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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Recent Comments
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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