If you consider a name change for your congregation, seek God’s mind and purpose first or forget it.
By Dan Reiland
“12Stone! What kind of name is that for a church?”
I had somewhere between 80 to 100 personal conversations with a wide variety of people about the name change of our church from Crossroads to 12Stone. That was one of the only two less than positive responses. The other response was: “I don’t care what you call it; it will always be Crossroads to me.”
That wasn’t really negative; it was a long standing member expressing his opinion, his heart really, about how much they love the church as they know it. All other people were instant raving fans of the new name.
What possessed us after 20 years to change the name of our church, and when should your church think about making a name change? There were a few moments when I thought we were possessed, but in the end it was God. To be sure, we followed God’s lead through the process, but I’m quick to admit the practical and human elements in the process that lead to any such change.
I’m not telling your church that it should change its name. If anything, I’m telling you not to. But if you should consider changing the name of your church, you should do so slowly, carefully and with much thought and prayer. If you have any question about the matter, don’t change it. Leave it as it is.
We’d been preparing to move into our new building and hired a marketing consultant to take us through a process of re-branding. We had no intention of changing our name. We merely wanted more brand alignment, higher quality in our printed materials, a fresh face lift for our logo, and an overall upgrade of how we communicate who we are internally and to the public.
The consultant conducted a number of thorough interviews and began to discover what was, in his opinion, a misalignment of the name and the personality of the church. We found ourselves intrigued by the idea of a new name and surprisingly receptive to a couple possibilities. It was at that point that we shut the process down to first determine if God wanted us to change the name, and if so, then determine the right name. After prayer and discussion we got a green light so we pressed ahead. As a result, we became 12Stone Church (formerly Crossroads Community Church in Lawrenceville, GA).
To answer the opening question, the name 12Stone comes from the story of Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Before they could reach the Promised Land, they would have to cross the Jordan River which was at flood stage. God told Joshua to instruct the priests, who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant, to step into the water. When they did, the waters were cut off, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry ground.
Once they were on the other side of the river, 12 stones (one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel) were taken from the river and set up as a monument so that future generations would know the powerful and rescuing hand of God (Joshua 4). The thing that “sealed the deal” for us was verse 24 — “that all the peoples of the earth might know the rescuing hand of God and might revere him.” It captured the all encompassing nature of such a profound act of God and the testimony of the 12Stones to everyone.
Our tagline has become, “Inspiring Bold Crossings.” That’s our heart, to carry the favor of God as a force for good in our county and beyond in order that people can make bold crossings in their lives.
We all face obstacles between where we are and where we want to be. It’s not uncommon to face these obstacles in our marriages, finances, relationships or in our pursuit to become who God created us to be. We want to get to the other side and experience life to the fullest, but know that the only way we have a chance of reaching our own promised land is if God intervenes. 12Stone stands in the deep part of the river helping people, with God’s power, to make life’s bold crossings. That’s the vision behind our new name.
If the day comes when you consider changing the name of your church, keep the following thoughts in mind:
If God doesn’t change your name it won’t make a difference.
We know that God uses a change of name to mark new beginnings. Stories from Abram to Abraham in the Old Testament to Saul to Paul in the New Testament remind us of just a few of these new beginnings. The important point is that God is the author and the name changes are highly intentional. In both these examples, God was dealing in his ongoing story of redemption.
If you consider a name change for your congregation, seek God’s mind and purpose first or forget it. No matter how cool the name might be, it’s not a wise decision if God isn’t behind it. Strategy and relevance are important but they never trump God’s purpose. If God is in it, a new name is huge; if it’s only your idea, it won’t make any difference.
A name change won’t grow your church, but it can position it for new possibilities.
In my acquaintance with churches that have changed their name, more than half did so hoping it would solve problems and change the church. This never happens. Changing a name never eliminates problems, nor does it result in growth for your church on its own. If your church is currently experiencing momentum, a new name can position it for continued, and perhaps accelerated, growth. But it won’t take the place of strong leadership.
