Historically, churches had one name throughout their existence. Today, churches are being renamed as the result of mergers or rebranding. It’s time to consider what’s in a church name.
Historic Motivations for Church Names
What is the history behind your church’s name? Odds are your history includes one of the following motivations:
For centuries, most churches included denomination affiliation in their names. This served as a beacon to attract Christians of their denominations and project doctrinal beliefs to the community.
It is increasingly common to find churches include the term “community” in their names. In this way, the churches identify the community where God has called them to make disciples of Jesus. It also tells the people of the community they are welcome at the churches.
There are fads in naming churches. For example, there was a movement to include “journey” or “crosspoint” in church names during the 1990s and early 2000s. This was closely tied to attracting Generation X Christians.
There is also a tradition of naming congregations in honor of mother churches. I was the planting pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Church, the daughter of Crown of Life Lutheran Church and granddaughter of Fountain of Life Lutheran Church. And, yes, we dreamed of starting a great granddaughter church named “Water of Life Lutheran Church.”
Finally, there are church names with truly unique histories. I know a church that was started because the founding pastor always wanted to plant a church named “Beautiful Savior.” I find this affirming. Inspired by Isaiah 61:3, I have secretly dreamed of planting a church with “Royal Oak” in its name for almost 30 years.
Special Case of Church Mergers
When two or more churches merge to form a new congregation, the church needs a new name. I have noticed a progression in how leaders choose such names.
Initially, leaders try to find a clever way to combine the original church names. In this way, they can honor the past. For example, one could expect the following names suggested for a merger of St. Timothy Lutheran Church and Hope Lutheran Church:
- “Hope at St. Timothy Lutheran Church”
- “St. Timothy of Hope Lutheran Church”
- “St. Hope Lutheran Church”
If a combo name is not satisfactory, leaders next consider names that reflect the reason the churches came together:
- New Hope Lutheran Church
- Resurrection Anglican Church
- New Beginnings Church
Or the leaders may turn to a name that reflects the community where God is calling them to make disciples of Jesus.
- Lakeland Lutheran Church
- Huron Valley Lutheran Church
- Greenwood County Lutheran Church
My guidance is to abandoned the initial idea. Your churches merged so they can have a future, not live in the past. Invest your time in the second and third options for naming a merged church.
Renaming a Church to Rebrand a Church
Rebranding is changing the name of an existing congregation to create a new understanding of the church in the minds of members and the community.
The trend today is for churches with traditional names to rebrand with unique names. So, churches operate under such names as “Intentional Church” or “Praxis Church” or “Momentum Church.” (New church starts also are trending toward unique names.)
This is often an attempt to attract Christians who disdain denominational and institutional loyalty. A percentage of such Christians are also drawn by all things new or progressive.
When churches ask me about rebranding, I start with these questions: Does your rebranding reflect a significant change in the culture of your church? If not, rebranding will appear as a cheap marketing ploy. If so, how will the new church name accurately reflect the new culture of your congregation?
Naming Churches Today
Regardless of why you are participating in naming a church, keep these thoughts in mind.
Avoid a “bait and switch.”
Because institutional loyalty is so low, church leaders are tempted to leave denominational titles from church names. Instead of naming a church, “Faith Lutheran Church,” it’s called “Faith Community Church.” This is not wise. The church still has denominational culture and doctrine. There is a real risk of members and visitors alike feeling like they were misled or even deceived about the church.
Make sure the church name is unique for the community.
I travel through a lot of small towns and villages. From time to time I see three churches of different denominations in the same town each with “St. Paul” or “Grace” in their name. Differentiating church names locally matters.
Ensure a suitable internet domain name is available.
It’s just as important today for churches to differentiate online as in the community. There is room for creativity in a domain name for a church website. Just make sure the creativity does not bleed over into obscurity.
Name the church for the mission field.
A vast majority of churches were named in an era when church leaders thought their community and even culture was Christian. We know for certain this is not true today, and I wonder how true it was back in the day. So, naming a church for the area or community God called the church to serve makes sense today.
Keep the name as short as possible.
Short churches are more memorable than long church names. The longer a church name, the more likely people in the community will get confused about the church name. It is easier to promote a church with a shorter name than a longer name.
What are your thoughts on church names? Share them in the comments or shoot me an email.