Naming Your Ministries and Programs

At some point most church leaders are going to sit in a room and discuss what to name a ministry or a program in their churches. For many churches the naming process is haphazard and unintentional, and the resulting hot mess of names only confirms the lack of coherent strategy in the church. To help you approach the naming process with greater purpose, here are a few thoughts.

1. Determine your approach.

Organizational theorists draw a distinction between a “house of brands” and a “branded house.” A house of brands doesn’t lead with an overarching brand, but stewards a plethora of brands. For example, Procter and Gamble (house of brands) manages brands from Pampers to Pantene to Pepto-Bismol. On the other side of the spectrum, Virgin (branded house) leads with an overarching brand of unconventionality and offers a plethora of Virgin lifestyle and travel products/services.

A church example from the multiple campus approach is LifeChurch and Northpoint ministries. LifeChurch is clearly a branded house—they lead with the overarching brand in communicating their campuses. Northpoint leads with names more connected to local communities: Buckhead, Gwinnett, etc.

So first determine where you fall on the branded (ministry) house—house of (ministry) brands spectrum.

Each approach has strengths. A branded house leverages all impressions and interactions in the same direction. A house of brands allows you to steward ministries with different philosophies and purposes for different groups of people.

When I served as an executive pastor in a local church, I personally leaned strongly towards the branded house approach. I found wisdom in leveraging everything in the same direction and struggled with the confusing nature of a plethora of ministry names.

Now as Vice President at LifeWay, I am very appreciative for the house of brands approach. The division I lead offers churches multiple “brands.” For example in the realm of ongoing Bible studies, we have different Bible study lines built on unique values and approaches. The Gospel Project is very different from Explore the Bible and Bible Studies for Life. The Gospel Project is designed around a “theological” starting point, Explore the Bible around a “text” starting point, andBible Studies for Life around a “life” starting point. While each brand is rooted in Scripture and focused on Christ, the different brands are designed to meet different group needs and desires.

So what am I recommending for a local church?

For a local church, I would only recommend a house of brands approach if: (a) you have a very simple ministry philosophy that abhors clutter and duplication as too many names will pull people in too many directions or (b) you are launching a ministry that’s very different from your current ministry offerings and the ministry would benefit from the distinction—such as a separate not-for-profit, a community counseling center, etc.

2. Think like a newbie.

When you consider naming your ministries or programs, think like a guest or like someone who is interested in getting connected at a deeper level. Sit in your worship service, read the email, peruse the bulletin from that perspective. What do all the names mean?

For some churches, all the communication is massively confusing. Imagine a new person reading or hearing things like: “Check out Iron2Iron on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning our Motionz group will be meeting, and on Thursday evening our RAKGoS will meet (Radically Awesome Killer Group of Singles).” While the illustration may seem extreme, it’s painfully accurate in some places.

As you whiteboard and brainstorm, think like the person who has yet to come to your church. Be sure your motivations are for those who haven’t yet been impacted by your faith community. Bonhoeffer was right—“The church is the church only when it exists for others.”

3. Consider names that are self-describing.

As you’re thinking like a newbie for the names of your programs or sub-ministries, consider a name that doesn’t need a lot of explanation, a name that describes the ministry. For example, as you’re naming your children’s ministry—does the name clearly signal to parents that the ministry is for their children? While the name of the church with “Kids” attached to the end [Lifepoint Kids, Grace Kids, etc.] may not seem creative and original, it’s clear and obvious for parents.

These three points aren’t infallible nor are they meant to be exhaustive, but I do hope they encourage you and help you to think strategically as you name ministries and programs in your church.