We hear this question often: Should our church change our name? My standard response to that question is generally, “Probably not.” In discussions the Replant Team has had, we’ve learned that a pastor or church often will see a name change as a kind of “silver bullet” in replanting or revitalization. Sometimes, they will think a name change will suddenly change the baggage the church name carries in the community.
There are good reasons to change a church’s name. For example, a recent Lifeway Research article told the story of a church that decided to change its name because of COVID-19. Why was that necessary you ask? Because the church’s original name was Outbreak Church. That is an unfortunate name for a church to have in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Changing the church’s name was a wise decision in this case.
In an episode of “Revitalize and Replant” from a few years back, Mark Clifton and Thom Rainer discussed this very topic. On that podcast, they argue for reclaiming the name rather than abandoning it. This can be hard work, but is usually preferable to changing the name. In some cases, changing the name can actually harm credibility in the community. For example, one church I pastored had been in the same location for 120 years. There was a discussion about changing the name, but I finally realized it didn’t matter what name was outside the building; in that community, the church would always be First Baptist Church.
The name was carved in the stone façade on the front of the building! Changing the name wouldn’t have made much sense. And honestly, over the years, I think the name was beneficial as folks moved to town and were looking for a church. First Baptist Church is easy to remember, and it was recognizable. Many folks were familiar with First Baptist churches where they grew up, or in the communities they moved from.
Keeping your church’s name, if at all possible, should be the default position. This is not to say there is never a time to change the name of your church. There are times when it may be appropriate or even necessary:
Again, this will not always be the case. In the event your church is named First Baptist Church, or [Your Community] Baptist Church, a name change wouldn’t be necessary.
However, if your church’s name is based on a geographic location, it might be wise to change your name after a move. For instance, if your church is named Henderson Ave. Church, and your church relocates away from Henderson Ave., it could be more confusing to keep your church’s name than to change it. These situations will obviously vary on a case-by-case basis, but it’s important to consider the impact a relocation may have on your church’s name.
In some instances, a community’s name may have changed so that a church’s name no longer makes sense. For instance, if there are several other churches with similar names (such as a First Baptist Church, a First Southern Baptist Church, and a First Independent Baptist Church), a name change could help distinguish your church from others.
If your church is called Community Heights, but there is no longer a neighborhood named “Community Heights” anywhere nearby (or, in some cases, the neighborhood called “Community Heights” is now across town, a name change could clear up confusion. Again, while a name change might not always be appropriate in these situations, this is at least something to consider.
We are champions of seeking to reclaim a church’s name, rather than abandoning it for a new one. However, in some cases, a church’s name may have such a bad reputation that a name change can help move a replant or revitalization effort forward. If you and your church decide to go this route, remember that a name change is in no way a “silver bullet” for revitalization.
If a church simply changes its name without addressing any of the other issues that harmed its reputation, it won’t work. A fresh coat of paint may help a rotting beam look nice, but it won’t stop the rot inside. It’s important that a name change is a step in a larger revitalization or replanting strategy, not the only step.
If the Replant Team can help you process as you wrestle with whether or not to change your church’s name, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published September 21, 2021