Tuesday, 1 May 2007

What's in a Name?

I gotta be honest with you. I find some of the things we’re calling our churches these days to be pretty lame and pathetic.

I can remember when I was a kid growing up in NSW, all the churches in our quiet little coastal region were named after their location. We were at Tanilba Bay Baptist, but I remember visiting the Salt Ash Church of Christ and even doing stuff with Nelson’s Bay Baptist. Obviously these churches were names after the little towns they were located in.

In Ipswich we first went to Churchill Baptist, then East Ipswich Church of Christ – again both location inspired names.

Now I look around Brisbane and the rest of Oz and see ‘Metro Church’, ‘Eternity Church’, ‘Planetshakers City Church’…. and recently on the radio I’ve heard David Evans and John James advertising their new church called ‘His Church’.

I don’t know, but this just feels weird to me. Why do we have to have some fancy name? Does it make us sound more like a nightclub, cause that will make people feel more comfortable? Does it just make us sound less religious and 'christian-y', which again will draw people? Do we really want to do that? What are our main focuses if we do that? Are we compromising if we do that?

Or are we feeding a young Christian community that is already too deep in consumerism, and caught up in the social effects of today’s Australian lifestyle? By ‘marketing’ our churches are we creating a softer, more likable, hip and cool place to go but compromising on the Biblical bases the church was built on??????

Does this ‘naming convention’ (to steal an IT term) encourage un-believers to try out church, or just it just providing a new flashy place for Christians to try out and move from existing churches?

I know there’s a lot of questions in there, and no answers. But I’ve been thinking about when you look at the history of the church, that the names of these churches really sound shallow [in no way am I labeling these churches as shallow, since I’ve only ever been to Planetshakers church in Melbourne once and none of the others, I have no real idea what’s going on in them, this is purely about marketing and names].

I'm also not really thinking about some of the 'emerging churches' in our communities. I think things like 'Forge' and ‘Upstream Ministries’ are doing something completely different to what these ‘traditional’ churches are doing and they don’t usually have an official name they project into the community.

All this though has made me take a pretty close look at my church…. Whitehill Church of Christ… and the more I look at it, the more I like it. Here’s why;:

  • It is locational. Whitehill COC is located on Whitehill Rd.
  • If you ask most people at Whitehill (especially our pastors) what type of church we are, they’d say a community based church fellowship.
  • The Whitehill name incorporates that community feel because if you know Ipswich, you know that Whitehill Rd is one of the longer streets, it’s not a major road, but it is long and well known.
  • Whitehill Rd cuts through multiple suburbs of Ipswich (none of them named Whitehill), so I like it because it’s broader than calling our church Flinders View Church of Christ (which is the suburb we’re located in). I like this better because I can remember people asking me why I went to East Ipswich Church of Christ (previous to our relocation to Whitehill Rd) when I lived at Brassall, because Leichhardt Church of Christ was closer.

When you look at Whitehill Rd as a symbol it paints a really nice picture. As I said Whitehill Rd isn’t a major road, in most cases it has to give way to many of the bigger roads it meets, but that's the symbol!!

Whitehill Rd runs perpendicular to Ipswich’s bigger roads - in a way connecting them all. It’s a smaller road (got it’s first set of traffic lights in 2005) but it is the link to many of the bigger roads that run through that part of Ipswich. I think that’s kind of what our church is – or what we’d like our church to be. Not the biggest and flashiest, but humble and effective in linking the community around us to Jesus.

Honestly I don’t think I’ve taken much time to look at why we call ourselves Whitehill Church of Christ – and maybe the people who decided on that name never thought of the points I listed – but after looking at this I think I can take a real pride in that name.

There’s a lot of meaning in a name I guess, maybe Metro Church has some good reasons for it’s title – if so I’d love to hear them – but I think the key is not to conform to the worlds new classy, market orientated ways and come up with some sort of gimmick name to be appealing, but stay humble, even if it is just Flinders View Church of Christ, and focus on serving the community of un-believers around you. Because I can guarantee you, they don’t care what you’re called, just what you do.


Craig said...

Awesome post Deano. Really insightful and well thought out. I am unsure of how the name was derived as well, but I really like your spin on why the name suits. Good one!

Mark Edwards said...

Good post, it is good you are thinking about this issue.

Maybe these churches are changing their names because they are seeking to be regional, rather than local, trying to be relevant to the culture of the city, which is increasingly travelling. Maybe they are trying whatever it takes to reach people for Christ, good on them.

I dont think your brushing aside of what EC churches do is valid. In other words, I think your critique, if valid, is just as valid to apply to EC style churches, who may change their names, or utilise non local names for exactly, exactly, exactly, the same reasons as you say larger churches do, "By ‘marketing’ our churches are we creating a softer, more likable, hip and cool place to go but compromising on the Biblical bases the church was built on??????"

I dont agree with your critique (at all) but if you are going to argue that, I think it equally applies to EC churches, some of whom I suspect, consider themselves as trendy places. Just as some other churches do which are not EC

Mark Edwards said...

And here is a case in point

By the way, lets be clear, I think what Andrew and this church is doing is great, I believe in good marketing and being a 'cool' relevant church, but I dont think its fair to critique some churches, and not others.

Jarrol said...

Yes ok I agree. I must admit my exposure and experience with emerging churches is limited (it doesn't seem a big thing over here in qld the only one i've actually been to is more of a 'church plant' than an emerging church).

But from what I've read and the people i've met i sort of got the idea that they don't really advertise themselves to the outside community - but they just get into the community and through relationships bring people back in. In this light their name doesn't really matter as a Marketing idea to the community.

the name of the church is more of a identification thing for the wider body of believers, than a marketing to the community.

i think that's where i was heading with my comment.

Again my ideas on that may be because i'm limited to the knowledge of groups like Joondaloop Thing, Upstream Ministries and Myriad.

I'm just thinking Scotty Vawz wouldn't be going round advertising 'Come to a Joondaloop Thing event'. He'd just be asking people around his place for a BBQ. But at say your minister's refresher last week he probably introduced himself as Scott from Joondaloop Thing.

It's more identifying within the church that extrenally (to repeat my point again i think)....

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Deano, I think a lot of the new names are a bit of a wank. As for Mark's defence that they are trying to be regional, what's with that? I'm happy for churches to go regional once they've done at least half a job of connecting locally. 'Going regional' is a euphamism for 'competing for the Christian market'.
I suggest an elected inter-donominational Board that assesses new names. Thos Board can codify broadly what is: lame/pathetic/try hard/embarassing/far fetched/so not the case/ and plain confusing.

Churches would have to have their new names endorsed by the Board, or have their credentials denied by local and state government.
[This Board can also receive complaints about lame church signs with corny by lines].
Any interest?

Jarrol said...

um i'm not sure how to read that comment.

it sounds like there might be some tounge in cheek there... or maybe just sitting on the fence - or just plain sarcasim.

maybe if i knew who posted it i could interpret it better ;-P

Mark Edwards said...

I think anonymous may have seen my lame sign with its corny by line :)


Jarrol said...


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