Mars Hill Church in Seattle and unrelated Mars Hill Church in Sacramento recently settled a name dispute. The Seattle church, which is planting multisite campuses across state lines, trademarked its name and logo in August. The Sacramento church agreed to change its logo and recently decided to change it to Real Life Church to minimize confusion as it expands.

"When a church registers its trademark, it's a simple and low-cost way to protect against 'identity theft' by preventing others from misusing its good name and reputation while protecting its investment in branding and name recognition.  It makes all the sense in the world, and is good stewardship of a church's assets. It allows the church to secure their marketing and secure the usage of that trademark, and to make it clear to the community who they are. It's useful in the environment that we live in today with the Internet and the amount of resources that get dedicated to marketing."

David Middlebrook, attorney, Church Law Group

"Churches are businesses too. They are more than that, of course, but they have a responsibility to operate and serve in responsible business ways. Churches also have obligations to their members to be responsible in the use of their assets and "brands." I think it follows, by extension, that to have a name and logo that is unique and has value means to protect it through copyright, trademark, and other legal means, or others will use it and devalue what the church has put into it. Just because it is a church doesn't mean that the congregation doesn't have commercial value, branding rights, and reasons to protect the same."

Ronald Keener, editor, Church Executive

"Though one could argue 'everyone should glorify God and ultimately everything belongs to Him, therefore trademarking in the kingdom is wrong,' this platitude misses the nuances of motive given many practical considerations of communicating in the 21st century in a culture like North America. For example, a great motive for a trademark is the sheer usefulness to people who are attracted to the story or differentiated value of a brand. I might be looking for an Acts 29 church to attend when I move to Albuquerque. Or I may want to broadcast a new Potential Church multisite in South Florida. A trademark is helpful to people who like or even dislike the organization. It is a practical tool to help me know clearly who and what you stand for. Another consideration on motive is that a trademark doesn't necessarily have to prohibit the use of a name or mark.  It might protect the use of a mark by guaranteeing a conversation before it is used with consent or permission."

Will Mancini, author, Church Unique

"Since most church names are derived from the Bible or commonly used words, it would be difficult to trademark their name only, but it is certainly appropriate to protect a church's name and logo from those who would misrepresent it accidentally or misuse it intentionally."

Jim Tomberlin, founder and chief strategist, Multisite Solutions

"Generally, yes. You would not want another church or organization that has values and beliefs contrary to yours to confuse the public. But the importance of trademark protection for a church depends on how distinctive the name is. Trademarks protect a name or a logo or a slogan from being copied by other people for use with similar goods or services. Churches rely on their goodwill and reputation for various aspects of ministry, for instance preserving theological integrity, and a church would not want another church or organization, especially one that has values and doctrines that are inconsistent with theirs, to be using the same or a similar name."

Kenneth Liu, intellectual property partner, Gammon and Grange law firm

"This seems like the kind of issue only a megachurch would face. I can't think of a reason the little church I pastor would need to trademark our name or any logo we might come up with, nor am I aware of any legal needs to do so."

Jim Hamilton, pastor, Kenwood Baptist Church (Kentucky)

"A trademark implies the name of the church is more important than the name of Jesus. Jesus reached people without money or marketing and he was pretty effective. People aren't won over by marketing but by the power of the Gospel, and it has always been free of charge. We're called to be creative in the way we communicate, and we certainly don't need to bow to typical marketing strategies."

Danielle Shroyer, pastor, Journey Church (Dallas)


Related Elsewhere:

Read Christianity Today's previous report on the Mars Hill trademark dispute.

Previous topics for discussion include the liturgical calendar, pastors and marriage for cohabitating couples, church disruptions, politicians and infidelity, politicians and religious persecution, faith healing and legal protection, pastors' housing allowances, sacred spaces, stinginess, TSA screening, and Christmas carols with questionable theology.

Article continues below
Issue: