churches-no-denominations

The call came from an eager young man starting a new church in Florida. He already had 50 people meeting in homes in Bible studies. They had secured a leased space to launch the church in just a few months. But they were having trouble coming to a consensus on the name of the church. What could I tell him about church names? Were there pitfalls or opportunities where they needed greater awareness for their church’s name?

While I could not provide a precise church name for their congregation, I could share with him these seven trends I had seen emerge. Perhaps “trend” is not the best choice of a word, since some of these issues have been around for quite a while.

  1. Newer churches are consistently using descriptors in their names other than denominational affiliation. Some are focusing on their location. Others are at least implying a distinctive doctrinal leaning. And still others are using more trendy and less common terms.
  2. Denominational names, though, are still dominant among church names. Though the information is four years old, OpenBible.info did a fascinating study of church names. Some of their conclusions are still valid today. Denominational names still dominate, and “Baptist” is the major denominational name.
  3. The most common church name is “First Baptist.” Over 5,000 churches have this name. Of course, this name by itself does not specify which Baptist denomination; and there are many different denominations that have Baptist in their own name.
  4. Many words are becoming common in newer church names. Some of those words are Christ, Community, Fellowship, Assembly, Center, Chapel, Life, Faith, Bible, Grace, and New.
  5. Outsiders are often confused about church names. Several years ago, I did an informal survey of the preferred denomination among unchurched persons. The second most frequent response was the “Community” denomination. Of course, that denomination does not exist; but it is in a lot of church names.
  6. The Internet has led to shorter church names. Churches are choosing names that don’t become a long URL.
  7. Church names may be important, but they are not the most important factor in people choosing a church home. Relationships, personal invitations, good preaching, and friendly people, among other reasons, still trump the church name as the reason someone chooses a particular church.

One of the more challenging features of a church name takes place when the church is named for a location, but that location no longer exists. Or, perhaps, the church moved from that location. So if Hickory Avenue Community Church is no longer located on Hickory Avenue, guests may be confused by the name related to the location. Still, many churches tenaciously hold on to such names, even if it engenders confusion.

I also see a number of churches take a name after a church split. For example, a group of people split from the Harmony Church after an ugly church fight, and took on the new name of Greater Harmony Church.

I would love to hear your thoughts on church names. I also hope some of you can share some interesting and, perhaps, humorous church names of which you are aware.

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Comments

  1. Andrew Patton says

    My church in the Chicagoland area changed its name 7 years ago because research indicated that the city we were in and “baptist” had very negative connotations which were barriers to out-of-church people stepping in.

      • says

        Dr. Rainer,
        Andy, John, and I had a good discussion about this post last night. We chatted about the pros and cons of not including a denominations name in a church’s name. The conclusion we came to- really the conclusion Andy presented so well- was that it’s really only churched people who are looking for a specific denominations name and researching what a church believes when deciding whether or not to visit.
        Frankly, our church isn’t targeting churched people at all. I can’t tell you how many of our friends came to our church because of a relationship they had with us or someone else and found out only at our membership class that we are affiliated with the SBC.
        This is what it often looks like: We become friends with someone. We invite them to our church as a natural part of sharing our lives and interests. They came to know Christ personally. They start serving in various ways, get baptized, and then decided to join the church officially.
        Church membership is important and valued, of course, and is a step our church wants everyone to take. Our pastor lays out everything we believe as a church and what church membership means in the class. This includes who we are affiliated with and why.
        Every single time my friends say, “I can not believe we joined a Southern Baptist Church!” I just laugh because in the end their denomination is secondary- even tertiary- to the new life they have in Christ and the incredible life change we observe in them and us as a result.
        So, long and short of it. There probably isn’t a right or wrong. Each church must decide for themselves and not judge others.
        Being Southern Baptist is definitely part of my identity as a person. But in the end- I’m not taking my denomination with me to Heaven. I’m just taking my “Yes” to Jesus.
        Thanks for the post- it gave my family a chance for some lively conversation.

  2. Marsha Guerard says

    I used to edit the obituaries for the daily newspaper in Charleston, S.C. My favorite church name was from a rural area: the High Hill Freewill Baptist Church.

