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Apr 2, 2013

What's In a Name? Church Names and Public Perception

One question I'm often asked by prospective church planters relates to the possible name of their new church plant. Sometimes I get the same question from established churches considering changing their name.

It's usually not about the "coolness factor" or using a geographic reference though. It's about including the denomination. They are afraid of the stigma their denomination may place on their church by including it. Or they are worried they will be misleading people by omitting the denominational reference. But should they feel this way?

Grey Matter Research recently released some data showing that "when a church does not reference its denomination in the church name, unchurched people tend to see that church as less formal, rigid, and old-fashioned, but this also makes them feel more uncertain and wonder whether the church is trying to hide its beliefs."

From the release:

On one hand, when people see a church with a denominational reference in its name, they are over four times more likely to perceive that church as formal than if it has no such reference. Denominational references are also three times more likely to make people see that church as old-fashioned, and almost three times more likely to make them feel it is structured and rigid, than if there is no denominational reference in the name. The lack of a denominational reference is also three times more likely to lead people to feel that the church is open-minded.

On the other hand, including a denominational reference is more than twice as likely to help people feel the church is honest. Excluding a denominational reference is more than twice as likely to give people feelings of uncertainty, and almost five times more likely to lead to thoughts that the church may be trying to hide what they believe.

Based on these findings, it appears you're stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to your church's name.

But there was one factor I also wondered about-- feelings for specific denominations. Would Redeemer Methodist Church get a different reaction than Redeemer Baptist Church? Our LifeWay Research says it could.

There is definitely a need to be honest with your affiliation-- if you have one. If you want to keep your denomination name out of your church name, I get the reasoning. But, be sure to teach it in your membership class and in other appropriate places. If you are ashamed of your denomination, don't be a member of it. (I've written extensively on denominationalism in this Christianity Today cover story and elsewhere.)

There is no need to hide who you are as a church. And if you're a plant, in many instances your denomination is one of your major sources of funding. Make them proud that your church represents them.

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Posted:April 2, 2013 at 12:00 am

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What's In a Name? Church Names and Public Perception