How naming our church taught me that “my dream church” will stay exactly that, a dream.

So, I have a big announcement, huge really.

We’ve landed on a name for the church.

Ready? I’m doing a drumroll on my desk but you can’t hear it… space and time and all that… 

Rivercrest Church.

How did we come up with this? Well it doesn’t exactly fit in the parameters of our original name criteria but we did a lot of market research and had over 250 people take a survey between these three names:

  • Prodigal church (my favorite and true love)
  • Rivercrest church (a play on the area we’re located in, near Riverside park and within the Creston Neighborhood)
  • Found church (and original idea but never one we loved… just another option)

And Rivercrest won, while my love name lost.

Here’s what people said:

“It sounds more “real”. The others seem very specific for only a certain type of worshiper.”

“Found Church seems too simple, and Prodigal Church seems to ‘Jesusy’ to me.”

“The other two names sound excessively “churchy” to me. Someone unfamiliar with church and the Prodigal Son story would most likely not know what the Prodigal name meant. As someone who does not attend church, I would more likely visit a church named Rivercrest. The other names sound trendy to me.”

“I like Rivercrest Church because it is neutral. “found” and “prodigal” have a “born-again” sound to them.”

There were a few wise church people who told us this would be the case from the beginning: people want a neutral name, non churchy name… Prodigal Church might not be the best fit. 

But I was in love with the name Prodigal, it described how I felt about God and church, how I thought others would feel as well. It’s simple and redemptive and above all I love it…and my friends (who are like me) love it!

I railed against the idea of a neutral name and wore myself out rallying for my cause, I chatted to random people in line at store about “my church name” and why it was clearly best. I used words like “intentionality,” “purpose,” and “names mean things!”

I performed impassioned monologues for Kel about how choosing a neutral name would be caving to popular opinion early and how I was afraid that this would mean we’d become the church of “what is popular”… which is exactly what the world doesn’t need… what the bible doesn’t call us to. I’m sure I used the phrase “sell-out” a time or two. You know, for good measure.

It all sounded very good and there was truth in it, but in the end I had to concede that the “neutral but nice” name received 20% more votes than my preferred name in a survey that I myself created and publicized.  One I thought would only serve to confirm my name…

But it didn’t.


And in the end I learned a hard lesson that needed to be learned early: This is not going to be my dream church.

It’s going to the church that God wants us to plant for the people who need more of Him.

Does this mean Rivercrest Church will be solely “seeker friendly” and won’t deepen my faith or relationship with God?

Not hardly. It just means that it’s NOT my church, it’s The church, which was never about me in the first place.

I learned years ago that I was not called to be a consumer church-goer and I learned about 3 weeks ago that I am not called to be a consumer church-planter either.

If you’ve been in the church long enough you’ve had this thought: “If I ever started my own church we would….”

And this list grows over time. You know exactly how you would do coffee, children’s ministry, worship, leadership, take an offering, give communion, decorate the sanctuary.

And you think… if I were to ever start my church it would like this… and it would be perfect.

And it would be perfect… for you.

But church has never been about making yourself happy, that’s the first step to become a member-focused church, when you base your ideas on “what makes us happy.”

That’s how the currently, literally dying churches got that way. They centered their choices around making themselves happy and they lost touch with their core call: show Jesus to the world, start with your neighborhood.  

And 3 weeks into the church I was already starting to move in that direction, how can this church serve me? Be what I want?

And then God Survey Monkey and a few heated marital texting sessions to put me back on track, and early.

Will Rivercrest church contain nuances of my heart and story? Absolutely.

Will Rivercrest church be my dream church? No, but I hope it will be the church we need to plant so the love of Jesus is poured all over the NE side of Grand Rapids.

Lord, help my dream to conform to yours.

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  • Natalie Hart

    As someone who went through a church planting group that wound up not planting a church, I so appreciate this post. Love it when God hijacks our process :-) Well, can’t say I always love it, but it makes me smile when it’s someone else. Is that bad?

    • Leanne Penny

      Nope, I think that’s honest :)

  • Lindsey Stefan

    “But church has never been about making yourself happy, that’s the first step to become a member-focused church, when you base your ideas on “what makes us happy.”

    That’s how the currently, literally dying churches got that way. They centered their choices around making themselves happy and they lost touch with their core call: show Jesus to the world, start with your neighborhood.”

    This is so good. As a pastor’s wife, I am really seeing this in our current church. So many of our members/leaders want to do things a certain way because they like it or because they have always been done that way. The hubby and I are praying (a lot) that we are looking for what God wants for our church, not what we want.

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us. This is hard, sacred stuff.

  • Megan Whitmore

    The perfect church does not only exist in church planting… Every time I have moved and needed to start over and find a new church I have searched for the “perfect church”. It wasn’t until a friend told me that I don’t need a perfect church, I need a church that places Christ at its center, and is somewhere that I feel safe and that I can grow. It took me a while to learn it, but for now I have found my “perfect church”. :-)

    • Leanne Penny

      So glad to hear this! Glad you’ve found a place to grow and feel safe.

  • pastordt

    Now that is an insight worth having. And writing about. Thank you. There is no ‘church of my dreams’ and the sooner we can shake that notion off, the better. Thanks for your transparency here, Leanne. (I liked Prodigal Church best, too. But I’m totally unsurprised that Rivercrest ‘won’).

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you Diana! I WAS surprised but I don’t think I should have been… I had blinders on. TOO CLOSE!

  • Lisa K

    I really like watching you sort through all the church building. It is fun to watch the experience come to life and see how you and Kel take what is given to you and run with it.

    • Leanne Penny

      Thanks, I like having you watch… this sounds weird… but IS true :)

  • Mark Allman

    The perfect church does not exist.

    Just like people your name does not define you; you define your name….. Rivercrest is a nice name that the local people can claim as there own because of the ties. You also have the opportunity to post your mission anywhere you want to help define what Rivercrest is all about….. I am sure you will do this well. After I am sure more heated martial texting! :)

    I also think it would be good to start a church history and this story would be part of it that I am sure people years down the journey will enjoy reading.