Note:  numbers may not add to exactly 100% due to rounding.

Should Protestant churches include or exclude a reference to their

denomination in the church name?  There’s risk either way...

(Original release date:  February 21, 2013)  When a church does not reference its denomination in the church name, unchurched people tend to see that church as less formal, rigid, and old-fashioned, but this also makes them feel more uncertain and wonder whether the church is trying to hide its beliefs.

 

Study findings just released by Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Arizona) among a demographically representative sample of 773 American adults examine the impact of including or excluding a denominational reference in church names.  Most churches that are part of a denomination include a denominational reference in their name, but some avoid such references, selecting names such as Saddleback Church or Community Church of Joy.  But what impact does that have?

 

In the study, Grey Matter Research asked both the unchurched and people who regularly attend a denominational Protestant church about the impact of a church including a denominational reference in its name.  Interestingly, there are only a few places where churchgoers and the unchurched disagree.  The research reveals that the decision to include or exclude a denominational reference in the name is a two-edged sword, with advantages and disadvantages to both choices.

 

On one hand, when people see a church with a denominational reference in its name, they are over four times more likely to perceive that church as formal than if it has no such reference.  Denominational references are also three times more likely to make people see that church as old-fashioned, and almost three times more likely to make them feel it is structured and rigid, than if there is no denominational reference in the name.  The lack of a denominational reference is also three times more likely to lead people to feel that the church is open-minded.

 

On the other hand, including a denominational reference is more than twice as likely to help people feel the church is honest.  Excluding a denominational reference is more than twice as likely to give people feelings of uncertainty, and almost five times more likely to lead to thoughts that the church may be trying to hide what they believe.

 

On all of those measures, people who currently attend a denominational Protestant church and those who don’t regularly attend any sort of worship services have very similar perceptions.  But there are a few areas where the churched and the unchurched differ, or where perceptions are less clear-cut.

 

People who attend a denominational Protestant church believe (by a margin of 33% to 20%) that a church with its denomination in its name would be more welcoming to visitors.  But the unchurched, by a very similar margin, have exactly the opposite perception (30% to 19%).  In each case, about half feel the name will not impact how they perceive the church.

 

Which one sounds like “a church for people like you”?  According to people who are already part of a denominational Protestant church, it’s the church with a denominational reference in the name (40% to 20%).  But the unchurched are split over this, with 21% saying it’s the church with its denomination in the name, and 18% saying it’s the one without it.

 

The story is much the same when it comes to a church they might consider visiting.  People already attending a denominational Protestant church say they’re more likely to consider a church with the denomination in its name (39% to 23%).  But among the unchurched, it’s a split decision, with 24% opting for the denominational name, and 20% preferring a church without a denominational reference.

 

One thing to consider in all of this is that reactions to denominational names differ significantly by age.  In general, older Americans are more comfortable with denominational church names than are younger people.  People age 65 and older are especially likely to see non-denominational names as the church trying to hide what they believe (55% to 3%) and as making them feel uncertain (51% to 7%), as well as to see denominational names as welcoming new visitors (38% to 18%) and as a church they might consider visiting (48% to 14%).

 

On the other hand, adults under the age of 35 are much more divided over this issue.  For instance, while they agree with older adults that non-denominational names are more likely to make them feel uncertain, the split is only 34% to 22%, and it’s noteworthy that 22% say a denominational reference is what would be more likely to make them feel more uncertain.  Younger adults are also more likely to see non-denominational names as welcoming to new visitors (36%, versus 27% who say this about denominational names), as a church for people like them (27% to 18%), or as one they might consider visiting (27% to 19%).

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that churches take some risk either way, but this research will help them understand the potential impact of each choice.  “Would you rather take the chance of being seen as rigid or old-fashioned, or would you prefer the risk that some people will feel uncertain or wonder if you’re trying to hide your beliefs?” Sellers asked.  “That’s really what it comes down to.  Churches will assume some risk either way, but it’s critical to understand what that risk is in order to deal with it.”

