So, you’re planting a church or thinking of changing the name of an existing church.
Where do you even start? It’s not easy to come up with good names for churches or even know where to begin.
Naming a church is one of the most public decisions you’ll ever make. Make a good choice, and your church name becomes easy to recognize, and share, and is quickly associated with what your church is all about.
Make a not-so-good choice, and your church name can become a liability, confuse people, or get lost in the crowd or noise online.Naming a church is one of the most public and conseqential decisions a church planter will ever make. Click To Tweet
Church name ‘trends’ continue to evolve over the decades, but names like Elevation, Life.Church, Transformation, or Saddleback are instantly recognizable and associated with specific leaders, strategies, and ministry approaches.
Sadly (and I won’t list them here), other church names conjure up memories of moral failure, decline, or scandal – essentially good branding that went awry when the leaders went off the rails.
There’s a lot riding on a name.
Beyond praying through it (essential) and brainstorming with your launch team, here are six tips that can help you when selecting a church name, plus some thoughts on congregational input – when to seek it, and when not to.
1. Start With a Team, Not With a Denominational Meeting
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make when choosing a church name is ‘Who gets to decide?’
Your constitution or denomination may have a voice, but a general rule is that this decision will be much easier for church planters than for leaders of established churches.
Established churches – particularly long-standing denominational churches – will often have constitutional and denominational requirements.
It’s probably best to find the minimum level of approvals and consultations you need. When too many people get involved, your church name is likely to get diluted to the lowest common denominator.
And while that may get the official approval of whoever needs (or wants) to approve it, it won’t be what you hoped for.
Church planters won’t struggle with this nearly as much.
In fact, pastors of church plants may have the opposite problem. They decide what the name will be without any input, and as a result, there’s little buy-in or ownership of the church’s identity from anyone but the founder.
The best approach is to start with a small team of bright, creative, invested people. They could be staff, a board member, or some bright volunteers. Ideally, you’d have 3-5 people max, and include someone with a marketing background.
Begin brainstorming ideas, and then, when you’ve made your selection, recommend it for approval (not debate, if possible) to whatever governing body needs to approve it.
The moment you start asking for too much input early in the process, the more diluted, vanilla, and ineffective your church name is likely to be. And the less you’ll like the final result.
So, with that in mind, and your small team in place, where do you start?
2. Focus on Who You Want to Reach
One critical decision every leader has to make is whether you’ll focus on who you want to reach or who you want to keep. A concept I first learned in the (must-read) book, Seven Practices of Effective Ministry.
If you’re focused on who you want to reach, you’ll need to consider the viewpoint, judgments, and opinions of unchurched people about the church. That’s one of the reasons churches with geographical (Bayside or Flatirons) or metaphorical names (Mariner’s or NewSpring) often seem to resonate with unchurched people.
I’ve had the privilege of leading a church through two name changes.
The first time, we amalgamated three small rural churches into one, growing, vibrant church and built a new facility.
Being new in leadership, and not realizing the principle I shared in Point 1, we let the congregation name the new church. Not shockingly, they came up with Trinity (merging three churches into one, resulting in Trinity). But it was neither original nor outsider-focused. We still grew rapidly, but I’m not sure our name helped.
Years later, we started over as a non-denominational church.
This time, I had a small team, and we brainstormed numerous metaphorical names. One of the team members came up with Kinexus (a combination of kinetic and nexus – a gathering in motion). We tested a host of names with unchurched people, and Kinexus came out as the winner.
I thought maybe respelling it would make it easier to remember, so I reconfigured it as Connexus. We tested it again, and it was hands down the most popular name with unchurched people. So that became the winner.
Over the last fifteen years, more than 50% of the first-time attendees at Connexus don’t have a church background. Obviously, there’s more than a name involved in that, but a name sure helps.
3. Jumpstart Your Brainstorming with A.I.
So, once your team is together, consider jump-starting your brainstorming with an artificial intelligence (A.I.) service like ChatGPT, which can generate a host of potential church name ideas in seconds.
While not everyone would agree with using A.I. to suggest church name possibilities, using AI is a great place to start, as it will undoubtedly generate names neither you nor your team would have thought of.
And you can vary the suggestions based on the prompt you use. For example, you could enter a prompt like:
- Generate a list of 25 potential church names for a church plant that will reach unchurched people in the Denver area.
- Generate a list of 25 potential church names for a church plant that will reach unchurched people in the Dallas area in the style of an ARC church.
- Create a list of 25 church names for a rebranded historic Lutheran church in the Twin Cities.
The lists will be different. Not all the ideas will be good, and some of the names will already be taken. But the output generated in seconds will be quicker than what any brainstorming team would develop in a two-hour meeting (or multiple two-hour meetings).
Varying in the prompts will produce a host of new answers. Give it a try.
There are a few church name generator sites online too, but nothing worth linking to (most are not great or spoof sites).
Sites like Namelix, while not aimed at churches, are much better at generating creative ideas. At a minimum, you’ll get a list of some interesting church names to consider.
And, when you have a variety of names to choose from – pray over them, and consider all the options.
(If you want to learn more about how your church can leverage A.I., check out my Ultimate Guide to A.I., Pastors, and the Church).
4. Pick a Name That Will Stand Out (Especially Online)
150 years ago, a church name was important only to its immediate neighborhood or community. Essentially, you had to walk or ride a horse to get to church.
That’s why in the 19th century, hundreds of First Baptist churches were planted across North America. It didn’t matter if there was another First Baptist 50 miles away.
Today, that’s different.
So much has changed since then. Not only will people drive 45 minutes to a church or campus now – making church regional – but the internet has made the church space even more crowded.
You’ll not only want to pick out a name that makes your church distinct in your neighborhood, but you’ll want a name that can be easily found or distinguished online.
If someone in your community is searching for your church, whether on Google, Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok – how easy will it be for them to know they’ve found your church and not stumbled onto an identically named church five hundred miles away?
In everything from naming to building a website to doing some careful SEO, you have to make sure someone looking to go to your church can find it easily online.
5. Don’t Get Too Trendy
Some church leaders love tradition. Other church leaders (especially younger ones) love trends. Trends can be fun (and great), but you’re also choosing a name that has to last a decade or two.
The trend in church names in the 90s and 2000s was to add community to any church name. A good signal for sure, but many churches have since dropped that moniker.
More recently, as noted above, metaphors have surged. And in the last decade or so, “City Church” has become a trend (even for churches not in cities).
The problem with trendy names is you end up being the cool church for a few minutes, but then like that shirt you bought because it was so ‘in,’ you’re donating it to Goodwill two seasons later.
Ask yourself: A decade from now, how will the name we’re choosing sound? To answer that question more accurately, ask some Gen Z members what they think.
6. Think Local
As ambitious and hopeful as you are, you’re likely going to pastor a local church.
There are a handful of churches that have a national profile. And unless you’re a complete church nerd, you’ve probably never even heard of half of the Outreach 100’s fastest-growing churches in America, nor the majority of the largest.
The point? It’s good to plan for the potential growth of your church and think through multiple services and locations. But the target of your social media efforts and your SEO should be local.
So, don’t worry about picking a name that has broad national appeal. Choose a name that will resonate with the people in the regions you’re trying to reach.
If you think about it, the churches with a national profile got it because they did a great job of reaching people in their community. The profile took care of itself.
There’s a Lot Riding on a Church Name
There’s a lot riding on a church name, but hopefully, with some prayer, reflection, a great team to brainstorm with, and these tips, you’ll pick a name you’ll love for decades to come.