An oddity of being a senior pastor is that I like to think about church names.
Some of them are just—and I mean this with no disrespect—hilarious. I mean, what were the church leaders thinking when they decided on these names?
For instance, years ago as I drove through Boring, Oregon, I saw the sign for—no kidding—Boring United Methodist Church. Can you imagine the church council meeting at which that name was adopted? “Okay, is there any more discussion before we vote to name our church after our city? Can anyone think of any way it might be misunderstood?” Silence in the room. Finally one member says, “No, nothing comes to mind.” “Okay, all in favor vote yes…”
Of course, there are many other funny church names. I haven’t seen these personally, but I’ve heard of Little Hope Baptist Church and No Hope United Methodist Church. And Hell Seventh Day Adventist Church—in Hell, Michigan, of course. And I’d love to visit Toronto’s James Bond United Community Church (to see if the movie soundtrack theme would play in my head when I entered the doors).
Or how about The Church of God in Zilla, Washington. This Yakima Valley church has a ten-foot metal T-Rex sculpture as a mascot, and is known affectionately as The Church of God-Zilla.
I began to think about church names even as a kid, when I noticed that many churches were called “First” this or that. It struck me as funny even then—that the churches all wanted to be first (since no one was named second), like it was a competition.
In the early 1990’s, as I began praying and dreaming about church-planting, I noticed a new trend emerging. Churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback pioneered the non-churchy name trend, and soon there were Creeksides and Oak Hills and Valley churches everywhere. For a time, churches sounded more like mother-earth followers than Christ followers.
So I decided our new church’s name, in like manner, wouldn’t be churchy, but at the same time it wouldn’t sound like nature worship. I wanted a church name that would be meaningful yet also attractive to nonbelievers. So I settled on “Discovery Christian Church” for our church-to-be a suburb of Sacramento in northern California.
As Amy and I drove our U-Haul trailer through Sacramento, though, we noticed a trend: Discovery Park, Discovery Diner, and even Discovery Office Supplies. Amy said, “Rick, they already have our name everywhere here!” It hit me that since gold was discovered nearby, it had become an overused word in this region. Then, when we arrived in our target city of Rocklin, I learned there was already a church named Discovery Christian Center.
So back to the drawing board. Long story short, in time our small nucleus decided on Adventure Christian Church for several reasons: First, our culture clearly was looking for adventure, but in all the wrong places. Second, knowing God is life’s greatest Adventure. Third, the advent, or coming of Christ, is at the heart of Christianity. The name served us very well since it clearly communicated that this church was not your parent’s Oldsmobile, so to speak. The church grew extremely fast and large, so much so that at times I actually wished we had named it Boring Christian Church instead.
Almost twenty-five years later and after a two-year hiatus from church ministry, Amy and I are now are prayerfully considering interim pastor positions. Strangely, for some reason I’ve begun daydreaming about church names again. If I were to plant a new church (which I’m not planning to do, by the way), what could we call it? Since I have learned and experienced a ton in the last 25 years since that U-Haul journey, I have a different perspective on churches and ministry.
In the last quarter-century I have learned something that can’t really be grasped by seminarians: churches are both wonderful and woeful, healing and hurtful. This is because they are filled with saints who are still sinners, Christians who are light years away from being Christ-like (I’m talking here about myself, the staff, and lay leaders, but the same applies to church members). We Christians are a contentious lot, as church history amply illustrates. We can be loving and familial, but also divisive and judgmental. Yet God takes us all, broken pieces that we each are, and forms us together into a beautiful mosaic (which is the brilliant name of a church in Los Angeles).
So here it is. If I were to start a new church, I’d like to call it Broken Pieces Church. I know it sounds like a country-western song, but it would be a church I could fit in, and not have to pretend to be super-spiritual or act like a super-pastor. We would openly admit our shortcomings, while at the same time celebrating the One who knits us together into His own glorious Body.