  3. says

    Personally, I prefer a church having their denominational affiliation in their name. It gives insight at a glance to what the church believes and teaches. If a church is a part of a particular denomination, you will (should) not be able to hide it when people join. If the denomination has a bad name in the area, don’t deny that you are a part, work hard to dispel the reputation. I have often wondered how someone who attends a non-denominational church for the first time learns of their beliefs and teachings. Who sets the guidelines for their statement of faith? Do their teachings change when they hire a new pastor? Do class leaders have a standard by which they teach? Is it just what ever they feel like at the moment? These are just a few of the things that go through my mind when looking only at the name of a church.

    • Hal says

      Not far from where I live, there are churches named Bodcaw Baptist # 1 and Bodcaw Baptist # 2. I’m guessing there was a church split back there somewhere ….

  4. Drew Dabbs says

    I used to drive by one nearly every day in Waco called the “Pentecostal Cathedral of Faith Church of God in Christ.”

  5. Jimmy Kiker says

    Once while traveling in rural SC we saw a church named, for example, “Harmony Church”. About 300 yards down the road was another named “The Real Harmony Church”. Can you spell “church fight”? The sad part is that those two names are a permanent “testimony” to all who pass of an ugly part of that church’s history.

  6. Mark Dance says

    My current church is called “Second Baptist Church,” which made more sense in 1922 when there was only one other Baptist church in town (I won’t insult anyone by revealing the name of the first one). There are several other “First” churches in town (Baptist, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Assembly), but we are the only “Second.” Instead of bemoaning our secondary status, we have fun with it (not fun of it). Ex: “2nd Baptist is all about 2nd chances;” “Jesus taught that being first is over-rated, so we don’t even try…”

    Maybe we are making lemonade, but I like lemonade.

  7. Nick says

    Where could I find the answer to “why are so many churches ‘First’ when Jesus specifically said the first shall be last?”

    • Brad says

      i’ve always wanted to plant a church and call it ‘The Last Baptist Church of ______’ and then put Matthew 20:16 on the sign

  8. Curt says

    Would you care to give input on church names with the denomination..ie: Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic..etc when the denomination is scarred? Thx

  9. Bryan says

    Personally, I find it very confusing when a church calls themselves Journey Church, Fusion Church, etc. without any identifying denominational affiliation. One almost presumes non-denominational or non-participatory in denominational life. Of course, I understand that denominational allegiance is a thing of the past for Millennials, but there are still a few of us left out there that would like to know where to start narrowing our options when looking for a new church home. Even many of the denominationally-aligned churches will not indicate such on their websites. Is it really such a bad thing to be a Christian who worships as a Baptist? I don’t believe that being Baptist makes one church similar to another anymore than I believe there is only one shade of the color red, but it does give you a starting point. Great article, by the way, Thom. I appreciate you!

    • Mark says

      You have to do the work of reading their website and then going for a few weeks to really find out. Even then you may get a surprise and not go back.

  10. says

    I pastor a church and recently had a man publicly threaten, he would leave our church if I kept preaching/teaching on the importance of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. So, I’ve decided, just so there’s no confusion, the name of our next church plant will have God’s purpose for His church plainly stated in it’s name — “The Church of Disciples of Christ”.

  11. Anonymous says

    My husband currently pastors a church in which we just tried to change the name: Blue Ball Church. A name that, 100 years ago, connoted “the globe”, now has a negative sexual connotation. Upon coming here, we thought that once they understood the problem, they would change the name. That has not been the case, however. Even after giving solid biblical support for why we should change the name in an effort to bring people in (rather than scare them away, and rather than be an internet joke), they have staunchly refused. Most didn’t even know the true meaning behind the name before this discussion. They simply have a tenacious grip on tradition. There is a definite insider/outsider divide at this church, and the insiders refuse any type of change that an outsider proposes. Any attempt to reason falls on deaf ears. My husband and I, and a few others in our church, have just finished reading “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” and you have very accurately described ours as one that is very sick or dying. I had to laugh at how well you described the congregational meeting of the church who wanted to change the pulpit–it sounded exactly like ours! If only others would read it with an open heart. We came here (our first church) thinking it could be revived; but it has become increasingly apparent that this church is spiritually dead already. It’s so sad.

    • Mark Dance says

      That is a sad situation – thank you for sharing. I totally agree that the church should change the name since it is obviously an obstacle to reaching your community. However, if you did succeed in leading the church to change that name, it would likely still not result in the revival you so appropriately want. I am praying for your husband and church right now.

