What’s in a (church) Name?

My husband and I are replanting a church in a 100 year old building in downtown Grand Rapids and every week I am writing about that journey in a series called “church from scratch”  This is post 3, for the rest, go here.”  

We are less than three weeks away from our actual start date and while Kel is crunching numbers, going to meetings and creating timelines… I am anxiously fretting passionately pondering two things: How are we going to remodel it?  
What are we going to name it?  (Because I’m passionate about words and hospitality, obviously)

As Kel still hasn’t gotten they keys yet for me to go all picture happy and crowd source remodel ideas with you all, let’s talk about naming a church… shall we?

Right now we have a church without a name.  This is not because we have a lack of ideas, but because I’m a word snob and we haven’t found the right one yet.  I’m sure of it, we don’t have it yet.

naming a church is hard

We’ve discussed Found Church, Urban Well, Creston Community Church and Riverside Church (but there already is one)

The weight of this decision feels really heavy on my shoulders because those of us who love words infer volumes from the naming of things.  Names mean things.

I spent months naming my children, we picked things with depth and linguistic beauty. (yes we knew people would call Caedmon “caveman” and we REALIZE Noelle’s initials are in fact NAP but we loved the names enough to overlook it.)  

Here are the criteria I currently have for the new church’s name.

1) Can’t be too trendy- We aren’t going to be a flashy modern church, we will be operating from a 100 year old sanctuary and our worship style will be based on narrative, story and a “old meets new” feel, so the name has to match.  Also we don’t want to loathe our name in 5 years time. (GodQuest.cc!) 
2) Has to communicate something foundational- A church’s name says a lot about what they value or what their focus is. We want to be a place for authenticity and depth, a place where those who are hurting or may have walked away from church can find a home for themselves and their families … among other things.
3) Has to be Rich with meaning- I’d really like our name to have layers of meaning, that correlate with evocative scripture.  When someone asks me why we named it …whatever we end up naming is… I want to tear up a little.
4) Has to be pronounceable and not confuse us with the local temple– I’m looking at the lead pastor here.  If Kel had his way our name would be Hebrew with none of the vowels and all of the confusion, it would be beautiful if you have an MDiv or regularly spend time sprawled over Old Testament Commentaries but other than that you might think you need a yarmulke to attend.

Tall order, I KNOW!  I wish I could lower my standards a little.  Maybe I need to.

It’s getting a little ridiculous how much we think and talk about this around here.  Our living room and dinner table sound like this:

Me: “I want our church to be comfortable with lament.
Kel: “Definitely… Lament  Church!  Bring your own Kleenex and your antidepressants!”

We speak in a formula of our church should be + 30 seconds = ridiculous name suggestion

It’s on my mind all the time. You think Christmas is stressful, try wrapping presents while trying to name a church. Oiy.

But over the past week I’ve relaxed on it a little bit and you want to know why? Because I looked back and realized that I’ve happily attended churches whose name’s I didn’t like.

I’ve come to realize that yes, there is a lot in a name but there is so much more to be found in how the church serves the community.

If we as a church are out there making an impact in our community, if Kel is preparing messages that God uses to bring healing to broken places, if our children’s ministry is a place where kids feel loved “as is” and meet Jesus through the hands of our people…

Then we could have a borderline awful name and it would still be okay.  And we won’t have an awful name, I have too many systems in place to keep that in check.

So here’s the new game plan for selecting a name:

1) Set a deadline- 1 month, go.  By January 15 we are going to have a name.
2) Read the New Testament with this in mind and a notebook at hand.  Kel will read the Old Testament with this in mind because we are a house divided by that title page between Malachi and Matthew.
3) Make a list of possible ideas – Because I’m not going to remember them without a list.
4) Keep this list away from the kids- They will try to color all over it or shove it into the no man’s land under the couch.
5) Gather opinions- This is both smart and totally my personality type. We don’t want total control and all the church planting books recommend letting the community help you decide. Also,  I can’t buy wall hooks or shoes without at least 3 opinions so I’m going to ask for help with the final name choice.  Look for it.

So that’s how we’re going to name our church.

Do you love your current church’s name?
Any church names out there that you’ve loved, what are they and why were you drawn to them?

  • Natalie Hart

    My husband and his siblings are trying to come up with a name for the band they’ve formed for their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary — trying for 3 months, now. But naming a church IS harder. I don’t envy you :-) My favorite church name is the one Kristin Tennant went to in St. Louis: Grace and Peace. Because it’s a statement of what you can find there and also a blessing as you depart.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Ohh I do love that! Tell you hubby good luck with the band name too!

  • http://www.sarahsiders.com/ Sarah Siders

    When we joined our church, it wasn’t technically a church yet. It was a ministry outreach of the parent church. But when we got there 2ish years after it started, the naming work had been done. It was painful, I’m sure, but we love the name and kept it when we launched last year. It’s called The Well. It was so non-church, which is what was intended, but the website originally had no mention of the word “church”, nor did the name, and we often heard from people they couldn’t find us online. We showed up on page 17 of the Google search for churches in our city because the SEO was so bad on our site, all because of our wording and how we named ourselves.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      That’s very cautionary, thank you. Still have to communicate what it is and yes it will be a church for better or for worse.

  • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea

    I love our church name “Mercy Church”. It encompasses what we hope to find when we walk through those doors, and what we hope to be. It is simple, straightforward, doesn’t take a lot of explaining. I’m fairly certain that most non-Christians could look at our name and not be confused. I think it is a pretty timeless name, while still kind of fitting in with the current trend of ‘one word’ names. Plus I don’t have to worry that I am pronouncing it incorrectly.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      That’s true! So much in one word, I really love it! It has vowels and everything. I DO like the one word church name trend too and I think that “mercy church” does it well.

  • Teresa Tackett Hardymon

    Looking at the picture – cornerstone comes to mind and it has the look of a community chapel. So, you could do something along the lines of Cornerstone Community Chapel, or Cornerstone Chapel- I too love words and how they affect our perceptions. Good luck with naming the church. How exciting to be part of something new. – New? hmmm New Life Chapel – although New Life and even Cornerstone have both been done, but pretty much anything you choose will have been done. I’d suggest going with a combination of the church’s physical location(such as in the Center of town, faces North, on a corner lot etc) and then pair that with something from a favorite scripture. Once a cousin was in a singing group. She lived on the corner of Cross and Main street, so they called their group MainCross. Which is not a bad name for a church – Main Cross Chapel. Can you tell I’m stuck on the chapel? It is a pretty church and I’m sure the right name will come in time. Sorry to have rambled so long. :)

  • http://idontstopbelieving.blogspot.com/ Brenda W.

    This is a tough task! LOL about “Lament Church”