There was a time, not so long ago, when it was easy to name a church. All a congregation needed to do was follow a few simple guidelines.
Churches could be named chronologically: First Baptist, Second Church of Christ, Scientist or Third Presbyterian.
Churches could take their cue from geography, naming themselves after a street, neighbourhood, nearby park or part of town.
For some denominations, like Anglicans, Lutherans and Catholics, saints were a great source of names (St. John, St. Peter, St. Matthews, etc.). So were biblical figures like the Holy Family, Mary or the Holy Ghost, as were biblical concepts like Epiphany, Faith, Grace, Abundant Life, Immaculate Conception or Miracle, to name a few.
If a church served a specific racial or cultural group, the naming process was really easy: Chinese Alliance, Filipino Evangelical, Korean United Church, Spanish Church of God Pentecost.
Those days seem long gone and far away, at least in the evangelical world.
Blogger Dennis Baker took a look around the U.S. and came across the following names for churches: Resonate, Revolution, Radiance, Mosaic, Encompass, Soma, Journey, Mars Hill, Solomon's Porch, Celebration, Legacy, Encounter, The Well, Carpenter's, Flipside, Substance, The Orchard, The Pursuit, Liquid, The Table and dozens more -- a total of 130 decidedly untraditional church names in all.
Unique church names are not only found in the U.S.; Winnipeg has a few, such as Soul Sanctuary, Oasis, Springs, The Bridge, Solidrock, Church of the Rock, Faithworks 4 U, The Meeting Place and The Den.
What's driving the changes? The same thing that's driving name changes in the business world: the need to stand out in an increasingly noisy and cluttered marketplace. In this case, it's the marketplace of theological ideas; people want a name that sticks out -- one that arouses curiosity and sticks in the mind of those who might be seeking a new church.
People also want names that stand out on the Internet. There are a lot of First Baptists out there, but how many churches do you think are named Liquid? (It's in New Jersey, in case you're interested.)
But how to come up with a new name? One way is to ask the congregation what they like. Or you could do what Matt Sweetman, a church planter in Chicago, did. When it was time to find a name for his new church, he came up with a list of names and then did a survey in the community.
In selecting potential names, his first criteria was that it had to be simple: "One or two words with the word 'church' after it," he wrote on his blog. "People need to know we are a church, so having 'church' (in the name) is important to me."
He also wanted it to be attractive for people who didn't go to church, but not one that alienated Christians. It had to be "something non-traditional, because we are targeting a younger urban crowd, yet something not too wacky that would turn away Christians who are looking for a church," he said.
The four names that rose to the top for consideration were: Message Church, Crimson Church, Destination Church and Celebration Church. Church members then went out and asked people: "Purely based on the name, which church would you be most likely to visit if a friend invited you or if you saw an advertisement?"
The winner? Destination Church -- that was the name most appealing to churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.
In addition to being original, he wrote, "it has great theological meaning. Our destination is Jesus. Everything ultimately finds meaning in him. It speaks of purpose, clarity and goals. Most Christians thought it sounded strong and had lots of marketing potential. Non-Christians shocked us with their opinion of this name. Ninety per cent of them really liked it. They understood it. It made sense to them and they thought it sounded pretty cool, actually."
Destination might be a cool name, but the coolest ever might be the St. James-Bond United Church in Toronto. The church, which closed in 2006, got its unique name when St. James Presbyterian and Bond Street Congregational merged in 1928.
My own personal favourite is the Strict and Particular Baptist Church in London, England; nobody who joined it couldn't say they weren't warned.
So, what's in a name? From my brief survey, it should be memorable, reflect congregational character and beliefs and arouse curiosity. That, plus be easy to find on the Internet.