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A simple google earth search turns up hundreds of "First Congregational Churches" all over the U.S. What is the significance of this name?

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Lack of creativity? You'll get the same with "First Baptist Church", "First Church of the Nazarene", etc. – Ryan Frame Jun 12 '13 at 0:41
I've always assumed that when the Congregational denomination comes to town they call their church "The Congregational Church". When second one arrives, either by growth or (more likely) schism it renames itself "First Congregational Church" to distinguish it from latecomers. – DJClayworth Jun 12 '13 at 1:29
@RyanFrame You mean like banks? :-/ (Maybe someone will have creative marketing and name a church "Last X Church"--"the first will be last and the last first".) – Paul A. Clayton Jun 12 '13 at 1:57
lol @PaulA.Clayton +1 – user4060 Jun 12 '13 at 5:21
I have seen a "Fourth Baptist Church" before – SSumner Jun 12 '13 at 13:44

2 Answers 2

Assuming you don't know about Congregationalism

Congregationalism is a system of governance where the local church independently and autonomously runs its own affairs. It does not specify any doctrine or hierarchy, which allows for the existence of 'Methodist Congregational' churches and 'Uniting Congregational' churches. There are two major denominations in the US which are Congregational throughout their structure - the 'National Association of Congregational Christian Churches' and the 'Conservative Congregational Christian Conference'.

Congregational churches are usually Protestant although there are also Congregationalist variants of other religious institutions.

As for the "first" bit

I haven't been able to track down any conclusive evidence.

Wikipaedia lists approximately 100 churches called "First Congregational Church" and only 2 called "Second Congregational Church". They are all in the US.

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@user989718 Firstly you should have written that as a comment to my answer, not as a separate answer because it isn't really an answer. It also makes it more difficult to contact you because I am unable to comment on your answer (I'm a noobie like you). Secondly, perhaps denomination isn't the right word however it is certain that 'Congregational' falls into a different category to 'Methodist' or 'Uniting'. For one thing, there are Congregational Methodist churches and Congregational Uniting churches. Have you got an alternative term to define this distinction? – LittleJohn Jun 12 '13 at 10:15
The "first/second" thing isn't always a sign of a split. Usually it's just an indication of the sequence churches were founded in a given area. First Presbyterian church of Podunkville is just the first Presbyterian church founded there. I've noted some large cities with churches like "43rd Baptist" although usually after the first and second slots are gone people get more creative with names. – Caleb Jun 12 '13 at 11:09
@Caleb Well I guess this is what happens when an Aussie speaks from personal experience online. We just can't help doing things differently... – LittleJohn Jun 12 '13 at 12:00
Adding information about how the term potentially indicates different things down under vs up top might make an interesting and useful addition to this answer. – Caleb Jun 12 '13 at 12:03
Just to point out, i meant google "earth" search, i'll edit the question to be more specific. – Nick Jun 12 '13 at 15:52

Congregational churches are part of the Puritan tradition. The English Puritans, who formed a really core part of the New England colonies, distanced themselves from traditional (high) church practice, especially when these were the same as Roman Catholic practices that they disagreed with.

In traditional Christian practice – this definitely dates back to the fourth century (see list of oldest church buildings) – churches were dedicated to a particular saint, or event in the life of Christ (or the Virgin Mary), or some aspect of God. Often, the church might actually be built or house the remains (relics) of the saint to which it is dedicated.

The seventeenth-century Puritans disagreed with this practice, as do their present-day successors. You may see some churches in this or similar streams of tradition named after Christian concepts such as Trinity or Grace, but equally common are neutral names based on the location of the church. “First,” apparently, is a pretty obvious choice for the first church in a particular location, if that location is a large city.

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There still exist a few Church of England churches built by the Puritans in England which do not have a patron saint, but are merely (for one example) "Plaxtol Parish Church". – Andrew Leach Nov 14 at 12:40

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