AUGUST 31, 2020 LETTER TO THE CONGREGATION
At the beginning of 2020 – before anyone knew how this year would play out – the Session resumed discussions about the name of our church and the reasons we might think about a new church name that reflects more about God and our mission than our status or our place on the map. At the early March Session meeting, the elders voted to begin a process to choose a new name for our church and to share this information with the congregation. This did happen, and even when the initial two-week, state-wide shut-down occurred in mid-March, we assumed that we would be able to continue the process shortly after. Here we are, almost six months later, and it doesn’t look like life at FPC:E or anywhere else is going to look “normal” for a while. But we do not want this to stop any of the ways we are still able to move ahead. So, the Session has decided it is time to continue this process. In the coming weeks, you will hear more about the work of the team that is steering the process, the decisions Session is making about names, and the final decision the congregation will make. The plan is that all of this will lead up to a congregational meeting later this fall, held in person and virtually, so that all may participate.
PART 1: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Throughout the Bible, God gave people new names to describe the new things he was doing in and through them. God changed a person’s name to instill a new vision for that person’s life or a new role God wanted him/her to play in His Kingdom.
• Saul (“prayed for”) was mighty in his own mind until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. God changed his life and his name, and from then on Paul (“small, humble”) lived trusting in God’s might.
• Jesus gave Simon (“he has heard”) the new name of Peter (“rock”), because Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God would be the foundational truth (“rock”) upon which Christ would build His church.
• Sarai → Sarah; Abram → Abraham; Jacob → Israel
We believe God is doing a new thing in and through us; we think there are good reasons to consider a new name. In a letter earlier this week, our pastors and elders gave an update about Session’s initial conversations and renewed plan to consider a church name that would reflect the new things God is doing within and through us- a name that would reflect more about our God and our mission than our status or our place on the map. For each of the next few weeks, information and insights will be shared here in the Weekend Update.
PART 2: STEERING TEAM FOR CHURCH NAME PROCESS
When the Session decided to pursue the possibility of selecting a new name for our church, we knew that the initial hard work had to be done by a smaller group of people. Jamie Jacobs was the first person asked to be part of the Steering Team. Her experience and expertise in marketing was essential to develop a process that would include research, brainstorming, prayer, market “testing,” etc. Nicole Heatherman was chosen to bring the perspective of a young adult and a new Christian. Nathan Jacobs adds to the team his gifts in developing our graphics, logos, signage, social platforms, etc. Tim Devine serves as the Co-Pastor/Head of Staff with the greater spiritual gift of visioning. This past spring, these four people met regularly and did their homework in between to come up with a short list of possible names. You will hear how they did that in a future weekly update!
PART 3: WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF OUR CURRENT CHURCH NAME?
To make a considered and well-informed decision, it is important to weigh the “pros” and “cons.” This is part of an effective decision-making strategy that allows us to look at the situation from different perspectives, consider various options, and then make a confident decision.
So, what are the pros of keeping our current name, First Presbyterian Church of Endicott?
• An important factor for those within the church might be the sentimental value of a 115-year-old name that has been burned into our collective memories and experiences.
• A consideration for the community beyond us is name recognition- for some people the name creates a mental picture of our location, building, or some activity or experience that relates to the name.
What are the cons of our current name?
• Our name does not truly convey who we are in 2020 and beyond.
o Did you know that we are not really the “First” Presbyterian Church in Endicott? Union Presbyterian Church is almost twice as old as our congregation.
o What about the word “Presbyterian”? There are no other congregations in the southern tier of NYS that are part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. When people hear “Presbyterian” in our name, they have preconceived notions about what that means. It doesn’t matter whether those assumptions are good or bad, they are not accurate.
o There was a day and an age when our church was truly an “Endicott” church- the members all walked from the neighboring community to worship here. Even though our building is still located in Endicott, our congregation is not. Today we come together from many different communities and celebrate that we can reach out to a broader region. Think of how far our reach spans right now, as people connect to FPC:E from all over the country and world through our online presence!
• Our name is a mouthful- 11 syllables! It’s no wonder people have shortened the name in different ways in the past to things like First Pres and FPC:E. Those nicknames don’t have any descriptive value.
• Our name actually keeps some people from giving us a try. Let’s be honest, all of us make judgements about places and people simply by the name. Could a new name create new openness and interest in seeing what this church is about?
• Maybe most important of all, our name does not convey anything about our vision or mission, or who God is and what God is doing in and through us.
Wouldn’t it be worth weighing the pros of a carefully chosen new name?
PART 4: THE PROCESS OF CHOOSING THE CHURCH’S NEW NAME
According to Jamie Jacobs, partner at Riger Marketing Communications, there is a time-tested process for determining a new name for an organization. Following the decision Session made in February to move ahead, our steering team followed it precisely and here are the steps they have taken so far:
1. In the beginning of March, the steering team started with a creative brief outlining our church’s history, location, congregation make-up, community context, etc. The brief also listed all the existing names of other churches in the surrounding area, according to the Broome County Council of Churches directory.
