March 30, 2009 Tony Morgan

When Names Matter

Last week, I started a conversation about brand names. I tried to make the case (you can judge how successfully) that a name does very little, if anything, to sell a product or service or experience. The value added matters. The quality matters. Whether or not it’s addressing a perceived need matters. The name doesn’t matter…not at least until the brand is established.

On the other hand, I do think that a name can limit the sales of a product or service or experience. Let’s look at some obvious examples. If I’m shopping for food, I’m unlikely to go to a Starbucks Coffeehouse. I’ll go to a Starbucks Coffeehouse if I’m looking for coffee, but the name has limited the potential market. Starbucks sells coffee.

Taco Bell sells tacos and other Mexican food. If I’m hungry for a hamburger, I don’t go to Taco Bell. By putting “taco” in the name, they’ve already decided they’re probably not going to sell food to hamburger shoppers.

Now let me shoot closer to home. How about Anytown Baptist Church? As long as you’re trying to reach baptists, that’s a great name. Just so you know, though, most people that don’t consider themselves baptists (which is more and more people) will assume Anytown Baptist Church is only for baptists.

Here’s the reality, if Taco Bell started selling hamburgers and they were really good hamburgers, ultimately someone might buy their burger. One happy Taco Bell burger-eater might tell their friend to try one out. When that happens, the friend’s first reaction will be “Taco Bell sells tacos.” Taco Bell could dip into their deep marketing pockets and launch a huge campaign to tell people they now sell burgers. If it’s an effective campaign, it might convince more people to try their burgers. But, for a long, long time, people will likely first think of Taco Bell as a taco restaurant and not a hamburger joint.

The problem is that churches rarely, if ever, have that kind of bank. We can’t afford the type of marketing campaign it would take to try to convince people that Anytown Baptist Church isn’t just for baptists. For a long, long time baptist churches will be for baptists. And, whether you like it or not, people who aren’t baptists, have preconceived notions about what baptists are like and what happens at their churches.

So, when I’m asked whether or not a church should change it’s name, my initial response isn’t: “What’s the new name you’re considering?” My first response is: “What’s your mission?”

If your mission is to minister to the families that are currently attending your church, you shouldn’t change your name. If your mission is to reach people who have a proclivity to a specific denomination, then you probably don’t need to change your name. If you believe that God has predestined some people to attend your church and others not to, there’s really no need to change your name. (Which makes me wonder why God let you read this post…but that’s a topic for another day.)

If, on the other hand, the mission of your church is to reach people who are currently unchurched, then you need to ask the name question. If your primary mission is to reach people in our post-denominational culture, then you need to ask the name question.

Names don’t sell a new product. Names do sell an established product. Names also have the potential of limiting your market.

Does the name matter? It depends on your mission…and it depends on your name. Your first job, though, is to agree on the mission.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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