Recently a church in Wimbledon rebranded itself. They decided to drop the name Worple Road Evangelical Church - not exactly a tough decision eh? Except that I suspect some people in the church struggled with the change. The old name was familiar and comfortable, it may have been connected with a range of positive memories. Why change things? But what do you think the name 'Worple Road Evangelical Church' would have meant to non-attenders living in the community? On a scale of one to ten how appealing would this 'name' be to them?
We do seem to come up with some odd and downright off-putting names sometimes for churches. Here's a few of the more bizarre church names I found on the Internet:
Fakes Chapel (Bradford, Arizona) sounds a bit dodgy and Penguin Baptist Church in Tasmania made me smile. Boring Methodist Church (Maryland) doesn't sound appealing, while the Cowboy Cathedral in Indiana presumably invite dodgy televangelists to preach each week. And as for Dry Run Gospel Tabernacle (Duncansville, Pennsylvania), and St Ives Strict and Particular Meeting House (Cornwall) they sound as appealing as a cold bath in January. I wonder if Rob Frost would enjoy a warm welcome at Frostproof United Methodist Church (Florida)? Maybe teenagers might be interested in checking out Coolville Methodist (Coolville, Ohio)?
Come to think of it - what do people in your community think about the name of your church? Some words like 'Baptist', 'Methodist', 'Pentecostal' and 'Evangelical', would mystify most non-churched, while 'Strict and Particular', 'Temple', 'Tabernacle,' 'Redeemed' and other 'language of Zion' titles merely confirms to non attenders that this describes an old fashioned, bizarre or plain weird set up which is of no relevance to them. So what's in a name? Is it there for the sake of the remnant that attend, to affirm a historical theological distinctive? Or is the church name chosen for the vast majority who don't regularly attend a place of Christian worship? And if it is for the latter, then most of us need to have a rethink.
Maybe you think names don't matter. Like the saying 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me' - you may think names don't count. I disagree. First published in a book of folk phrases in 1894, the original author of this ditty clearly must've never faced a barrage of insults, if they had, they'd know names can heal or they can hurt. Names are important. They can build up and they can pull down. I'm not saying that giving your church an inclusive or trendy name is a recipe for church growth.
But I am saying some names push people away. Some churches should leave well alone. Their name is a positive brand. I'm not an Anglican, but I've always thought 'Christ Church' is a great name.
Ultimately of course, the reputation of the church in the community and the nation is more important than its name. The Salvation Army may be saddled with an old fashioned and militaristic brand - but its reputation for practical love and care means it is regarded with warmth and affection by most of the British population. By comparison a succession of newspaper stories about abusive priests has saddled the Roman Catholic Church with a big problem here and in other countries. The first thing many non-attenders will think of when you mention 'Catholic' is 'paedophile priests' and the subsequent loss of trust. This is terrible and will take years to turn around. While we should do all we can to improve the standing and reputation of the body of Christ - we also should pay attention to the nametag we give ourselves.
Hillside Church, Wimbledon, the new name of Worple Road Evangelical Church, sounds a whole lot more relevant. It also sounds like it might not be a crumbling, small, tin hut attended by a few people with an average age of 78! If our church is mission, not maintenance-oriented, its name will reflect its passion to be relevant to the wider community.
If we live up to our name as Christians (little Christ's) we will also enjoy a reputation for being revolutionary, culturally distinct and full of love.