Church Name Change

Sound reasons and sound methods for the switch

The decision to change the name of a church is no small issue, but it could lead to enormous positive impact. One church that has done it right is CrossLife Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, Ill. Formerly Evangelical Free Church of Libertyville, the church began its transition to CrossLife in fall 2012 and officially changed its name in May 2013.

CrossLife had several good reasons to change, starting with the name itself. “Evangelical Free Church of Libertyville was quite a mouthful,” remarks Dr. Steve Mathewson, who has served as senior pastor since 2006.

In addition, “some people in the community were unsure of what evangelical meant, and it carried with it some negative connotations.”

Then there was the confusion of the acronym: Some in the church called it EFCL and others called it LEFC. Either way, Steve explains, “it was hard to explain to people where you went to church.”

A second overall reason for CrossLife to consider a new name involved demographics. Several local communities make up the congregation, so locking the name into the city of Libertyville meant for an inaccurate description of the church body.

In order to move ahead with a name change, CrossLife did more than simply slap some fresh paint on the door. First, a staff member contacted the EFCA national office to see if they had a procedure for the process. The church then formed a small leadership team, as recommended, to come up with a new name and propose it to the elders.

The team believed that it was more important to detail what the new name would represent than to simply create a list of names at random. So they considered four primary factors as they brainstormed:

  • mission alignment (CrossLife’s mission is to build a loving community of Christ-followers to reach a culture in need of God’s presence.)
  • location identification (Should the name connect the church to the street or general regional location?)
  • ease of explanation
  • timelessness

The church-name process evolved into other conversations as well. “Something as big as a name change,” Steve says, “should be part of discovering a church-wide identity.”

Eventually, in addition to its new name, CrossLife returned to two Sunday services per week and embarked on a facility upgrade. By replacing old pews with comfortable chairs and refurbishing the common area and foyer, CrossLife members gave the community a fresh look to match its more meaningful name and its vision for reaching the community for Christ.

The name received immediate acceptance as it was rolled out—first to the elders, then to the congregation. “I was excited when I heard about it,” says Bryan Cope, an elder who had been elected just prior to the name change. “I felt like it gave us a clearer public identity.”

“I love that we aren’t tripping over all of those words,” agrees longtime member Emma Bilyk, who is a small-group leader and a part of the worship arts team. “The new name makes it easier to reach out to the community.”

The process of legally changing a church’s name involves early steps at the national level—a complicated dance of “a lot of paperwork and a lot of people,” including government agencies and the bank, according to Sophie Ly, then-administrative assistant in the EFCA Finance and Operations Department.

In fact, a lot of EFCA churches that were established in the early 1900s have changed their names at the church level but not the government level.

Changing a church’s name is not a decision to be taken lightly. It will immediately affect the identity of the church body, particularly as it relates to the local community. Yet, starting with sound reasons to change and completing the task through sound methods will make all the difference.

When considering a church name change, contact the EFCA National office regarding appropriate first steps (ask for Laura Brice at 800-745-2202). You’ll be encouraged to contact the appropriate government entity (often, the Secretary of State office) to confirm how the church is legally registered. Complications can arise when churches receive donations in a name that is not legally theirs, with IRS repercussions. Churches that have completed the necessary steps in changing their name or taking on a DBA (“doing business as” trade name) should also notify the EFCA National Office—especially if they’re under the EFCA’s 501(c)(3) group exemption.

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