One of the very first decisions that every church planter will need to make is choosing a name for their church plant.
Just like when choosing a name for a child, personal taste plays a big role in the name that you choose. Nevertheless, it is worth giving careful thought to this decision because changing a name later in life is not an easy process, and it is likely that you will need to live with your choice for a long time.
The importance of a name for a church plant can be both over-estimated and under-estimated. At the end of the day, picking a great name isn't the main factor that will determine the growth and health of the church plant - there are many other things that have a bigger impact on the progress of the church plant, and we talk about these things a lot on Broadcast.
However, the name that you choose does make a difference. For many people, it is the very first impression they will get of your church, and the way they perceive you (and even whether or not they decide to rock up and visit you) will be decided in part by the impression this name makes on them.
There is no definitive right answer to the name that you choose (otherwise every church would end up with the same name, and that would just be confusing). Nonetheless, there are some good questions to consider as you choose a name for a church plant.
Choosing a Name For a Church Plant: Church-y or Not?
The first question to consider is whether or not you want the name of your church to sound like a typical church name. There are lots of churches around with names like 'Christ Church', 'Grace Church', 'Hope Church' and 'Holy Trinity Church'. There is also a growing trend to go with names that are a bit different. Obscure Greek words with theological significance (Such as 'Koinonia' or 'Ekklesia') are increasing in popularity, as are English words that aren't traditionally church names, such as 'Journey Church' or 'Elevation Church'.
A few years ago, my opinion was the less church-y the name sounded, the better. My first idea for a church name was Exiles Church (and man am I glad that I didn't go with that in the end). The thinking was that I wanted to reach people who might be put off by traditional church, and by choosing a name that didn't sound like a traditional church I could signal that we were somehow different and people would flock to us.
Over the last six years or so, I have completely changed my perspective. Whilst ministering in Manchester, I have found far fewer people than I expected who have been put off by 'traditional church', and way more who have never engaged with any church at all. What people have found helpful isn't a cool sounding name, but actually getting to know Christians who love Jesus and can welcome them into loving community with good food and friendly people, and where they can start to learn about God at their own pace.
If anything, we have found that having the quite church-y name 'Christ Church Manchester' has helped us a lot. When people step into any church, they are doing something that's actually very courageous and stepping away from their comfort zone into the unknown. Having a name that reassures them that you are a 'regular' church and not some weird cult can be a very helpful thing (goodness knows what 'Exiles Church' would have made people feel).
I can imagine situations in smaller towns or villages, where the only churches around are from more traditional denominations, that choosing something slightly different might help people understand that you have a more contemporary style (though I would still say don't over-do it), but in cities like Manchester this is not the case, and in our experience clear, concise, 'church-y' names are the order of the day.
Choosing a Name For a Church Plant: Place-y or Not?
Another factor to consider in your church name is whether or not to include a place name in the name of your church plant.
There are advantages in doing this. It helps to create a sense that your church is part of the local community (both in what it says to people outside the church and in what it says to your members). It can help to distinguish you from other churches with similar names (particularly if you choose one of the more common church-y names out there) and it can do you big favours on Google (more on this later).
There are also disadvantages. A place name can constrain you, particularly if you want to relocate and/or plant out sites under the same name in the future. If you are named after a tightly constrained geographical location (a specific building, street or small locality), then any attempts you make to meet elsewhere at any point would either necessitate a name change (which would be way more hassle to you than just picking the right name to start with) or you would be in the bizarre situation of being named after one place but meeting somewhere else.
In weighing these pros and cons, I think the balance of whether to include a place name in the name of a church plant shifts depending on the size of the place you are considering.
At the very small end of the scale, naming your church plant after a specific building or street would seem to be a definite no-no. As you are church planting, it is unlikely that you own the building that you initially meet in, and even if you do, as you being to grow and your vision gets fleshed out, there is a high chance that you may want to use a different facility on a different street. In naming your church in this way, you constrain your options without gaining anything, and you allow your church to be defined by a building (which would be a shame, given how hard we all work to help people understand that the church is not a building!)
As we increase in size, naming your church after a village or small community has much more going for it than a building or a street. Many Church of England churches include the name of the parish in the church name, and over the years have become a mainstay of the local community. If you have a clear vision to establish deep roots into a small community and operate as a local community church, then there may be value in including the name of that place. However, you are still constraining your options should you feel led to start meeting in another nearby community instead of or as well as the place you started in, so if you do choose this option then do so with care.
