The Christian satire site Babylon Bee recently skewered the growing trend of trendy church names. Forget words like “Faith,” “Bible,” “Church,” or—heaven forbid—the name of your denomination, they advised. Don’t go with a name that gives visitors information about your church, said imaginary consultants. Go with a name you can market.
I had a good laugh, but it got me thinking. What if I compiled my own list of the most cringe-worthy actual church names? So I conducted an informal social media survey, and was overwhelmed by the responses. For your convenience, I’ve pared down the list (really, I did!) and broken these church names (all of which I’ve checked, and all of which are real) into nine handy categories.
Understand that I count all of you who belong to these, ahem, creatively named churches as brethren and sistren, so please, no angry emails. We’re all in this together, and what’s life if you can’t laugh at yourself? Without further ado, here are the nine types of trendy, new church names.
1. Just Random Words
These led me to suspect the branding agencies or committees in charge of renaming, say, First Baptist Church of Springfield, or Pleasant Grove Presbyterian simply wrote nouns and verbs on slips of paper, threw them into a hat, and named their church according to whatever one or two words the senior pastor pulled out.
They include such oddities as, “City,” “City Hope,” “Cornerstone,” “Create Church,” “Destiny City Church,” “Dream City Church,” Intersect Church,” Elevate Church,” “Elevate Life Church,” “Lifebridge Church,” “The Compass Church,” “Reality Church,” and “Rise.”
Some names made me wonder if a deacon’s kid selected them while looking out the window during a road trip. Among them were “Red Door,” “The Branch,” “The Harbor,” “The House,” “The Journey,” “The Orchard,” “The Painted Door,” and “The River.”
2. The Grocery Store Romance Novel
These subtle-yet-sentimental congregational cognomens irresistibly evoke the titles of paperbacks in the supermarket checkout aisle aimed at middle-aged moms—books whose covers feature brawny, classically masculine men with their heads cropped off, holding breathless, bonnet-clad women in front of an idyllic vista that hints at the traditional mores holding back their achingly unconsummated love.
The best included, “Burning Hearts,” “Door of Hope,” “Epiphany Station,” “Liberating Spirit,” “Mercy Road,” “New Horizons,” “Passion,” “Second Chance Church,” “Shepherd of the Prairie,” “The Nest of Love,” “The Refuge,” and “Word Aflame.”
3. The Gated Community
For Christians, church can offer a sense of place. It’s where a body of local believers gathers to worship, wed, and weep. So naturally, it makes sense that such meeting places trade in stuffy denominational names like “First Methodist of Kingstown,” or “Greenville Church of God,” for names that invite members to pull into their two-car garage, kick off their shoes, let the dog out, and make themselves at home. That may be why so many churches now sound like subdivisions or apartment complexes.
Some of my favorites were, “Bayside,” “Centerpoint,” “CrossPoint,” “Grace Pointe” (with an “e”—fancy!), “Highpoint,” “LifePoint,” “Crossbridge,” “Crossings,” “Crossroads,” “The Crossing,” “Prairie Heights,” and “The Bridge.” I’ve heard reports that some of these churches have convened homeowners’ associations to regulate grass and sermon length, but I haven’t yet confirmed this.
4. The Night Club
I received numerous hip, typically one-word church names that practically cry out for a throbbing beat. You can almost feel the bass, smell the martinis, and hear yourself shouting to your date over the racket that you’re going to order another round. Swap their names and disco balls with local clubs, and no one would be the wiser. And the slogans write themselves: “This city has nightlife. What it needs is eternal life.”
The best few were, “180 Church,” “Dwell,” “Elevate,” “Epic,” “Flow Church,” “Discovery,” “Ignite,” “Ignite,” “Ignite” (yes, I received three of those—Christians like fire), “Lighthouse,” “Oasis,” “Submerge,” “The Alley,” “The Encounter,” “The Experience,” “The Pursuit,” “The Spot,” “The Verge,” and my favorite, “Vida Explosiva.”
5. The Gym
Now, it’s no secret that American churches have a problem with men. Quite simply, there aren’t enough of us. Thanks in part to feminine worship with songs that make Jesus sound a bit like a boyfriend, guys are just losing interest in showing up on Sunday. We want more action and grit in our Christianity—we want more muscle mass at Mass.
So what better way to call fellow warriors for Christ to join your testosterone-pumped worship services than by making your church sound like a gym? Jesus’ yoke may be easy and his burden light, but these intensely motivated, steel-reinforced church names no doubt offer cross-training that’ll keep you from feeling the eternal burn.
Among the best were, “Champion Life Church,” “Action Church,” “Church on the Move,” “Empowerment Center,” “No Limits Fellowship,” “Potential Church,” “The Foundry,” and “VLife Church” (which actually sounds more like a protein shake, but oh well).
6. The Internet Startup
The Silicon Valley crowd calls for something more sophisticated. They’re innovative—modern Da Vincis—always hatching the next big idea that could transform the way we travel, work, and waste time on our smartphones. That’s why many churches are adopting tech-savvy names along with slick, minimalistic logos that make them look more like Internet startups than houses of worship. You don’t need to ask whether they have apps. They practically are apps. Yes, the pastor will be wearing a black turtleneck, and no, none of these churches have headphone jacks.
