The Fullerton campus of Southlands Church was commissioned out from their Southlands family as an autonomous church in September this year. They begin this new season with a new name, Mercy Commons.
Shawn Stewart, an Elder in the church and Director of Strategy at PlainJoe Studios, lead the leadership team through the process of selecting a new name, and was kind enough to share an outline of the thoughtful process they employed. It is definitely worth a read if you are considering a name change in the future.
Things to know before you start
Choosing a name can be a tricky endeavor. Sometimes it comes quickly, other times it takes awhile. The goal should be to name the church something that is directly or loosely tied to the unique calling and ethos you have as a community. A helpful phrase I came across from Eugene Peterson, originally in reference to naming children, but equally applicable to the church:
“you’re looking for something that has a prophetic imagination”
Look for a name that captures something of who you are and who you are called to be
It should be both grounded in your current reality, but also help you lean into where you’re going. We had narrowed possible names down to two options… one option connected to who we already are, it had a lot of rich theological layers to it, but also felt static. It didn’t challenge or push us into more. Mercy Commons reflected what was already happening, but also something that we desire to see more of.
Who should be involved?
The next thing to know is that the more people there are involved, the more difficult it will be. It’s okay to spread the feedback net wide, but prioritize opinions from those who have been a part of your pastoral vision discussions as a church. People without an understanding of the context will revert to personal preference. “I like it” should not be your primary criteria for a successful brand.
Mercy Commons was only my third favorite option on the list before we whittled it down to the final two. In fact, I don’t think it was the “favorite” for any of us. But as we sat with it and prayed over it, especially considering the idea of a “prophetic imagination”, Mercy Commons emerged as our unanimous choice.
What type of name?
The third thing to consider is that there are two broad categories of names that you can consider:
Experiential— these are names that relate to the experience of the church or are more theologically descriptive (e.g. Fellowship Church or Grace Community)
Evocative naming — these are names that are more metaphorical and require more explanation, however, these kinds of names are typically more distinct and memorable—doesn’t mean it’s better, just different (e.g. Southlands Church)
Mercy Commons ended up falling between those two and that’s okay as well.
Here is what I would encourage a pastoral team to do—gather and invite key stakeholders and primary DNA carriers into this phase of the discovery process:
You need to do some discovery and prayerfully discern the rhythms of grace in your current community. In other words, what are the things that seem to keep coming up, the things that God keeps doing in your midst, what are your strengths, where is their fruitfulness? What do newcomers consistently tell you about the experience of your church? What does your church feel like? What do you talk about most? How do you talk about that thing? What is your history? How were you founded? Are there metaphors, Biblical concepts or scriptures that God has given you?
As you reflect on your church, history, fruitfulness in step 1, use the concepts/rhythms of grace you uncover to develop a mind-map of themes or ideas that connect to the source concept. For instance one of your concepts might be “Christ-Centered”, so you might write down something like “The Work of Jesus”… from there you would generate sub-ideas that reflect the work of Jesus… like Redemption, Atonement, Immersion, etc.
Review the themes in your mindmap and pray over them… sit with them and see if the Lord speaks or guides you, via words/picture/analogy/or scripture. Attend to those things as the starting point for generating name options.
When you generate name options, allow yourself to generate and do not judge. You will be tempted to judge each name you generate… fight that. Allow yourself to generate names, who cares if it’s the worst church name ever… somewhere in there, if you don’t allow your inner critic to stop you, you will find gold!
After generating names, review against the criteria you’ve set and against what you know of how your church feels and what you’re called to. For some of the criteria read through this PDF from the Mercy Commons process. One of the things you cannot forget to check (and do this early) is for a URL and social media profiles. You can use your location or different domain variations like .church to help find something short, clear and memorable. We ended up doing mercycommons.church. You can use a website like godaddy.com to check URLs and you can use something like namechk.com to review social profiles.
Whittle down the names until you get to 3. It can be helpful to check to make sure your name is not being used by another church in your network or region. Do a basic google search and even if you love a name, be weary if someone else has the same name and could be confused with you. That does not mean if someone else is called Grace Community you should not choose it, but you want to make sure they are not nearby or a part of Advance. Put the names into a sentence and get a feel for how they sound. Put the names through the primary school test (would a 13 year giggle and do inappropriate things with your name).
Once you have a shorter list, work on the rationale. How would this name preach? Allow yourself to start to preach it, expound on it and teach it. Where does it go, does it have legs and give life to you. If it’s the right name for you it will sing and move through you.
Also, consider checking out these books:
Church Unique by Will Mancini
Less chaos, less noise by Kem Meyer
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
The Brand Gap & Zag by Marty Neumeier