The 83-year-old’s name no longer worked.
It was geographically incorrect.
It no longer defined the mission of the Church.
It was lost in the many other congregations when “Southside Baptist Church” was entered in a simple Google search.
The Southside Baptist Church, located next to the San Marco Fire Station, had faded into the backdrop of the shopping district to the point that people standing in the park across the street could not identify it by name.
Just as Facebook became Meta, church leaders did what so many companies did. They addressed their brand image.
Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Gary Lee Webber, pastor of Southside Baptist Church, the church that has served generations of families voted in November 2021 to change the name to Aspire Church of San Marco.
The new name won with 73% approval.
Aspiring to switch brands
When the church was founded in 1939, Jacksonville was a very different place.
The church was in South Jacksonville, which later became known as Southside. This descriptor worked until the 1970s when San Marco became the predominant name for the area and “Southside” moved to the Tinseltown area.
At its annual meeting in November 2019, the congregation voted to form a rebranding committee. Members who worked in marketing, public relations and graphic arts volunteered to serve.
Webber, who has been the pastor since 2008, recalled early meetings where the committee filled out a whiteboard with names.
Some were geographical, others included the river, while still others were spiritual and theological.
However, the new name was above them all the time. The church steeple, which many call its “spire,” served as the inspiration for the new name – Aspire.
Built in the 1950s, the steeple defines the church and has become a prominent part of Jacksonville’s skyline.
“It is visible from five of the city’s seven bridges. We like to think that on a really clear day you might be able to see it from Dames Point Bridge,” Webber said.
Aspire also refers to the church’s aspiration to serve not just its parishioners but the community, he said.
When San Marco was flooded during Hurricane Irma, the church served as a staging area for rescue workers assisting residents and businesses facing over 6 feet of water.
“The idea of the spire was really in line with the idea that we all have aspirations, dreams and desires. Our church obviously aspires to usher in the hope and reality of heaven on earth. The steeple points upward It’s this whole idea of aspiration,” Webber said.
COVID has slowed down the rebranding effort. Group meetings have moved to Zoom, but it hasn’t worked for everyone.
Webber said the hiatus gave committee members and the congregation time to pray over the need for a new name. When the vaccines were developed, the committee reformed and work resumed
“We thought it was important that the work comes from our body. It had to be something that represents who we are,” Webber said.
“When you look at a company going through a rebrand, customers don’t necessarily talk about it. But in a church, the congregation is not the client. The congregation is truly the church.
Once the committee completed its work, Webber hired Go Bright Marketing and Roxie Reeve, director of digital marketing at 3D Digital, to review the work. Reeve volunteered.
Webber estimated that Go Bright Marketing gave the church a neighbors discount and the fee was about $2,500.
In total, Webber estimated the rebranding effort would cost around $50,000.
“Due to poor name recognition in San Marco, we already had to improve exterior signage even if we weren’t changing brands, so most of that money would have been spent anyway,” he said. .
Removal of the Baptist name
When Southside Baptist Church changes its name to Aspire San Marco Church on Easter Sunday, April 17, it will remain Southside Baptist Church for business purposes.
The church filed a petition under the state’s Fictitious Names Act, the easiest way to do business under the new name without going through the recharter process.
Aspire Church San Marco will remain a Baptist church in its theological teachings and doctrine, Webber said. However, removing “Baptiste” from his name was an intentional decision.
Webber said for those outside of the Baptist community, the word could have negative connotations. Some people view Baptists as harsh and judgmental.
Aspire Church San Marco will adopt Southside Baptist Church’s slogan, “Love Everyone Always.”
“For some, when they hear ‘love everyone always’, Baptiste is not the first thing that comes to mind. It was more of an oxymoron,” he said.
Controversies like youth sex scandals have tarnished the mark of the Roman Catholic Churches, whether a parish is involved or not, he said. The hierarchy of the Baptist Church has removed “Baptist” from many of its organizations.
For example, the Florida Baptist Children’s Home is now known as One More Child.
By stripping the denomination from the name, it is believed that those moving to the neighborhood looking for a place of worship will judge Aspire Church San Marco by its ministry content and overall experience rather than its Baptist roots.
“It’s a generational issue. With an older generation, the name of the denomination represents safety and comfort and spells out the theology of the church. Younger, post-Christian members have no denominational loyalties,” Webber said.
When asked on forms to express a preferred religious affiliation, young people are more likely to tick “none”, he said.
They do not claim to be atheists or agnostics, rather they do not identify with any specific doctrine or religious group.
Communication is key
As the vote to change the name approached, every member of the congregation aged 16 and over had their say. Webber and the committee were confident Aspire would win, he said.
The church has 570 voting members. On polling day, Aspire was among four names.
Almost three quarters of the members voted for Aspire Church San Marco.
Communication throughout made the process painless, Webber said.
There had been open meetings to allow members to express their opinions on the names or even on the need for a change.
The news of an impending name change was known to all.
After the vote, Webber recalled an elderly couple calling him. They had been members of the Southern Baptist Convention and had served as Baptist missionaries.
They called him to let him know they had voted for the new name.
Southside Baptist Church has embraced the internet. The ssbc.org site published a video explaining the reasons for the change. The why and how of the Aspire name are easy to find.
The evolution of the new logo is shown. Concept images of possible branding ideas including pens, mugs and shirts are shown.
Even before COVID, the church was sharing its services online. The website offers video presentations of Sunday sermons. The church has a podcast.
When COVID forced churches to look for other ways to worship, Webber knew Southside Baptist had to up their game.
“With all the services available online, why would people choose to participate in ours?” he said.
The church purchased new equipment. Webber invited viewers to save a favorite Bible passage.
These clips have in turn been integrated into the video service. Musicians were invited to record themselves playing favorite or original hymns and inspirational music which also became part of the service.
Webber said online engagement has likely increased the number of people attending his Sunday services over the past two years.
As Easter approaches, the church prepares for its new name. Church leaders say that while the name is new, the ministry remains the same.
New stationery, business cards and other materials will be purchased, while every effort is made to utilize the remaining supplies from Southside Baptist Church.
Work is underway to ensure that a Google search for “Aspire” brings up San Marco Church near, if not at the top, of the websites listed.
“This is not the start of a change. This is the culmination of a change,” Webber said.