10 Questions to Ask Before You Change the Name of Your Church
By: Vanderbloemen February 20, 2017
Years ago when I was a Lead Pastor, we changed the name of our church. We had been North Baptist Church and we changed the name to Northridge Church. Going through that process was not easy in a 125-year-old church. But I was convinced that our name was serving more as a wall than a bridge. So, striving to do everything we could to win as many for Christ as possible, we went through the difficult, time-consuming, and expensive process of changing the name of our church.
Should you change the name of your church? There rarely is a simple answer to that question. But these ten clarifying questions can guide you through the decision-making process.
1. Who is your primary target?
If your primary target is people far from God or if you are a seeker church, then a less-denominational name may be helpful (but not necessarily). If your primary target is to help those who already come to your church to become fully mature in Christ, then a name-change will have little impact. If your church grows more from “gathering” other Christians who are looking for a church rather than new believers, a name change may not be helpful.
For us, our target was new Christians, and we felt that a name change was worth further investigation.
2. How “churched” is your community?
The less churched your town or city is, the more likely a denominational name has a negative impact on your growth. But if you are in a more churched area of the country (i.e. the south or the Bible belt), a denominational name is likely helpful. If we go further back in American history, a majority of our nation was “churched,” and a majority of people identified themselves with a particular denomination. A logical reason a church labeled itself with its denominational title was because Americans did; so if you were moving into that town, you could easily find a church similar to your previous church in doctrine. So if you are in a more churched part of the country, a denominational name could be more helpful than harmful.
For us in Rochester, NY – a very unchurched part of the country – we suspected that the name may be hurting us.
3. Why do you want to change the name?
This is one only you can answer. When we changed our name, we had one motivation: the word “Baptist” was more of a wall than a bridge in our area of the country. We truly believed we would be more effective in fulfilling our mission of making “more and better disciples” if we changed the name. We found it to be true.
4. Does your church name provide clarity or confusion?
In our city, there were many Baptist churches, but no two of them were identical, and many churches with the same denominational title can be vastly different in theology and practice. For example, when we were deciding to change our name, the largest Baptist church in our area at that time was a great church but was a King-James only church - very different from our church.
In some parts of the country (particularly the south), the name “Baptist” is likely very helpful and clarifying for people. If you are a southern Baptist church in the south, the name likely provides clarity.
For us in our area, we felt the name “Baptist” was confusing rather than clarifying because there were so many types of Baptist churches in our city. We felt that a name change was worth investigating. But in other areas of the country, including a denominational name may give additional clarity to Christians looking for a church.
5. Does the name of your church carry baggage?
In rare situations, a church goes through a very difficult situation (i.e. a pastor scandal) that is heavily-covered by the local media. In this case, a name change may be helpful to remove some of the reputational baggage because of a past issue.
This wasn’t the case with our church (thank the Lord), but it is something to consider if it would be helpful for the future growth of your church.
6. Are you significantly different from most churches in your denomination?
If you are similar to other churches in your denomination, a name change will have less of an impact. If you are significantly different than other churches in your denomination, a name change may be very helpful.
7. Are you willing to lose people?
You are considering changing your name because you feel it may be helpful for your church and its future growth and impact for Christ. But the truth is, you will lose some people if you change the name of the church. Are you willing to lose people? No matter how great your strategy is and how well you communicate the reasons, some will be upset and will leave. We never rejoice in that reality, but we have to accept it as a fact.
8. Are you viewing it as a “magic bullet” that will cause the church to grow?
Changing the name of your church will not cause a shrinking or stagnant church to start growing. Sometimes, pastors who long to see churches grow will grasp at all kinds of things, thinking it will be the difference-maker and cause the church to grow. That just isn’t true. It may be one of fifty things that helps a church grow, but it will not be a growth engine itself.
It is similar when churches assume they will begin growing again once they build a building. They have a Field of Dreams philosophy: “If you build it, they will come.” But if a church is not growing before they build a new building, it likely won’t grow after it is built. Similarly, if a church isn’t growing before a name-change, the name-change will not be a significant factor to turn around a slowly dying or stagnant church. But it could be another piece in creating already existing momentum.
Don’t use a name-change solely as a growth strategy. It will disappoint you and cause you to lose leadership credibility.
9. What does your denominational title mean in your community?
Ask around in your area. When the name of your denomination comes up to people in your community, what do they think? Don’t guess. Do research. Ask. Find out. It may help you decide if this is a worthy pursuit. Even if you aren’t a seeker church, you want to win people to Christ and have them come and grow at your church. A new or nonbeliever won’t automatically think well of a church’s name. So make the name as inviting as possible. We wanted to remove as many excuses as possible for people not to show up at our church.
10. Are you willing to be patient?
The first time I considered a name change, I don’t think our church leaders were ready. And if they weren’t ready, the church was nowhere close to being ready. I knew if we changed the name, it would take time. It was probably about two years from the time I determined it would be a good idea to change the name until I asked the leaders to seriously consider it.
The process of changing our name was an intentionally slow one, and it included these steps (among many others):
- Clarifying the mission and vision of the church
- Clarifying our commitment to the mission and vision (you can have a great mission and vision but not practice or pursue it)
- Getting the leaders to “buy in”
- Introducing the concept to the church and explaining why (I used a full sermon and almost 20 blog posts to explain the reasoning)
- Having open forums for people to speak their minds and ask questions
- If this is a change the congregation votes on, I suggest changing the name in two votes. The first vote was whether or not to change the name. The second vote was what to change the name to. You don’t want people voting against a specific name before the church agrees to change the name.
- You will want to apply for a DBA (Doing Business As) so you can use the new name more quickly. Legally changing the name takes significant time and includes a lot of steps.
Should you change your church's name? I don’t know. But if you do, it is important to carefully think through these questions before you do.
As I mentioned, we went through the difficult pain of changing our name. And for us, there was one primary reason: it was an evangelism strategy not a doctrinal compromise. For the sake of the Gospel, it was a worthy change. It may or may not be for you. I hope these questions can help you evaluate if it is a good idea for your church.
Have you gone through a church name change before? What else would you add?