November 19, 2018 Shawn Stewart

6 Critical Questions to Ask Before Renaming Your Church

Thinking about Renaming Your Church? Consider These Important Factors Before Moving Forward

Remember phone books? It’s been a while, I know, but they used to be our primary resource for finding local listings for pizza parlors, mattress stores, and churches.

If you found an old, local phone book and began to flip through it, you’d find that a lot of things have changed. You’d probably notice that you don’t recognize many of the church names in your area, not because they’ve closed up, but because they changed their names since. In fact, many churches have changed their name at least once in the past few decades.

Reflecting People and Culture

Church names used to be easy to come up with. They were simply descriptive of denomination and place. “We are the very first Baptist church in Reno, Nevada. What should we call ourselves?” Simple. “First Baptist Church of Reno!”

Or “Our building is going to be on Golden Road. What should we name it?” Easy. “Golden Road Bible Church!”

But as churches shifted toward more strategic outreach, and as church leaders became attentive to their branding and communications, church names started to become more reflective of the people and culture inside rather than their place on the map.

Strategic Storytelling

In my role as Director of Strategy at PlainJoe Studios, I’ve had the privilege of guiding many churches through the branding and re-branding process, which we call “strategic storytelling.” We help churches identify their core story (their history, people, and culture) and then strategize how they will tell that story to the community they intend to serve. Often, that process includes deciding whether or not they should re-name the church.

I believe that strategic naming (whether for your church or business) should always follow a process that does two things; 1) ensures you’re aiming at something and 2) helps to narrow your focus in support of your organization’s purpose and story.

But before you call all the “creative people” in your congregation to a church name brainstorm (don’t do that, by the way), start by asking yourself (and your key leaders) some strategic questions that will guide you toward discovery of your church’s core identity.

6 Questions to Ask When Renaming Your Church

Put some thought into these questions to help guide your church re-naming discussions.

Why do we want to rename our church?

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it… but if there’s a strategic reason to change your name, get out the tools. If you’re moving locations, transitioning leadership, or introducing a new missional focus, it might be the perfect time to change your name. Don’t change your name just because you’re bored. If you’re struggling internally, a new name is probably not your best solution. Beware the trap of changing your name to look “New and Improved” while under the hood, it’s the same old thing.

What is our church’s history?

Your church stands on the shoulders of where you’ve been. Take time to discover your history. Your church was started by a particular group of people, at a particular time in history, and for a God-guided reason. Your history is marked by formative milestones which defined its place in the community and created the culture you share today. Some things have remained the same, and some things have changed drastically. Consider how your church’s history brought you to where you are today.

Where are we headed?

Paint an imaginative picture of your preferred future. Close your eyes and imagine walking into your church five years from now. Think about what it looks like, how it feels. Consider what success looks like for your church and how you’ll be accomplishing your mission. With the future in mind, think about how well your current name might still fit or if there might be a better time to change the name in coordination with another strategic change—like a move or construction of a new building.

What common themes seem to repeat in the life of our church?

Try to discern patterns in what God does through and in your church. God may have provided a scripture, metaphor, or distinct picture of your church’s identity and direction. Think about common phrases, sayings, or cultural touchstones that resonate with where you’re going as a church. Consider what the actual values of your church are, not the ones printed in the charter, but the things that are more caught than taught. Then imagine the elevator conversation where you describe your church and emphasize certain specifics to a stranger who has never attended.

What kind of names are we drawn to?

There are different kinds of names. Determine what type and style fits best with where your church is headed. Ask yourselves what you hope for in a new name. Consider whether there are any non-negotiables that must be included or avoided in your name like a denomination or certain descriptor. Look around and decide if there are any local landmarks or geographical areas that should play into your new name. List some of the other church names you see as being effective and ask yourself why you’re drawn to them.

How could our new name be interpreted negatively?

Don’t forget to look at your new name from all angles. Just because a good idea makes sense in an elders’ meeting doesn’t mean it translates the way you want it to for every audience. Ask yourselves what it might communicate to people outside of the church, and inside. There may be certain cues or connotations that can be inferred from the name that you haven’t thought of yet. Then take your name and smash it together into a website URL to see what new words it forms.

Re-naming your church is a monumental move. It’s not something to consider lightly. As you consider your new name, remember that it will be the most public reflection of your church’s identity deep into the future, even if they don’t bring phone books back.

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Shawn Stewart

Shawn Stewart

Shawn is the Director of Strategy at PlainJoe Studios. Previously, he was national brand strategy and brand management lead at Kaiser Permanente, an integrated health care provider and not-for-profit health plan serving 10 million members nationwide. Shawn has served as a youth pastor and associate pastor within the local church, and a strategic brand consultant to senior and executive pastors in both small and mega church contexts. His education and background is in visual communications and he is a recent graduate of the AIGA Executive Management Program for Creative Leaders at Yale University.