2. The steering team then met with Session to build on this foundation, determining any themes Session members hoped the new name would capture, any feelings they hoped it would evoke in people, etc. At this time, both the steering team and Session confirmed with one another that the primary target audience for this new name is the unchurched population of Broome County. By contrast, our secondary target audience is current FPC:Endicott members and active non-members.
3. Using the now-complete creative brief as its guide, the steering team began brainstorming names – at first, individually, forming a long list of their own name ideas, then meeting to share those lists with each other.
4. During these meetings, the team prayed for God’s guidance and looked for common threads, certain words/concepts that overlapped among the names suggested. After further discussion and a lot of weighing out pros and cons, the team filtered the name list down to its collective top six favorites.
5. Those six favorites were then used to form a poll document, which the steering team members used to evaluate the selections/opinions of every unchurched friend or family member they could find for several months.
6. The poll included the six top names, along with these questions:
a. What name do you like the best?
b. Why do you like it the best?
c. What did it make you think of?
d. If our church was named that, what would it make you think about our church?
7. Those six top names, the poll’s results, and the details of the conversations around the poll, were all presented to Session for review on September 2, 2020 .
PART 5: WHY SELECTING TARGET AUDIENCES MATTERS IN MARKETING INITIATIVES (AND CHURCH NAME SELECTIONS)
When marketing consultants approach the development of a new name, logo, campaign idea, or overall brand for an organization, they often start with what’s called a “creative brief.” This document helps align all the people involved in the creative process right from the start, assembling on one sheet of paper what the initiative’s goal, target audience, history/background, and competitive context is, so that key stakeholders can approve it before the brainstorming, research, writing, and design work of the initiative begins.
While developing the creative brief for the process of selecting a new name for FPC:Endicott, both the Steering Team and the Session thought and prayed long and hard about how to answer the question of the new name’s target audience. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that phrase, “target audience” just means a group of people that have been identified as the desired recipients of and responders to a marketing message. There are often multiple audiences marketers will consider, but it’s important that they select one main group, often referred to as a “primary target audience,” and assign them separately from any runners-up, often referred to as a “secondary target audience.”
It’s an important distinction to make because sometimes in the creative process you’ll have to make choices (say, between one name or another, one tagline or another, one photo or another, one color or another) based on who it is you’re actually trying to attract first. Sometimes that means that the people brainstorming, designing, writing, etc. the marketing initiative may not resonate with the content at all, but that’s OK, since they may not be the initiative’s target audience.
After discussion at both Steering Team and Session meetings and also reflection on the prescriptions FPC:Endicott recently received, the groups collectively confirmed that the primary target audience for our church’s new name is the unchurched population of Broome County. By contrast, our secondary target audience is current FPC:Endicott members and active non-members.
This decision will be important to remember as we all consider our vote on the church’s new name.
PART 6: RESEARCH AND POLLING INFORMS BRANDING AND MARKETING DECISIONS
In the marketing world, it’s important to find out how consumers feel about your product and the branding of your product before you launch a marketing campaign. It’s much wiser to use data collected from research and polling to inform branding/marketing decisions, rather than launch ads and then ask for consumer responses afterwards. Research and polling also protect organizations from making decisions based on emotions, assumptions, or snap judgements.
FPC:E Elders were grateful for the work the Steering Team did before bringing names to the Session. When the top 6 names being considered for the church were shared with the Session, each person in the room immediately began to process the names through his/her own filter. Then the research and polling results were revealed, showing how unchurched people responded to those six names. That information united the Session, and the elders unanimously chose the name that resonated most with the very people we hope to reach with the good news of the gospel.
PART 7: Our plan vs. God’s plan
When the steering team set out to help suggest a new name for our church, the steering team’s members assumed their brainstorming and polling would likely yield several top church name choices that could be brought to the Session for review. Then, they figured, the Session would be able to select from that list of, say, four names and perhaps filter it down to at least two names the congregation could choose between when it came time for the official vote.
But it seems as though God had something else in store…
You see when the steering team members brought together their original list of brainstormed names, there was one name that kept coming up on several of their individual lists, being among those that felt like “common ground” among the team’s members, even though they are all quite different in age, walks of life, faith experiences, etc.
As the process moved forward, that same “common ground” name was listed among the six top names that made it into the poll, which then went out to dozens of unchurched community members, our primary target audience for this endeavor. And sure enough, as the poll results came back in, that same name was confirmed as the obvious winner among poll participants, too!
The steering team then found themselves with a predicament. They couldn’t exactly bring the top 4 names to Session as equals, as originally planned, when one was tracking so clearly above the rest. So they decided to just bring all six that were used in the poll, along with the poll’s results. That way, Session could see for themselves the picture God was painting right before all of our eyes.
That obvious winner of a name, along with those same poll results, will be revealed at our congregational meeting.