Labelling Church

I’m following the comments against Richard’s Fresh Expressions post with great interest.

I’ve just had a look on the Fresh Expressions web site and peeked into their directory of fresh expressions of church. In it I note what appears to be a 100% tendency to label one’s church. Now, in a way that is a stupid thing for me to say, because if they didn’t have labels they wouldn’t be in the directory.

Whilst I don’t think that labelling yourself is wrong – after all it is quite a handy way for people to refer to you (and it helps if you want a web site) – it is interesting to give labelling some thought. The points that I’m tending to ponder are these:

  • Do labels tend to straightjacket your practices? e.g. ‘Baptists’ aren’t ever going to not Baptise are they?
  • Do labels tend to limit your mission to a particular demographic? e.g. pensioners aren’t going to turn up to ‘Loud Rave Church’ are they? Does this make us exclusive rather than inclusive in mission?
  • Do labels enable you to exert controlling power? After all, if one person is the founder, inventor and owner of the label, aren’t others more likely to go along with what they say, so that they can retain some of the benefits of that label? Having an ‘owner’ of the label can surely get in the way of God raising up other key figures within that group.
  • Do labels tend to go hand in hand with formalised procedures?
  • Weren’t labels first applied by those outside of the group? People who looked at the church, from the outside, and found a way of referring to it.
  • Do labels push you towards becoming a legally recognised organisation? Whilst this may give benefits (e.g. Gift Aid tax reimbursement) does this then put you in a position of subservience to societal law?
  • Do labels enable us to shortcut relationships? If we have a label is there then less need to know each other so well?

So, whilst I don’t want to argue for not having labels, I think that we have to be aware that our natural tendency can cause negative things to arise from having a label. In my mind we constantly have to fight our temptation of implement rules and routines that will suffocate the movement of the Holy Spirit.

6 thoughts on “Labelling Church

  1. Many of the questions that Mark raises are good ones, around this issue of labelling.
    Is this a place where labelling can be exchanged for brandig, if so is labelling always a bad thing.
    Branding takes place throughout society, some helpful and some not, but poeple will align themselves to a branding they like. I like reebok, but not nike,and therefore i will buy reebok, what I am trying to say I think is that different people will go for different branding, and this does not necessarily ned to be a bad thing. However we label, however we brand, we will appeal to certain people, and not to others, and maybe the idea of fresh expressions embraces this as, it allows a variety of branding and labelling to appeal to a vaiety of people ina variety of different places.

    This does not tackle all of marks points, and many uestions he raises would challenge what I have said, but i sitll think we can brand and abel a little to appeal to people,a nd it takes many different labels and brand sto appeal to different people.

  2. Yeah, it’s a bit like the way we have culture in order to communicate in our mission. I think that they key is that we don’t box ourselves in to a particular cultural box, when it might be that God wants us to be able to do mission in a different cultural way to a different (sub)culture.

    Actually, I think that people find it quite refreshing to find people who they would think of being in a particular culture can actually be cross cultural – think of the punk helping the old lady across the road!

  3. These questions and similar ones seem to be being asked across the board and especially in the emerging church. Perhaps as you point out, the difficulty is inherent in the way that the net works.

    Still, it would be nice if we could use labels to tie together as much as to distinguish for a concentration on distinctions tends to obscure similarities and as the body of Christ we should not allow that to happen -even if it is inadvertent.

  4. Sam – Yes. Great positive point about drawing on similarities.

    I always liked the idea of labelling with this scheme “The Church in ‘ as then the term ‘Church’ would indicate that you were part of the larger church and the town name would enable people to distinguish you from ‘The Church in ‘. An advantage to this is that it doesn’t push you into a corner as to what you believe or do in the way terms such as ‘congregational’ or ‘baptist’ would.

    The problem with this is that people don’t like to think of all of their brothers and sisters in their immediate area as being part of ‘their’ church and instead prefer to be able to label these brothers and sisters as distinct from them. 🙁

  5. It isn’t just people in churches that do the labelling. A discusion I had in a pub recently someone asked about my faith, I told them I was a Christian, they told me that meant nothing, was i C of E, Baptist or what, they just couldn’t get their heads around the idea that I was a Christian, is this something that we as the Church need to tackle

  6. LOL! I suppose that we’ve brought it on ourselves to a certain extent, splitting ourselves into groups, pointing out our differences.

    Isn’t it nice to meet someone who is so up on religion that it matters to them what denomination you are in! But perhaps they are just interested in dirt and division?

    It is great to say that you are a Christian and not of a particular denomination. I go to a Baptist church but I could never imagine saying that I was a Baptist!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *