On Saturday, we directed your attention to Thomas Kidd’s post calling for the end of the term “evangelical” to describe Protestants who believe in the inspiration of the Bible, the centrality of conversion, and the need to share their faith with others. Kidd thinks that the word “evangelical” in America “has become inextricably tied to Republican politics,” making it more of a political term than a religious one.
When my post went to Facebook, an evangelical pastor responded this way:
For most east coast pastors who have adopted a seeker approach the term has been avoided for two decades or more. It’s turned into a political term that works against our efforts to reach the unchurched.
This is one pastor’s opinion, but I think it may be correct. Fifteen years ago, when I started attending an Evangelical Free church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, it was called “West Shore Evangelical Free Church.” But today, if you go to the church website, you will notice that the church is now called “West Shore Free Church.” What happened to the term “evangelical?” Perhaps I missed the meeting when this was changed. The church remains part of the Evangelical Free Church denomination, but it no longer uses the term “evangelical” to describe itself.
I got really curious about this, so we checked out the websites of some of the largest evangelical churches in the country using a list from Sermon Central. The list includes Lakewood Church (Joel Osteen), Willow Creek Community Church (Bill Hybels), Saddleback Church (Rick Warren), The Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes), and Thomas Road Baptist Church (Jonathan Falwell).
After an extensive examination of the websites of the 40 largest churches on the Sermon Central list, we found two churches that used the term “evangelical” as a descriptive term. Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois describes itself as an “evangelical fellowship.” Saint Matthews Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation in Williamstown, New Jersey, describes its doctrinal position as “historically that of conservative, evangelical Christianity.” (It also describes itself as at the “forefront of the non-charismatic, dispensational, pre-millennial movement.”
This little study is far from perfect, but perhaps my pastor friend is correct. It seems that most of the largest churches in the country, churches that scholars and the media would describe as “evangelical,” don’t use the term to identity themselves.