How We Changed Our Church Name, Letter by Letter

Published on: March 1, 2012

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  • Fundraising sign

When the results of the identity study commissioned by Unity Worldwide Ministries (UWM) were released in the summer of 2010, our community (then known as Unity Church of Christianity) was excited. We had been considering a name change for a while but had not felt clear direction. With the information from the study, we were ready to move forward. This article addresses the tender experience of changing how we express our identity—not changing “who we are,” but changing how we present ourselves to the broader community.

At the October 2010 board retreat, we viewed the DVD of Chuck Pettis’ presentation given at the 2010 People’s Convention. The results of the study and Chuck’s presentation were compelling, and we decided to take action.

Starting in November 2010, brief articles in our newsletters and bulletins announced a special membership meeting to be held in January 2011. The meeting would be for discussion of a name change, and no vote would be taken. This long lead time and the promise of no vote gave everyone time to consider the idea of a name change without pressure.

At the January 2011 meeting, we showed the Pettis DVD. The congregation was very enthusiastic. Then the board introduced two possible names and two possible tag lines. The names were “Unity of Appleton” and “Unity of the Fox Cities.” The taglines were: “A Center for Positive Spiritual Living” and “A Positive Center for Spiritual Living.”

There was reluctance from a few to release the word “Christianity,” with the concern that we were turning our back on Jesus and his teachings, but it also was recognized that the word “Christian” had been co-opted by conservative evangelicals in the past twenty years, and that our storefront location, coupled with our name, could be conveying an inaccurate message about who we are. The concern was handled with respect and care, and it was gently resolved. The board reworked the recommendations and distributed them to the membership during the next month.

At the annual meeting in February 2011, the membership voted for the new name and tag line: Unity of Appleton—A Community for Spiritual Growth. This was a collaborative effort, with the exact language of the tagline changing during the meeting!

We opted to change our name legally, rather than “doing business as (DBA).” This turned out to be simple and inexpensive. Young Bae and Carl Osier at Unity Worldwide Ministries were very helpful. Since we are incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Wisconsin, we needed to file “Articles of Amendment” to our Articles of Incorporation with the Wisconsin Division of Financial Institutions ($25 fee) and send a copy of that form along with our FEIN number to the IRS (no charge). Requirements may vary from state to state.

We chose to sign up for the $190 logo package and ordered stationery, business cards, and a very nice tri-fold brochure that we were able to customize from MiPrintshop.com.

Letter-by-Letter Signage

Signage came next. At a special membership meeting in May, the membership approved funding to replace our old signs. The plan involved a “letter-buying campaign,” in which congregants could “buy” one of the letters that would go onto the large lighted sign and onto our front windows. We put up a large banner in the church, with all of the letters printed in black. Each letter had a predetermined value. Then as letters were sold, the black letters were covered over with blue ones. The lettering for our front door was “bargain priced” at only $25, total and was an invitation for our children to contribute to the project. Over half of the total needed for the signs was raised in this campaign, with the other half coming from existing church funds. The campaign was successful, and the signs were installed in July 2011 (photos above).

We found the perfect piece of art to complete a sanctuary redecorating project. Congregant and artist Tom Duesterhoeft painted what I call the new “lotus blossom” symbol on stretched canvas. It turned out beautifully (photo above).

What results have we observed? In January 2011, the month before the name change, our average weekly attendance was 36. By June, our average attendance was 51. That’s a 22% increase in just six months, and that held up through the end of the year. We welcomed 19 new members in 2011. The energy level rose every month, even over the summer, which is historically a time of lower attendance and subdued energy.

What other factors might have contributed to this growth? I think it was a combination of several things, including: our youth education area was cleared out and redecorated in the fall of 2010 (concrete evidence of our desire for growth in youth education); I was admitted to the Field Licensing Program in March (a boost to me and the congregation); and we found that our newcomers brought more newcomers (word-of-mouth growth).

Recently we have remodeled our Facebook page and registered our community on Meetup.com. Our next step will be to redesign our website, perhaps through contract with the vendor, OneEach, chosen by Unity Worldwide Ministries.

If we were to do it again, what might we do differently? We chose Unity of Appleton—A Center for Spiritual Growth, which works well for us. However, in retrospect, I think adding Spiritual Center to our name and dropping the tag line might be even more effective, i.e., Unity of Appleton Spiritual Center. It’s longer, but it makes it clear what we are. Our present name requires the tagline to accomplish that. Also, I might have simply used white vinyl lettering on the glass for clarity and simplicity.

Now that our name change is complete, we are consciously incorporating the new language suggested in the Pettis study into our messaging at all levels, and we look forward to what comes next!

We had outstanding support (documentation, communication, and monthly webinars) from the staff at Unity Worldwide Ministries, especially Debbie Allen, to whom I extend my deepest thanks.

April Kain-Breese
Rev April Kain-Breese is Minister at Unity of Appleton, Wisconsin. She graduated from the Field Licensing Program of Unity Worldwide Ministries and was ordained in May 2014.

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