It’s important to know why you want to change your name and what you think it will accomplish. This doesn’t negate God’s voice in the matter, but God’s purpose in the matter is critical.
Gain the appropriate support of the leaders in your church.
We had many formal meetings and countless informal meetings through this process. We sought the blessing, input, approval and insights from our district superintendent, local church board, business leaders and key leaders in the church. This process was bathed in prayer and though it moved relatively fast, it’s difficult to overdo the inclusion of a wide number of leaders. If your church is very large, you won’t be able to include everyone. So make your choices wisely and move forward.
Think through the costs and impacts related to a name change.
It’s likely that your church has some positive equity in the current name. Don’t underestimate that equity within your community. It’s also important to think about the emotional connection to those who have either experienced significant spiritual life change as a result of your church, or those who simply have been with you for a long time. These things don’t necessarily stop a name change, but relative costs and impacts must not be ignored. If God says change it, proceed, but determine how to compensate for the drawbacks or expenses of a name change.
When you cast vision for a new name, tell why you did it.
When you’ve decided on a name change and the process is done, you are ready to communicate to the congregation at large whether through a congregational vote, a Sunday morning service, or a fun-filled rally. Be sure to put more energy into the why than the what.
Be clear about the spiritual and leadership reasons why you are changing the name. If you place too much energy on the name itself, it may seem like you are “selling” it. If this occurs you lose the heart of the matter. The people may not object, but neither will they embrace. That is an important distinction. Lack of resistance is no reason to relax, a heartfelt and enthusiastic embracing of the new name is what you want. On a human level you want your congregation to be proud of the new name because of the church it represents. On a spiritual level, they must know that God was in the process.
Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church, Lawrence, GA.[12Stone.com]
What’s in a name?
Churches with unique names:
- Celebration Church, Jacksonville, FL: celebration.org
- Champions Centre, Tacoma, WA: championscentre.com
- The Dream Center, Los Angeles, CA: dreamcenter.org
- Elevation Church, Charlotte, NC: elevationchurch.org
- The Fountain of Praise, Houston, TX: fountainofpraise.org
- The Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church, Decatur, GA: greatertravelersrest.org
- LifeChurch.tv, Edmond, OK: lifechurch.tv
- Mariners Church, Irvine, CA: marinerschurch.org
- The Potter’s House, Houston, TX: thepottershouse.org
- The Rock Church, San Diego, CA: therocksandiego.org
‘Excellence has stopping power. Story has staying power.’
All churches need to be asking the same questions: Are we making an emotional connection with our people? Does our current identity encourage or inhibit interest in the broader scope of our offerings? Does it accurately reflect our cultural vibe? Does our story as a church resonate with the people we are ministering to? Is our story linked in some meaningful way to the larger story God is telling? Are we projecting an image that is excellent and worthy of cultural accolade?
Excellence has stopping power. Story has staying power. An excellent brand identity will get you noticed and afford you “your moment” to tell a compelling story. Many times you have one shot to get it right. A compelling story will irreversibly impact the listeners forever and stay with them.
Great brands are fueled by great stories. They demand attention, they differentiate themselves on the basis of excellence, they initiate the storytelling process, and they beg questions and inquiry.
Church names should be everything that Jesus was: Provocative in nature, illustrative and surprising. Churches should beg questions that set up answers, they should have energy about them. Churches should stand authentically for something grander and true. You should want to find out more. Churches don’t always need to be overt and obvious with messaging. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of being alluring, accessible and authentic.
12Stone is about a legendary biblical crossing and at the same time, an intimate personal crossing, whereby members can communicate both a tie to the biblical story and a personal point of testimony regarding their own significant crossing.
Jesus was his own brand — a Living Story — one that all great stories lean into. And his “logo,” the cross, is still the most recognizable mark on the planet. In the end, marketers have spent a ”gazillion“ dollars discovering and patenting what Jesus already knew.
— Kevin Sterner