    • Hal says

      Unless there is more than one, I know where that church is (Kentucky), and one of my classmates was the pastor there about 20 years back. One of the most uncomfortable names for a church that I’ve ever heard.

  12. Logan says

    My favorite name I ever saw was just north of Nashville. The church was named “Little Hope Baptist Church”, as it was in an area once referred to as Little Hope. It has since been renamed to “New Hope Baptist Church”.

  13. says

    First, those math questions in order to post are getting harder, please no algebra! ;o)

    A number of years ago our church decided to do a name change. We allowed people to put in suggestions over a month’s period. We had over 100 different ideas, some rather funny. One of my favorites, which is one of those “location” names, was The Zayante Zealots!” Needless to say, we when with something different.

    We had people pick the top three they liked out of the 100, (using a reverse numerical system) this was done at the beginning of the service (Palm Sunday) at the end the service the top three had been decided, when then had the people list their favorites in order of preference. We kept the “winner” secret and revealed it on a new sign as people came to church on Easter morning. All kind of fun!

    And Felton (location) Bible (foundation) Church (whatever THAT means) was moving forward . . . and still is!

  14. Mark says

    The best was the “New Little Mount Zion” xxxx Church, where the xxxx is the denomination which I forgot. Many churches are dropping the denomination title due to baggage from the denomination. It just means that the website is relied upon even more to figure out what the church stands for.

  15. says

    I was once on staff at a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado that had their name “Skyway SOUTHERN Baptist Church” stated boldly on a brick wall that jettisoned through the roof. There is nothing SOUTHERN about Colorado Springs, Colorado. The only people this church reached were transplants from southern states. The pastor and I unsuccessfully attempted to persuade some on the staff and the membership of the church to remove the “SOUTHERN”.

  16. says

    My favorite church name was for a small, contentious church in MS. Police had actually been called there to break up fights. The church name? Little Hope Baptist Church. No kidding.

  17. Chris says

    There is a wide spot in the road on HWY 24 in NW Alabama called “Burnout” and you guessed it there is a Burnout Missionary Baptist church.

  18. James says

    I have passed by this several times while in Orlando: Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe

    • Ruth says

      Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe

      And it’s HUGE! You should visit their website. It will creep you out even more.

  19. says

    Our church name here in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is called Barefoot Church…named for the area it was orginally started called Barefoot Landing. I receive many texts asking exactly what is a “barefoot” church, from those thinking since we are located only blocks from the ocean, everyone comes barefoot. And due to the relaxed environment some do, but that was not the intention

  20. says

    Our Church Has The Word “Memorial” In It. I Find Most People Associate That Word With An Older Congregation.. Our Average Age Is Actuall 35!
    In The Next 3-4 Years We Will Move To A New Location…We Were Thinking Of A Name Change At That Time…Thoughts??

  21. Mark says

    I had a friend who once pastored Plainview Baptist because 50 years prior they split from a church about a quarter mile up the road and said they were going to build their new church in plain view of the other one…wow!

  22. Trevor says

    “The church at….”

    Is becoming a popular formula. Largely due to the influence of David platt i assume.

  23. says

    My favorite real church name is just south of Nashville. It’s the Progressive Primitive Baptist Church. Our two year old church plant took about three months to pray through our name. It came down to Blackman Community Church vs. Blackman Baptist Church.

  24. says

    I pastor a First Baptist. The most common confusions FBCs envoke in my experience are,

    1. That all FBCs are just alike. I’ve invited people who say that they don’t need to check us out because they already visited an FBC before.
    2. That it is an arrogant name (this I agree with). It says nothing more than being first.
    3. That it is not a name at all – I don’t refer to my oldest son as ‘the first son of Josh’, we use his name instead.

    As much as I do not like the FBC name there is some benefit to keeping it. We have simply employed a ‘nickname’ which has worked out great. Most people in our city refer to the nickname which came bout through social media handles and URLs but still recognize that FBC is the same church.

  25. says

    Having had some success (all glory be to God for it) in reaching people who are outside the church, I’m glad our denom (Reformed Church in America) isn’t in our name. I love my extended church family but people don’t know what “Reformed” means. Folks with no church background have ZERO idea what the theological or ecclesiastic distinctions of the denom are and one friend outside the church even asked, “so is that a Christian church?”. So if anything, we ought to have the word “Christian” in our name just to avoid that sort of confusion : )

  26. Lee Haley says

    I love your comment with humor of Harmony and Greater Harmony Church. There is a hidden message for us if we dig deep enough.

