What’s in a Name? Part Three

Part Three of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

In Part One and Part Two I set aside two of the main assumptions that lead churches to rebrand themselves.  In fact, denominational affiliation does not have a negative impact on the perception of the church by non believers, and getting people into the doors of the church is not evangelism.  If these assumptions are false, then is there a reason to rebrand a church?  Is it potentially necessary?  Is it biblical?

Brand or Mission?2010-06-churches-no-denominations-big

The name of your church is not important.  Period.  Call it whatever you want.  The mission and culture of your church is what is going to move it forward.  Even the most “authentic”, relevant, non-denominational church name is going to flop if the church isn’t about furthering the Kingdom of God.  And even the stodgiest 19th century church name is going to rock a community if the church is loving, caring and missionally oriented.

So even though I spent several blog posts musing on them, spend less time on thinking of a name for your church and more time loving justice, showing mercy, and walking humbly with God.  However, in the midst of the mission, you have to call yourselves something.  And that something is going to represent your mission and culture.  So spend enough time when you launch on your church’s name, just not too much.

Reasons to Re-brand

Is there a time when a church can or should re-brand itself?  There is, but not often.  Is it biblical to re-brand our church?  It is.  In fact, re-branding happens in the Scriptures.  Abram becomes Abraham.  Sarai becomes Sarah.  Simon becomes Peter.  And in Genesis 35, God takes Jacob and re-brands him as Israel, “one who struggles with God,” and he becomes the namesake of God’s people.  Looking at these examples, here are some reasons it may be beneficial or even necessary to change your church’s name.

A New Land:  Abraham was given a new name as he moved with God into a new land.  Your church may need a new name if it moves into a new location.  If you are First Church of Dallas, but your new location is in Fort Worth, it is probably time to re-brand.

A New Stage of Life:  Sarah was given a new name as she moved from the married class to the married with children class.  Her new life stage was an impetus for a new moniker.  Is your church moving into a new stage of life?  The transition as a long time lead pastor steps away.  A shift from being a church plant to a settled church.  A church split.  If you have a life-stage change, re-branding may be beneficial.

A New Mission:  Simon takes on a new mission and becomes Peter.  In the same way, if your church is changing its mission, it may fit to have a new name, especially if the new mission will have you encountering a new people group.  Your name represents your mission, so a major change in one may need to affect the other.

A New Multiplication:  As the promise to Abraham began to multiply through Jacob, the people of God took on the brand of Israel.  As a church multiplies itself, becoming a church planting church or moving to a multi-site model, it may be time to re-brand.  These multiplying ministries move the church into more locations, into influence with more people, and reach more cultures.  This may be the time to re-brand with a more universal name – from First Church of This Suburb to First Church of The Suburbs, or First Church.

Re-branding is biblical, and it can be necessary (moving the building to a new city).  But it should always be driven by mission and culture.  What are some other reasons a church may want or need to re-brand?

What’s in a Name? Part Two

Part Two of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

“Having Non-Christians AtteA Different Church Buildingnd Our Church is Evangelism”

While I don’t think any pastor in America would say it this way, our actions speak louder than our words.  Long ago a shift occurred from encouraging our congregations to share their faith to encouraging our congregation to bring people to our worship services.  The message lines up with American culture: let the experts handle this.  If you want your kids to be educated, take them to the teacher (expert).  If you want to become proficient in dance, sign up for classes with an instructor (expert).  And if you want your friends to know Jesus, bring them to hear your pastor (expert).

This isn’t exactly wrong.  In fact, the experience of Christian community and worship is an experience of Christ, and is a major step on the path toward entering the Kingdom of God.  However, this is only part of the picture, not the entirety.  The problem is that this trend has led us to a point where Christians never share their faith, but instead focus on inviting their friends and family to a church service or event.  We have intentionally or unintentionally taught our congregations that their part of evangelism is to bring people into a church building.

When people think this way, then they think that we need to do whatever it takes to get people to come to our church building/service/event.  Our church has to be named something that will get people interested or at least that won’t keep them away.  (As I mentioned in Part One, our assumptions about how people view our denomination leads us to change our name just in case it will keep them away.)

What this leads to is a focus on targeted marketing.  We have to understand the people in our community so that we can market our brand successfully.  And the goal of that marketing is to get them to visit our church building/service/event.  There is nothing wrong with presenting ourselves to our community, and we want to make sure we have a positive image and voice in our community.  But we are entering a world where people do not wake up on Sunday morning and say “Let’s go to church!”  In fact, the majority of people will never darken the door of a church according to Alan Hirsch.

Instead of doing what we can to get people into our church building/service/event, we should be doing what we can to get our church (people) into our community!  We are worried about what we can do to get people in the door.  But if we would worry about what we can do to get into the community – schools, community groups, our neighbors’ homes – it won’t matter what our name is.

People will become a part of our church when they have a relationship with us.  And if they have a relationship with us, they won’t care what our name is!

Re-branding our church in order to get people in the door isn’t wrong, it just isn’t effective.  People just aren’t coming, and it isn’t because of our name, it’s because of the culture we live in.

To move our communities into our churches we are going to have to move our churches into our communities.  Any ideas how to do that?

What’s in a Name? Part One

Part One of a Three Part Series

Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical.  Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.

“Our Denominational Affiliation is a Hindrance to Evangelism”Christian Denomination Logos

For whatever reason, many churches think that their denominational affiliation is a hindrance to evangelism.  That people in their community have such bad ideas about Baptists/Methodists/Episcopals/You Name It that they would never even consider attending a church with that brand association.  This has led to a rise in non-denominational churches and the use of the word community in many church names.  Churches with strong ties to their denomination take the name off but continue the affiliation.  I even spoke with a pastor who told me he didn’t tell anyone what denomination had funded their church plant because they might get the wrong idea about the church.

I think this is a misguided assumption.  In the early 2000’s, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (or should I say the Southern Community Convention?) commissioned a study on the topic (information I obtained in correspondence with the Illinois Baptist Association, the study is no longer available in print).  What they found was that church goers had strong opinions about denominations.  So your denominational affiliation has a definite impact on Christians who are looking for a new church.  But those who did not attend church had no opinion whatsoever about denominations.  They did not care what denomination a church was affiliated with, because they didn’t know much about any of the denominations.

So, denominational affiliation may be a detriment to attracting Christians to your church, but that isn’t evangelism.  Denominational affiliation is not a significant factor for a non-Christian to attend a church.  The biggest factor for them is who invited them.  If you invite them to your church, they might show up.  If you don’t, they won’t.  And most new Christians choose a church based on who led them to the Lord.  They will attend church with that person, mostly regardless of denomination.

So why does this assumption stick around?

First, because people hear anecdotes from their family or friends about negative evaluations of denominations.  People are almost always more trusting of a story than a study, and so these hold a lot of power.  One negative anecdote can counter ten positives ones.  Second, because people have their own negative evaluations of denominations that they project onto others.  If I think it, then so must everyone else.  Third, because of the rise of post-denominationalism in American Christianity.  We are less committed to our denominations, so we hold them with less regard.

Let’s stop thinking that we need to change our name because of our denominational affiliation, and start focusing on living out our denominational distinctives so that people in our communities are drawn to Jesus.

What about you?  Let me know your thoughts on denominations and church names.