Naming your church after a town, city or region is something that constrains you much less and communicates a vision to reach out beyond the area that you are currently meeting in. This is the option that we have gone for at Christ Church Manchester. By including the name of our city in the church name, we create a strong identity with the city, clearly differentiate ourselves from other 'Christ Churches' out there, do well on Google when people type in 'Church Manchester', and at the same time give ourselves scope to move location in the city should we need to, and plant into new areas (we often incorporate the name of the area into the name of the site, for example when we planted into the Withington community, we called the site CCM:Withington). Of course, should we choose to plant outside of Manchester then the name would no longer work, but we are very comfortable with this idea - it is probably helpful for plants at such a distance to have their own name and identity anyway.
Naming your church after a country is just getting a bit silly and would be totally over the top (I think 'Christ Church England' would be nearly as bad a choice as 'Exiles Church').
I think a good rule of thumb is that including a place name in your church name has a lot of merit, but if you are going to do it you should go for the largest place that you have a vision to reach under that name. If you are in one rural town or village but have a heart to reach others near you, then the name of the region might work better for you than just your village (this is what 'Church in the Peak' have done in the Peak District). If you are currently in one community of your city, but have aspirations to reach into other communities then give serious consideration to incorporating the name of the city into your church name.
Choosing a Name For a Church Plant: Vision-y or Not?
Part of what initially attracted me to the name 'Exiles Church' was the depth of theological and pastoral riches that the name tapped into. In the Bible, Peter describes Christians as 'elect exiles', and there are lots of classic Old Testament passages teaching how God's people can live as exiles in the world. Moreover, I liked the idea of a church that was a home for those who felt they had no home.
These are still very precious ideas to me, and I talk about them a lot. However, I am not as convinced as I used to be that the church name is the right place to express this.
The difficulty is that a church name needs to be brief. Obviously, the name of the church couldn't be a fully-blown exposition of Jeremiah 29, so rather than actually unpack these ideas in the church name, the best I could do was allude to them with a word like 'Exiles'.
Whilst an allusion like this makes a lot of sense to people on the inside who had already heard the more detailed rationale behind the name, it wouldn't necessarily have the same impact on outsiders (it's actually very difficult to grasp how something will come across to people who don't know the things that you know). My hope was that it would catch people's attention and prompt them to ask what is behind the name, at which point I could share those key ideas with them.
What I hadn't considered at the time was that it is actually only a small minority who would even be in the room with myself (or another church member) to ask that question when they first heard the name of the church. A much larger percentage would just see it written somewhere or hear it in passing and just dismiss it as weird (because it is weird) without ever asking what's behind it.
This same danger goes for any church name that is vision-driven. When church names are centred on theological ideas, prophetic words or visionary aspirations, there is always the possibility that they will make more sense to people in the know than those encountering you for the first time. In fact, any name that you need to explain to people runs the risk of coming across as confusing, cheesy or obscure to those who hear it for the first time without the context that you have.
Choosing a name that is much clearer and still communicates an important priority (such as 'Hope Church') is both visionary and self-explicable, and it is this kind of balance that you should aim for.
Choosing a Name For a Church Plant: Google-y or Not?
One of the biggest factors to consider is actually one that is not often given much thought - how internet friendly is your church name? I know that for most of us thinking about expressing prophetic vision is much more exciting than getting into Search Engine Optimisation, but it is one of the many pragmatic details that do make a difference in moving forward God's kingdom.
As church planters, the thing that we really need is people to come and join us in the church, and there tends to be two main ways this happens - either somebody invites them or they find us on their own. The vast majority of those that find us on their own do so through a church website (and a good bunch of those who are invited also want to check us out online before they commit to coming along).
There are two key web-based considerations to take into account when you are choosing your name.
The first is whether the domain name is available for the name you want. You can check whether it is available on a website like GoDaddy. Ideally you want the website to be www.yourchurchname.com - having .com is best because it is most memorable and people tend to put it in a web address by default if they can't remember the ending (.org is also a possible option if you can't get the .com domain, as are .co.uk and .org.uk if you are UK based - if you go for anything else, people will be less likely to remember it). This links into the 'place-y' point, but if you decide against a place name in your church name, then going for www.yourchurchnameplace.com could also work. The key is having your web domain the same as your church name as this will make you much easier to find. Once you have found the domain, it is worthwhile buying it straight away (and there is no harm in also registering your church name on the major social media platforms while you are at it).
The second factor to consider is how likely your name is to show up when people are searching in Google for a church. It is possible to do detailed analysis of what the exact keywords that people near you are typing in, but the most common search is usually 'CHURCH YOURTOWN'. If you have both the word Church and the name of your town in your church name (particularly if they are back to back, such as in 'Christ Church Manchester') then you are much more likely to show up when people do that search.
Good web presence isn't the be all and end all of getting a church plant going, but it definitely helps, and choosing the right name can give you a head-start with it.
What other factors do you think are important in choosing a name for your church plant? Why not tweet us @BroadcastCP and let us know?