What’s in a name?
A church builds a name. A name doesn’t build a church. A name in itself is nothing really; it’s a few hollow letters that signify little more than alphabetical shapes. The only time a name has some sort of appeal when you first hear it is if you have positive associations or particular memories linked to that name. When a baby is named, many people have ideas and opinions about that name; probably based on memories of other people bearing that same name. However, over time, one’s reputation becomes based on one’s life story. A name is constructed by a life lived. The same is true for a church. The reputation of a church is built over years of ministry. You find churches with very simple names such as, Saddleback, Holy Trinity Brompton or Willow Creek and Redeemer Presbyterian, North Point, Perimeter – the list goes on – which have all impacted thousands of people and have given those innocuous words great meaning.
Our church was planted in 1974 with the name UAFC, which was a denominational name. Three years later the small group of believers bought a building in Victoria Road, in Pietermaritzburg, and began calling themselves Victoria Road Tabernacle. In 1983 the big change happened. Three churches joined us and we relocated to another part of the city. The new season for these four churches came with a new name – New Covenant Fellowship. This name had a deep meaning for us because it signaled a new start. It reflected the fellowship of four separate churches uniting together. It also spoke of our intent to follow a New Testament or New Covenant pattern to how we did church. This name served us admirably for 17 years. It saw the church grow to close on a thousand people and it facilitated a relationship with other churches, within the NCMI apostolic movement, who had similar convictions to us.
In the year 2000 Ray Oliver handed over the leadership of the church and with it came a name adjustment. We ceased to call ourselves New Covenant Fellowship, preferring instead to be known as NCF Church. The reason for this was not only to make branding simpler, but also in response to the changing spiritual landscape. Our nation had been through some huge adjustments, the secular trend from the western world had made its presence known and the word “covenant” had drifted out of the vocabulary of the average South African. We were often mistakenly referred to as “new government church”, “new convent church” and even “new coven church” which suggested to us that we should eliminate the confusion and so the present name, NCF Church, came about.
The Meaning of NCF
What does the name NCF Church really mean? The letters in themselves signify very little. In fact, we deliberately didn’t explain their meaning. If a person enquired we would often jokingly say, “it can mean anything you want it to mean”, simply because we understood that a name should be built by God. A church should not rely on a name to build it. Forty-two years of ministry later beautiful stories had emerged – some sad ones too – and by the incredible grace of our Lord Jesus over all these years, these three simple letters were given enormous meaning. Attached to the name were people’s associations. Proverbs 22:1 says, “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold”. In the book of Timothy, the apostle Paul speaks about qualifications for ministry and he says that an elder must have a good reputation with others and we are extremely grateful to the Lord for giving us a good name. However, there is now a compelling reason for us to change our name.
But Why Change?
31st January 2016 marks the launch of our Durban Site. We had been running pre-launch meetings for a few months when we stumbled upon a problem. There is a church in Durban that not only has the name New Covenant Fellowship, but also brands themselves as NCF Church. In addition to this they have a Site, which they also call NCF North – just like us! This NCF Church has thousands of members and also runs a TV program. If our values were similar, it may not have been a problem. We are, however, decidedly different to them and so to honour this church and to enable us to pursue our mandate of planting Sites in Durban we needed to change our name. Our Durban North Site, in the Barnyard Theatre, is only the beginning. We anticipate that a university site will follow shortly as well as many others.
I am not too sure that God is overly concerned about church names and branding. Biblically, the closest we get to a church name is a geographic description such as the one given in Philemon 1:2 “the church that meets in your house” and the church referred to in Corinthians as the “church at Corinth”. There are generic descriptions of His universal church such as family, bride, body etc. One could also argue from prophetic literature that he has endearing names for His people such as “my darling”, but that is stretching it very far. A sober assessment of scripture reveals that local church branding is essentially a-biblical. While not trivializing the importance of a name, because God does name people, to feel the pressure of having to discover that one-name-in-a-million, chosen by God in heaven, is beyond the realm of scripture. A church creates its name through a lifestyle of following Jesus.
