I’m a kid of the 1980’s. I remember when I thought I’d never wear bell-bottom jeans. I’d mock photos of my parents wearing them and made a blood covenant with myself that I’d rather die than do the same. So uncool. So outdated. So unfashionable. No thanks. I was good with jeans adorned with rolled up cuffs that could cut off a mouse’s circulation. I was hip. I was “in.” I believed I knew the culture (and wore it well). That was until a decade or so passed and then what happened? I found myself wearing pants that tended to flare out a bit at the bottom. Why not? They looked cool with my flip flops or boots. They technically weren’t bell-bottoms but they also weren’t rolled up cuff pants either. What happened to them? They went the way of the Ocean Pacific corduroy shorts, Spuds McKenzie t-shirts, and Members’ Only jackets.
It’s a testament to the fact that what we think to be cool, edgy, and sure to identify with the culture may one day make us look goofy, dated, or even unintelligible to the culture.
Young Church Planter take this to heart when you consider naming your new congregation. What you believe to be culturally/theologically hip may be the equivalent of having a tribal tattoo around your bicep – something you regret doing but it’s just too painful to remove now. I can’t tell you how many former church planters have confessed that, within the first decade of planting, they wished they would have named their congregation something different. With that in mind, let me give two recommendations:
1. Clear beats cool – It doesn’t matter what your church means in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. If outsiders don’t understand what you are saying (and I’m guessing they’re probably not up to snuff on ancient languages) then you risk creating a smaller front door on Sunday for guests. Now, granted, some pastors design their name to be something the uninitiated specifically won’t understand. They want to redefine church for people. I agree with that in spirit. However, I think you could still redefine church for them by teaching what the church should be when they actually attend instead of hamstringing yourself by donning a name that confuses rather than brings clarity. In the depth chart of values for a church name, clear trumps cool.
2. Use the word ‘church’ – What if you were new in town and wanted to find a good hospital and one neighbor recommended The Rrhexis Room while the other neighbor said St. John’s Hospital. All things being equal, which one would you lean toward? I know this may sound almost too rudimentary to mention but most people think a church should be called a church. In using the word church you’re simply leveraging people’s logic for mission! Calling it something other than a church may detour individuals from stepping inside your sanctuary on Sunday to hear the life-giving, trajectory-changing, world-shaking gospel of God! All because they don’t realize by your name that you’re actually a church. Some pastors, as a part of their strategy, don’t value “walk-in” guests or the weekend service as an invitational event. But for those who do, having the word church is extremely logical and, in my opinion, missional.
I have TONS of pastor friends who might excoriate me for what I’m saying and maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m missing the picture. Maybe the need to redefine church demands an unusual name not usually associated with church. Maybe that’s exactly what the uninitiated need because they are soured on run-of-the-mill churches. However, in my personal interactions with unchurched friends, I’ve noticed it’s better to have as few hurdles as possible between them and the gospel. Therefore, if a name is a hurdle because it is unintelligible, obtuse, or flat-out weird, then I strongly suggest picking a name that clears, instead of clutters, the way.
So Young Church Planter, pick a name wisely. Remember that what may be hip today could be unhelpful tomorrow. It’s true. One day you can feel so smart because you’re sporting bell-bottoms, then the next day you feel so dumb…because you’re sporting bell bottoms.
- If the name of your church sounds better on the album cover of a 90’s metal hair band than your bulletin, you might want to consider renaming it before you go to press.
- If the name of your church would only work for people who majored in Ancient Near East Languages or know how to work Google Translate, you might want to consider renaming it before you go to press.
- If the name of your church leads people to think you’re more likely a cult instead of a church, you might want to consider renaming it before you go to press.
- If the name of your church doesn’t use the word church because you are a church but not a church because church today isn’t church but the church you lead is a church because…[sigh] you might want to consider renaming it before you go to press.