Church Renaming: A New Coat of Paint or a Re-Envisioning?

What’s in a name?

It’s an old adage.

It flows from Shakespeare’s famed play, “Romeo and Juliet.”  The actual line is,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Most are familiar with Shakespeare’s tale of “star-cross’d” lovers.  Though members of two warring families, Juliet tells Romeo that names are meaningless, and shouldn’t stand in the way of their love.  After all, she loves the man who is Romeo Montague – not the Montague name.  Such titles are irrelevant.  It is the substance of the person that matters.

Apparently some church leaders aren’t so sure.

I’ve noticed a growing trend, at least in my own city, of churches renaming themselves in an apparent effort to invigorate a plateaued or even declining situation.  Usually it is a church start that has been going at it for a few years, hasn’t caught fire, so the thinking is that it’s best to reboot.

Two churches in our area are on their third name.

I wish them well.  I really do.  There’s not a snarky bone in my body toward their situation.

But I hope they are doing more than rebranding.  I hope they are doing more than a new logo, new website, or new location.  I hope they are not simply renaming the church, but rethinking it.  Because a new name – actually, any name – is not substantive.

Why?

That’s easy.

No one goes to a church for its name! 

A bad name might work against you, but that’s not usually the case in the church renaming phenomenon I’m observing.  Nor is a bout of bad publicity that makes you want to distance yourself from a public relations disaster usually at hand.

No, the trend I see is oriented to jumpstarting a dead battery.  The goal is a quick fix, an “easy” button, to reverse an adverse situation.

But that’s not what is going to happen.

It’s like putting a new coat of paint on a house that just won’t sell.  The paint may freshen up a drive-by, but that’s about all.  The house is still…well, the house it was.  It has the same square footage, the same floor plan, and the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Even if you switch neighborhoods (translation: change the location of your church), it’s still the same house.  Either it has appeal, or it does not.

The truth is that many of these renamed churches need more than a new name.  They need a new…well, lots of things.  Let’s assume they are praying diligently and presenting the gospel faithfully.  That still might leave room for:

  • A new leadership style or level of leadership ability
  • A new communicator or level of teaching/communication in terms of gifting
  • A new emphasis on outreach and/or bridge-building to the unchurched, or a new strategy
  • A new approach to musical style or worship
  • A new emphasis on excellence in children’s ministry and service to marriage and family
  • A new commitment toward learning how to effectively explain the gospel to a “nones” world
  • A new…

Well, you get my point.

What’s in a name?”

The answer will always remain the same:

“Not much.”

But what’s in the substance of a person…or a church?

Everything.

Just ask Juliet.

Or better yet, ask the person who tried your church and never came back.

Read more from James here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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I just discovered this today and am looking forward to exploring the content on here. It looks like it could be very helpful. Just an FYI - in your paragraph on not putting out B+ material you have a typo. A little ironic. :-) The third sentence begins with "You time" not "Your time."
 
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I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 

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