 

For instance, Sellers suggested that a church with a denominational reference can have a contemporary and friendly logo and sign to help deal with any perceptions that it’s rigid, while a church without the denomination in its name might use a catchy tagline to communicate something about its beliefs, to help overcome any uncertainty people may feel.  He said, “There are ways of dealing with these perceptual issues as long as you know what they are.”

 

Sellers also pointed out that the choice of whether to include a denominational reference in the name is not as obvious as some people may think:  “There is some belief out there that the unchurched run away from anything that says ‘Baptist’ or ‘Lutheran’ or some other denomination, but the fact is only a minority of the unchurched have negative perceptions about denominational names in general.  For example, eight out of ten unchurched adults do not feel a non-denominational name would make them more likely to consider visiting a particular church, and six out of ten do not feel this signals a more open-minded church.  Even younger adults often are not coming down strongly on one side or the other.  Churches need to take a lot of different things into consideration in this decision – it’s not as simple as ‘Give it a non-denominational name and it will be a lot more attractive to young people and the unchurched.’”

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research, a research and consumer insights company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Grey Matter has extensive experience in research related to religious issues.  The sample of 773 adults is accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states.  Respondents’ age, education, household income, geography, racial/ethnic background, and gender were carefully tracked and weighted to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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Perceptions of churches by whether the denomination is included in the name, by church attendance status…

Perceptions of churches by whether the denomination is included in the name, by age group…

 

Perceptions

 

All

Age

<35

Age

35 – 49

Age

50 – 64

Age

65+

One you might consider visiting:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

28%

19%

27%

25%

48%

  -- without denomination in name

21

27

16

25

14

  -- no difference

51

54

57

51

38

Welcomes new visitors:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

22

27

13

15

38

  -- without denomination in name

28

36

22

30

18

  -- no difference

50

38

65

54

44

Old-fashioned:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

47

45

42

52

51

  -- without denomination in name

15

27

11

9

8

  -- no difference

38

28

47

39

41

Open-minded:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

13

12

13

12

18

  -- without denomination in name

36

49

24

42

23

  -- no difference

51

40

63

46

58

Trying to hide what they believe:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

9

8

9

14

3

  -- without denomination in name

43

41

43

35

55

  -- no difference

48

51

48

51

42

Makes you feel uncertain:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

16

22

11

20

7

  -- without denomination in name

38

34

38

32

51

  -- no difference

46

44

51

48

42

A church for people like you:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

26

18

20

27

46

  -- without denomination in name

18

27

15

18

9

  -- no difference

56

55

65

55

45

Formal:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

53

59

48

52

53

  -- without denomination in name

12

12

12

11

9

  -- no difference

35

29

40

37

38

Structured and rigid:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

45

50

41

45

40

  -- without denomination in name

17

21

16

19

12

  -- no difference

38

29

42

36

48

Honest:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

40

41

35

34

52

  -- without denomination in name

16

22

13

18

6

  -- no difference

45

38

52

48

43

 

Perceptions

 

All

Attend a

Denominational Church

 

Unchurched

One you might consider visiting:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

28%

39%

24%

  -- without denomination in name

21

23

20

  -- no difference

51

39

56

Welcomes new visitors:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

22

33

19

  -- without denomination in name

28

20

30

  -- no difference

50

47

51

Old-fashioned:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

47

48

47

  -- without denomination in name

15

16

14

  -- no difference

38

36

38

Open-minded:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

13

19

11

  -- without denomination in name

36

30

38

  -- no difference

51

51

51

Trying to hide what they believe:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

9

12

8

  -- without denomination in name

43

41

43

  -- no difference

48

47

49

Makes you feel uncertain:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

16

13

17

  -- without denomination in name

38

42

36

  -- no difference

46

45

47

A church for people like you:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

26

40

21

  -- without denomination in name

18

20

18

  -- no difference

56

40

61

Formal:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

53

51

54

  -- without denomination in name

12

13

11

  -- no difference

35

36

35

Structured and rigid:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

45

48

44

  -- without denomination in name

17

12

19

  -- no difference

38

40

37

Honest:

 

 

 

  -- with denomination in name

40

44

38

  -- without denomination in name

16

11

17

  -- no difference

45

44

45

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