Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 1

These days it is somewhat common for churches to change their names. Particularly common, it seems, is the dropping of denominational labels. Even presently, the Southern Baptist Convention is considering a name change for itself.

Is this good or bad? Well, it depends on who you listen to. And why you do it.

I think there are good reasons to change names, and bad reasons to change names. In this series of posts, I want to discuss some of the reasons why a church should, or should not, consider changing its name, beginning with reasons why a church should consider changing its name.

Leading off, and perhaps the most obvious, I think name changing is a good idea when you are restarting a church. It creates a new identity. Studies have shown that a church’s greatest period of growth is in the first five years. There is a “try it out” attitude that people have. It’s not “old hat” anymore. A church that is being restarted is probably a church that has been around for some time, and been in decline for a variety of reasons. Adopting a new name creates some freshness, even if the building and people are the same.

One of the things I found here was that there were (and still are) a large number of people in our community who are familiar with Grace because their grandma and grandpa or mom and dad went here, and they went here as kids. It is old hat to them. They know what it is (or at least what they think it is), and they are not coming back to try it again.

Changing a name removes that barrier. No one can say they grew up in a church that was started last week, or last month, even if it is a restart.

The downside of changing the name of a church is history. When I started at Grace, we had ninety-five years of history. Now we have almost one hundred and ten years of history. You can’t get that overnight. Theirs is something significant about saying “We have been in this community more than a hundred years.”

Each situation is different, and requires different considerations. Restarting a church (disband and reconstitute) can give new life into an old congregation. And changing the name probably is a wise thing to do in that case.

A church may try to rebuild without restarting. But even in this, a name change may be a good thing, even if the name is similar.

As a side note, restarting a church can also give good and faithful people an gracious exit ramp if they are simply attending church out of a sense of history rather than a sense of mission. Many old-timers feel a sense of commitment to a church, not to a mission, and not to a community. Providing them with a grace-filled way to exit that honors their commitment without guilting them is a valid consideration in some cases.

More to come …

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