What's in a name?

If it's Campus Crusade for Christ, the answer is confusion and controversy. Both the "campus" and the "crusade," leaders have decided, will have to go.

After 60 years, officials announced Tuesday night that the international evangelical ministry is changing its name — to "Cru."

"This is the right time to embrace a new name, and … this name meets our objective of achieving a greater level of effectiveness in ministry," said Steve Douglass, the organization's president. "This decision has been saturated with prayer. We only want what God wants for us... We believe this new name will position us to connect better with the next generation."

Chosen from 1,600 suggestions, the name already has been used on a majority of the group's U.S. campus ministries since the mid-1990s. Though some followers worried in online forums the name might be confused with a rowing club, the organization said change was due.

"Has the old name hurt the organization? We do believe so," said Steve Sellers, vice president of the expansive Orlando-based organization. "The name alienation among the general population was significant."

Sellers said there were two problems with the old name, which Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright said had been given him by a seminary professor who told him, "God gave me the name for you."

The first is that Campus Crusade, one of the nation's largest religious charities, long ago ceased to be a ministry exclusive to college campuses — although it still has about 70,000 student followers across the country.

"We have an athletic ministry we call 'Athletes in Action.' We have a family ministry we call 'Family Life,'" Sellers said. "We have music ministries. We have ministries in 150 countries, and there are fewer than 10 of those that still use the [Campus Crusade] name."

But the more problematic word is "crusade." At best, some Christians say, it's outdated. At worst, in an age of jihad, it conjures up images of violence and intolerance in general and the religiously sanctioned military Crusades of history in particular. The latter flourished in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

While those connotations may be sketchy for some, the word still carries a sense of zealotry and fanaticism that's distasteful, said Sister Ann Kendrick, a Catholic nun who helps run the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka. "It comes across as, 'We've got the truth and you don't.' It's too bad religion can't be a little more like the 12-step movement — where it's about attraction, not promotion. People become involved because they want what you've got."

Sandi Vidal, executive director of the nonprofit Christian HELP in Casselberry, agrees the word might scare off potential supporters. But she also worried somewhat about the replacement. When you run a charity, she noted, it's essential that donors know who you are.

"You don't want to wind up as 'the organization formerly known as Campus Crusade,'" she said.

By changing the name, which was announced to 5,000 staffers at a conference in Colorado on Tuesday evening, the organization hopes to tap into a growing wave of volunteerism among young Christians, Sellers said. When a marketing and research firm polled outsiders on their willingness to join in an unnamed faith-based ministry with the same principles as Campus Crusade, respondents were initially enthusiastic.

"When we said, 'Well, what if the name of that organization was this [Campus Crusade for Christ],' their interest dropped significantly," Sellers said.

Robert Stuart, executive director of the Christian Service Center for Central Florida and an Orlando City Council member, said he thought the name was merely outdated, not inherently negative.

"Crusade is a 1970s kind of word," he said. "A lot of people would probably associate it with [evangelist] Billy Graham's crusades more than anything. It's not bad. It's just not common anymore."

Sellers said the change will be phased in gradually over the next seven or more months — both to keep from losing supporters who look to join or donate to Campus Crusade and to keep from wasting current materials and letterheads with the old name.

"We're a donor-based organization," said Sellers, who would not say how much the name change will cost. "We strive to use our resources wisely. This is all about: How do we become more effective as we move forward?"

ksantich@tribune.com or 407-420-5503