What’s in a name?
Sometimes ‘Mennonite,’ sometimes not
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, so too a name — even more, a name change — speaks volumes about an organization, its priorities and how it views its relationship to the world.
Switching from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is an action Mennonite World Review can appreciate, and not just because it leaves an acronym untouched.
The term “Associated” was obsolete. It defined not the seminary’s mission or unique role but a Mennonite division that no longer exists. Now, instead of looking back on the days of two seminaries that banded together long before the Mennonite Church USA merger, the new name looks back centuries further — to the origins of a brand of faith increasingly embraced beyond Mennonite churches.
When choosing a name, market research cannot be ignored. Some see what makes Mennonites distinct as an asset, a beacon to those searching for something outside the worldly mainstream. Others see such distinction as a hindrance. They find incompatibility between welcoming everyone and appearing strange.
Name changes have diverse motives. Mennonite Mutual Aid, wanting to cast a wider net and perhaps noticing its acronym losing the Google battle to Mixed Martial Arts, dropped “Mennonite” and invented a word to become Everence in 2010.
When the Evangelical Mennonite Church changed to Fellowship of Evangelical Churches in 2003, it symbolized to some a change in theology that had already occurred.
Mennonite Media dropped “Mennonite” in 2009 to become Third Way Media — still Anabaptist but a bit of a stretch — and as of last year is under the MennoMedia tent, with its new name intact.
The Mennonite Brethren made a modification in 2010 when Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary became Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, emphasizing tighter connections with an institution named only by geography. The following year, Mennonite Brethren Mission/Service International chose brevity and became MB Mission.
At the congregational level, many newer MB congregations in both the U.S. and Canada eschew the “town name + MB” formula in favor of more abstract monikers that do little to describe what kind of theology is found within.
Churches from a variety of Mennonite denominations have shiny websites that hide “Mennonite” in the fine print at the bottom of a tucked-away page so as to not frighten away those they seek to reach.
Many of these congregations deliver the gospel successfully. Any organization should be judged by substance, not window dressing. But what message might they be leaving out in the name of market research?
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