jordan says. Only Christ, through the cross, enables us to make a way through.
Leaders liked that the cross is prominent in the name. And the sanctuary already featured a cross made of heavy timbers.
Embracing their Mennonite Brethren identity
It wasn’t an easy process, Jordan says, even admitting to “significant tension.” Much of that tension centered on assumptions that the church was moving away from its roots and heritage. Quite the contrary, Jordan says. “In fact, it was embracing who we are as Mennonite Brethren. Being Mennonite Brethren isn’t about a name; it’s about a way of life.” That way of life, he says, includes things like reaching those in the community who don’t know Jesus.
The church’s Mennonite Brethren identity is still clearly expressed on the church website, in printed materials given to guests and in the church budget. In addition, Jordan notes that the church’s legal name is still “Edmond MB Church,” the name chosen when it was founded. The church took on the Memorial Road “doing business as” name when it moved to its current facility on Memorial Road to better reflect their location. The new Cross Timbers name is likewise a “doing business as” name. Legally, the church is still a Mennonite Brethren church.
“We’re comfortable with who we are,” Jordan says. “Once people get to know us, they are comfortable with who we are. So we want them to see who we are and make a decision about our church based on who we actually are, not based on some presupposed idea.”
Community invited and welcomed
Once the name was affirmed, the church began a re-branding process, which included registering the legal “doing business as” name, hiring a graphic designer to create a new logo and launching new print materials and a new website to reflect the new name. Jordan says the rebranding has been a larger project than originally anticipated and some rebranding—like interior signage–is yet to be completed.
By the end of summer, most of the rebranding work was done and the church was ready to celebrate its new name. An internal celebration September 4 marked the day the church began to be known as Cross Timbers Church. Attendees received t-shirts and stickers as a way to celebrate and share the new name.
The church announced their new name to their community with a city-wide launch September 25. Jordan says the launch Sunday itself looked rather normal, but the church made a concerted effort to invite and welcome their community. They mailed flyers to about 6,000 homes within two to three miles of the church announcing the new name, directing people to the website and inviting them to the September 25 service.
“We wanted to be seen as welcoming,” Jordan says.
The invitation seems to have worked; quite a few guests showed up for that Sunday. Jordan notes that none of those guests had a church home, so they are exactly the kind of people the church was hoping to attract.
Jordan says that the church’s new name is a starting point for ministry, not an end in itself. The challenge now is to keep seeking out ways to build on an inviting atmosphere and let the community know they are welcome and wanted. That may include intentional marketing, especially online, or more mailings surrounding new sermon series or special events. It will certainly mean that attendees continue to invite friends and neighbors to the church.
“We want people to see that we’re here for the community,” Jordan says. “We’re here to reach the community, to be ambassadors for him in this community.”