Owned by the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Free Will Baptist Bible College is being renamed Welch College in an effort to broaden its appeal to prospective students.

By Bob Allen

Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tenn., is being renamed Welch College in hopes the new name will convince potential students the school is not just for ministers.

The name change was adopted by the National Association of Free Will Baptists during their July 15-18 meeting in Memphis. The new name, recommended by the college’s board of trustees after a year-long feasibility study, takes effect in January.

“This is an important decision in the history of the college,” President Matt Pinson said in a press release. “In a climate of shifting economic and technological change, we must find new ways to meet students’ educational needs. While we remain committed to our Christian mission, we need to reach more students who are serious about Christian living, leadership and service. This means more undergraduate programs geared to reach students called to competitive professional fields, as well as non-traditional, adult and online degree programs.”

The Welch name honors both the Rev. John L Welch, the pastor of Cofer’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville for 53 years, the first moderator of the National Association of Free Will Baptists and a 12-year member of the college’s board of trustees, and his wife, Mary, a longtime secretary at the college and leader in the denomination’s women’s movement.

Other changes in store for the 70-year-old college include relocation from Nashville’s West End to a 66-acre new campus to the north in nearby Gallatin. The college currently offers 40 programs of study, and its strategic plan calls for further academic expansion and the addition of graduate programs in the fields of theology and education.

The National Association of Free Will Baptists is an organization of Free Will Baptist churches in the U.S. and Canada formed in 1935 in Nashville. It is the largest of the Free Will Baptist denominations, with 2,500 churches and 300,000 members.

Free Will Baptists are fundamentalist in doctrine, but unlike some Baptists who believe that God ordains both who is saved and lost, they teach that God gave humans free will to either accept or reject Christ. They also observe foot washing as a third ordinance in addition to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.