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Churches following nondenominational movement

First Presbyterian of Roseville changes name to avoid confusion, be more inviting
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The elected elders of First Presbyterian Church of Roseville recognized a need and an opportunity to reach more people.

But doing so involved a risky move for a long-standing church, especially one that has been around since 1873 and prides itself on being the first Protestant church in Roseville.

They would change their church’s name.

In May, this place of worship on Sunrise Avenue, where it’s been since the 1960s, became Centerpoint Community Church.

“It was a long time coming,” said Senior Pastor Jim Barstow, who began his ministry there in 1999. “The name was a hindrance. We found out that people said, ‘I’m not (Presbyterian). So why would I go?’ It wasn’t inviting.”

The name change reflects a growing movement among religious organizations in the United States to appear nondenominational, meaning the church is not formally aligned with an established denomination, such as Methodist or Baptist.

“It used to be if you lived in a small town, there was the Presbyterian church on this corner, the Baptist church on that corner,” said Bill Clark, chief of staff of Bayside Church in Granite Bay. “It’s just a different era.”

Clark’s church, with a congregation of about 10,000 people, is officially called Bayside Covenant Church — a name not often used — and is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

“But you’d never know it,” Clark said. “That’s just not what we want to emphasize. We don’t want to emphasize loyalty to a denomination or group or live with the history of that’s who we were so that’s who we are now. We want to talk about loyalty to the kingdom of God and loyalty to Christ first.”

‘Who we are not’

Earlier this year, in a sermon to his congregation — which boasts about 11,000 people — Barstow explained the reasons for the name change, starting with the challenges churches face today.

Research shows that younger or “unchurched” people are more likely to go to a nondenominational church, which is the fastest-growing type of church, Barstow said.

Clark agrees there’s a shift away from placing high emphasis on a denomination affiliation.

“I think that has been happening and maybe it’s been accelerating,” Clark said.

In 1987, Clark started a church in another state under the auspices of a denomination that required the church to include the denomination in its name. That requirement no longer exists, he said.

The Rock of Roseville on Vernon Street is a nondenominational church co-founded in 1997 by Pastor Francis Anfuso.

“Although there are some positives to being in a denomination, such as support and camaraderie within the fellowship, there are also restrictions and policies that may keep a senior pastor from moving as he feels God is leading him,” Anfuso said.

Centerpoint does subscribe to a denomination, that of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

But then there’s the confusion. Within a five-mile radius of its site, there are four different Presbyterian denominations — Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and Presbyterian Church in America.

“What we find we are doing with people is explaining who we are not,” Barstow told his congregation.

The church changed its affiliation in 2008 from Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

“The reason for the change was to be aligned with a denomination that we were in theological agreement with,” Barstow said. “There were numerous issues in the PCUSA that we found ourselves in disagreement over and felt we were far more in agreement with the (Evangelical Presbyterian Church).”

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church preaches a more conservative theology. The denominations recently have been divided over the PSUSA’s decision to permit women ministers and to allow the ordination of the first openly gay minister in October.

Changing the name

A few years back, the elected ruling body of First Presbyterian Church of Roseville reflected on their church’s mission to serve the faith community and felt that fulfilling this mission meant a name change.

“If we understand (the name) to be a barrier to people, then let’s get rid of the barrier,” said church elder Rick Hamilton.

The group started with 150 suggestions. They wanted a name that is nondenominational, isn’t geographical (as they serve the region), makes sense and doesn’t resemble another church, and conveys meaning without excluding anyone.

They unanimously approved Centerpoint Community Church with the tagline, “centering life in Christ.”

“That’s what we want to help people do here — to find that balance,” Barstow said.

In a survey of local residents, church representatives presented people with a card with the original name and Centerpoint Community Church and asked which one they were more inclined to attend based on the name — 75 percent said Centerpoint.

The response has been mixed among the congregation, though. Barstow said younger families tend to be more accepting, while some older members find it difficult to embrace the change.

As for Barstow, during his sermons he’s just trying to remember not to refer to his church as “FPC” anymore. Each time he does, he has to put money in a jar.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.