Among the most cutting-edge were “Catalyst Church,” “Church Eleven32,” “Engage,” “Gateway,” “Genesis,” “Legacy,” “Mosaic Church,” “MyChurch,” “Netcast,” “ONE Church,” “Perimeter,” “Quest Church,” “ReThink Life Church,” and “Watermark.”
7. The Spa
Sometimes, of course, what you really need is a little relaxation and rejuvenation on Sunday—a place where you can get a massage while your pastor brings the message. If you want saunas over sensors, detox over doxology, you need a church whose name sounds like a spa. Try “Renovate,” “Radiant,” “Coolwater,” “H20 Church,” “Sandals,” “Fresh Life,” “The Healing Place,” or “Wellspring.”
8. The Jeb Bush
Some of the names I received sounded a little forced, as if the naming committees were trying just a bit too hard to appear welcoming and relevant. Their names came across as self-complimentary or needy, like a certain presidential candidate and former Florida governor begging a silent audience to “please clap.” I recall especially “Church in the Now,” “Compassion Church,” “Connection Church,” “Dream Church,” “Embrace Ministry,” “Enjoy Church” (a plea?), “Happy Corner Church,” “Rejoice!” (a command?), “Relevant,” another “Relevant,” “Relevant Life,” “The Fun Church,” and “Church at the Mall” (hey, whatever it takes).
Finally, there are the churches whose names left me scratching my head. There’s definitely a story behind each of them. But darned if I know what it is. They include, “Caleb’s Foot,” “Cowboy Church,” “Relevate Church” (yes, I checked; it’s spelled correctly), “Scum of the Earth Church,” “Fishnet Worship Center,” “Rich Valley Church” (sounds like it would go well on salad—and no, it’s not in a town called “Rich Valley”), “Rock City Church” (see it!), “Trademark” (did they forget to add the name?), and “Westside: A Jesus Church” (is there a movie?).
We’re Afraid of Who We Are
The phenomenon of churches—especially evangelical churches—dropping denominational affiliations from their marquees, adopting corporate-sounding names and logos, and investing in giant, blinding LED billboards has reached epidemic proportions. The National Association of Evangelicals reports that 63 percent of member churches now do not include any denomination in their name.
Why? Many seem to be worried about pigeonholing themselves. “We would rather spend our time explaining Christ to people than explaining ‘Baptist,’ said one church social media director.
Patricia Borns at the Miami Herald explains that many pastors now see traditional church names as a hindrance to saving souls. They worry that such names conjure up “images of pipe organs, narrow-mindedness or stuffy, formal services.”
She tells of Baptist churches in Florida dropping names they’ve had for almost a century, and turning to marketing consultants to help them rebrand. Many members—even well-informed and committed ones—see this as a good move. Some of these congregations approved the name changes by votes of 80 percent or more. One University of Miami religious studies chair called the rebranding effort at his church “consumerist.” He didn’t mean it in a bad way.
It’s Not Working, Either
All of this is part of what’s called the “seeker-sensitive movement.” The idea is to draw more people through the doors on Sunday by dropping words and practices perceived as out-of-touch or old-fashioned, and adopt verbiage, visuals, and strategies that work in cultural and corporate spaces. But replacing theological identifiers with buzzwords isn’t nearly as effective as many church leaders assume. In fact, it can be counterproductive.
As Morgan Lee points out at Christianity Today, research shows Americans prefer denominational names—two in particular—to nondenominational ones. “Baptist” and “Catholic,” as identifiers of the two largest Christian groups in the country, appeal to more people than do trendy, one-word marketing ploys. According to LifeWay Research, half of Americans view denominational labels favorably, while the other half either feel negatively about them, or don’t care.
But the data gets much more interesting. A 2013 study by Grey Matter Research found that unchurched and churched adults in all 50 states were four times more likely to perceive congregations with denominational identifiers as “formal,” and three times more likely to view them as “old-fashioned,” and “structured and rigid.” However, they were less than half as likely to view churches without denominational identifiers as “honest,” and almost five times more likely to perceive them as “trying to hide what they believe.”
It turns out the unchurched are roughly as likely to attend a church that wears its denomination on its sleeve as they are one that hides it. One in four said they prefer churches that list their affiliation. One in five said they prefer churches that don’t. And only a minority of the unchurched have negative perceptions about denominational names.
“Eight out of ten unchurched adults do not feel a non-denominational name would make them more likely to consider visiting a particular church,” said Grey Matter President Ron Sellers. “[S]ix out of ten do not feel this signals a more open-minded church.”
‘Trendy’ Isn’t the Point
Changing the name of your church to sound like a night club, a romance novel, or a spa probably isn’t worth the money you’ll pay your marketing consultant. You won’t appeal to a larger crowd, you won’t shake the negative perceptions many Americans have toward Christianity, and you might even come across as desperate (or worse) dishonest.
I’m not discouraging anyone from attending a church named “Relevant,” although I would suggest (as with all churches) that we keep both eyes on our Bibles. What I’m arguing is that churches should own their identity, no matter their denomination, creed, or confession.
If a congregation isn’t officially part of a denomination, what’s wrong with the older tradition of naming churches after apostles or other biblical heroes? Or why not “Emanuel,” “Redeemer,” or even “The Good Shepherd?” Wouldn’t that say more about a church’s beliefs than would a one-word name that sounds like a ride-sharing app? Why should we hide our theological convictions? They’re core to who we are. And they will remain long after fleeting fashions and edgy branding strategies fade.