Naming a new church

As the core team comes together to pray and think about vision and values for our new church, we will also need to come up with a name.

On the one hand the name is not too important as once you are known for what you are good at, people will associate that with you. For example, the company 3M is known as a manufactured of high tech materials to the security, healthcare, electronics, graphics and consumer industries. It began life as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. The name has been shortened but not changed even though the compnay has diversified tremendously.

On the other hand, if the name is poorly chosen, it may not attract or make sense to the people that you are trying to reach.

A good church name should communicate something of the vision and values of the church but should also make it clear that it is a church. As we are hoping (at this point) to become a network church which is outward looking, relevant, and open to everyone, the name should not be from a bygone era. However, anything too clever would be a mistake too and would probably date fast.

One of the companies I used to work for was initially called Embedded Solutions Ltd (ESL). It was a technology spin off from Oxford University and the name reflected the field it was in – the embedded processor sector. However, a quick google search indicated that there are a load of other companies in the same field with similar titles and it was a little hard to find. Added to that, the acronym, ESL, which was used in the logo and web address also had lots of conflicting hits. I remember the CEO at the time getting sick of people thinking he headed up English as a Second Language courses. So the name had to be changed (fair enough). But it was changed to something that, I recall, most people in the company thought was worse. Sure, it was unique, but it was a little too clever and just went along with the trend in technology companies at the time to pick words that were made up and that used the letters X or Z and ended in an ‘ica’ (Centrica, Alcoa, Antrix, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Inditex). Celoxica picked up on the Oxford connection, made reference to the materials used in the electronics that were targetted  – silica – and was derived from the latin word for quick – celox. Hence the name was Fast-Silica – exactly what the company was trying to achieve by speeding up hardware. (Ironically the person researched the latin – celox – picked the an obscure variant that was rarely used and usually pertains to a boat. The real latin word for quick is velox – but Veloxica doesn’t sound as good, does it?). At the time, people thought it sounded like a pharmaceutical company or a tropical disease.
But the name stuck, and the company is still going albeit in a slightly different field and the industry knows what it does. Once people got used to it, it wasn’t so bad.

But… I don’t want a name that is only good once the industry (in our case – Christians) get used to it. I would rather have a name that does what is says on the tin and that is understandable to the outside world. It needs to be clear that we are a church because we will not fit the traditional model or perceived stereotypes of a church.

Looking down the list of network churches that I reviewed earlier, many of the names do exactly what you might expect them to – tell the newcomer what sort of church it is. Network Churches in London, West Bromwich, Essex and Exeter simply brand themselves as [Location] Network Church. The church in St. Albans is simply called ‘Network!’, which to me is a bit to broad. Vineyard Network Church in Birmingham also gives and indication of the denomination.

But I would question what these names say to the unchurched person. Although it is clear from the names that they are churches, I wonder if someone with no church background will know what a network church is.

Other churches have dispensed with the word network, and picked a name based on location or on a Christian principle of metaphor. There is a danger if the name is too cool that it won’t be seen to be a church or will quickly date. The Carpenters Arms in Sandwich and Deal, Kent has advatages. To the non-Christian it might sound like a pub, yet it also refers clearly to Jesus and even to the cross. However, it is once again a little difficult to find on google, which comes up with a list of pubs! Harvest New Anglican Church, also in Kent, indicates something of the purpose of the church in the name. The Point wants to sound like the destination for people to come to. There are many other names based on location or some other aspect of the church.

Dave Male who planted The Net Church in Huddersfield did particularly like the name initially. In his book, Church Unplugged, he said that he had other ideas for the name but he thought it important for the core team to come to the name together. The process was more important than the destination. In the end, The Net is not such a bad name as it indicates the network church that it is as well as drawing on the image of Jesus telling us to be fishers of men. The name is one of the things that the core team here will be discussing and agreeing on together so that all have a sense of ownership about it.

A church planter in Chicago, Matt Sweetman, has gone through this process before me and came up with a big list of names. His principles for picking some were good.

1.    Something simple. One or two words with the word “church” after it. People need to know we are a church, so having “church” is important to me. Some exclude this, but I personally think that is a mistake. I wanted one or two words because some church names are so long it’s hard to say them. I want things to be simple in this regard.
2.    Would the unchurched be more or less likely to visit purely based on the name?
3.    Would the name connect with Christians?
4.    Be certain no other churches in close proximity had this name.
5.    Something that would work in different locations around the city.
6.    I felt that it was important to find something non-traditional, because we are targeting a younger urban crowd, yet something not too wacky that would turn away Christians who are looking for a church.

Most of the following list I really don’t like – but apparently the Matt took his favourites out of it first. ChurchCast, ONELOVE Church, LIFECAUSE Church, Churchopia and Churchopolis are among names that I really dislike! From the shortlist of five, he then asked people to vote on what they preferred, both people in the core team and those who weren’t. In effect he asked his potential congregation (many of whom were not Christians) which name would make them more likely to attend – A focus group and a great way of finding the name that would work best amongst the people he is trying to reach. In the end he picked Destination Church, which wouldn’t work here but after his process of listening, I’m sure is right for his context.

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