With the pressure off trying to find the one and only name, there is sound Biblical wisdom in deciding on a good workable name. The chosen name should:
- not divide the wider body – 1Tim 6:4&5
- not be arrogant – James 4:6
- be something that the un-churched would come to – 1 Cor 9:22
- be honest – Phil 4:8
- should not polarize opinion – 1 Tim 3:2
- should have a meaning within Biblical values – Eccl 12:9
Finding our Name
The process of choosing our new name began in earnest last year August. The selection process has been led by the 52 elders of NCF Church and their wives, but not exclusively so. Extensive polling of views from the staff, various church members, both young and old, as well as un-churched friends was carried out. The elders were asked to list those of our values, which they felt needed to be encapsulated by the new name. Based on these values leaders were then asked to submit potential names for consideration. Discussion began around the names in elders meetings, informal gatherings and on social media. The elders fasted and prayed as a shortlist was created. This shortlist then underwent a similar scrutiny of opinion. Ray Oliver was asked for his perspective and a search was done through all the prophecies NCF had received so that we could compare the shortlisted names with what we believe God’s plan for our church is. Once the list was down to ten names they were put through a series of tests:
- Pastors, Nic Hardy, Rory Dyer, Ryan Termushuisen, Craig Clarke, Tyrone Daniels, Mark Newman, Marcus Herbert, Ed Strong, Alan Parfit, Steve Wimble, Greig Garret and Gertjan were asked, in their apostolic capacity, to give their assessment on the shortlisted names
- An intensive online study was done to see what other churches already had those names
- An expert in the advertising and marketing field was asked for her view
- The names were tested for any culturally offensive associations
- The names were tested for their ease of use for non-English speakers
- Non church going people were also asked for their opinions on each name
- The availability of the web and Facebook domains was checked
- Any name that an elder was absolutely unable to live with was removed from the shortlist
In addition to these checks, I needed to wait and to pray. I didn’t want to over spiritualise the process, but being at peace in my spirit about the choice was very important for me because I realised that I would eventually need to make the final call.
Remembering that any name would sound hollow at first and that until the associations of who NCF is are properly tied to it, it would be nothing more than a collection of letters, and bearing in mind that a church makes a name and not the other way around, we finally settled on ONE LIFE CHURCH.
What Our Name Means to Us
The ONE LIFE that we speak of is the LIFE of Jesus. With His ONE LIFE he gave us life. As a believer you have just ONE opportunity to live the ONE LIFE He has given to you. He invites you to join Him on His mission – holding out LIFE to one person at a time.
Romans 5:17 says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
… One Act. One Life…
Ephesians 4:1 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
NCF has always had Jesus at the centre of all that we do. In this name His life is placed at the very centre of who we are. We love Him – this is the greatest commandment there is. We firmly believe that the great commission is our mission. The task of our ONE LIFE is to hold out the LIFE of Jesus to the world.
In addition to this scriptural fit with our name, the prophetic words that God has spoken over this church most often pertain to our mission – sending people out, speaking the language of the young, seeing the lost saved, revival, constant growth, refusing to settle into a rut – with which this name is in happy agreement with.
During his final meeting at NCF Church, as he was being sent out to plant a church in Gauteng, Jon Anderson said, “we only have ONE LIFE, lets do something dangerous with it”. I love the wildness attached to a life lived for one radical purpose and one reason only – to hold out the life of JESUS to a dying world.
“We only have ONE LIFE, let’s do something dangerous with it.” – Jon Anderson
Telling the World
The elders, church staff and site leaders were the first to know, followed shortly by the “big reveal” at our annual Leaders Summit where the entire church heard the news and then wider community, through social media, our website and various branded items was informed of our new name. The necessary legal changes and the alterations to our citywide signage is naturally, a slightly slower process. In order for the church to digest the change, a new preaching series titled “ONE LIFE” will be launched soon.
People don’t like change, especially when it comes to changing something that doesn’t appear to need changing. A leader’s role is to help take people to places they wouldn’t naturally go on their own. In this case it’s to a place of accepting, embracing and running with a new church name. In order to do this you need to be utterly convinced yourself. If you have reservations please come and speak to me. If you see the big picture, help us as we engage in some holy gossip to settle hearts and help move us into an exciting future.
-by Grant Crawford