  27. Brian Roden says

    I’ve been noodling Koine names if I ever plant a church. Koinonia, Soteria, Oikos — things that would make people ask questions, and when the translation is explained would describe the purpose of the body

  28. Leah says

    I visited a church plant in Brick NJ called Remedy Church. I thought that was the best name ever! Christ our remedy!

  29. says

    There was a traditional-looking church in rural Alabama, outside of Mobile, I used to drive past called “Perfect Alternative Baptist Church”… I always wondered, alternative to what?

  30. Christy says

    Funniest church name I have seen in my town is “Faith Free Lutheran Church.” Punctuation is key here. Faith. Free Lutheran Church.

  31. Greg Drummond says

    When I worked for field education at Briercrest College in Saskatchewan, Canada we sent out a number of ministry teams to the surrounding towns and churches. One of those towns was Eyebrow, SK – the church: “Eyebrow Free Methodist Church”.

  32. holly says

    After years of deliberation my parents church changed their name from Madras Conservative Baptist Church to Madras Cornerstone Baptist Church. A huge factor was keeping the same initials of MCBC! Also conservative didn’t have the same meaning as it did when the church started; newcomers thought itxwas X a political statement rather than something about “conserving the truth” and not going liberal– what it meant in the 30′s.
    I live in a differe not city and go to Outward church- which is a conversation piece and can also be confusing to the public.

  33. says

    When I first heard of old my church “Freedom Church”, the name ‘sounded’ liberal and/or charismatic–oddly, it was thoroughly conservative. lol

  34. says

    The best example of a church name that someone hadn’t thought about belonged to “The Original Church of God #2″ located in Texas. Being Pentecostal in experience and ministry, I have a concern for new Pentecostal/Charismatic congregations that seem to be afraid to let the visitor or the community know that they are Pentecostal in style of worship and that they believe in speaking in tongues. They will tag themselves as “Forest Grove Church” or “Shady Meadow Community Church”, appearing to hide the fact that they believe in speaking in tongues lest the greater community will think that they are weird. Their thinking is, “Who would want to go to ‘Tongues of Fire Holiness Pentecostal Church, when they could go to Shady Meadow?” My thinking is, don’t hide who you are and what your congregation believes. If you are afraid that the community will think you are weird and bizarre because of what they perceive from your name, chances are they have already got you pegged, so you either have a choice of living up to their expectations, developing a strong opposition to what they perceive that you are, or compromising to something in the middle. In my opinion, being anything other than what and who you really are is hypocritical, so be who you are.

  35. says

    Thanks for this post. This is really resourceful.
    Just as you said, names of churches arebecoming shorter and more ‘corporate/organisational’.

    I have also observed that ministeries are now associating themselves with fellowship and/or network having a paradigm shift from the ‘normal church’ ‘church’ is no longer becoming a sunday affair. This is what’s rising here in Nigeria.
    Greetings from Nigeria!

  36. Ray says

    I think a name should not only speak to the Biblically literate such as “Maranatha” or “Skekinah”, or “Tabernacle”. It should speak to the unsaved. Names like “New Beginning” or “New Life…” says something to the world. Where “Full Gospel Apostolic Tabernacle” doesn’t.

  37. Johnny O says

    My roommate in college worked as a youth pastor at the First Hispanic American Baptist Church of San Jose, when visiting I’d hear him answering the phone “Thank you for calling the FHABCSJ…” haha

  38. says

    I pastor First Baptist Smithfield! There is no Smithfield Texas any more. When people ask where I serve and I answer there’s often this initial expression of ‘oh yeah, I’ve heard of that, followed by the confused look of, what’s a smithfield.
    I would prefer Smithfield Road baptist, because there is a smithfield road, or something more inviting than a location. But, its really not ALL about the name apparently, unless its something like the one I heard of in NY; the Soul Saving Station for Every Nation: Christ’s Crusaders Inc.

  39. Kelli says

    My favorite is Bodenburg Butte Baptist Church in Butte, Alaska. I just love how this rolls off the tongue.

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