How To Change Your Church Name

By Raul Rivera

Darrell is the senior pastor of a large, well-established church outside of Chicago. The church was created in the late 1930s, so to say the church was “set in its ways” would be an understatement. 

After serving as the senior pastor for two years, Darrell sensed the Lord wanting to take the church in a new direction. This excited Darrell, but it also made him nervous.

For the third consecutive night, Darrell laid in bed staring at the ceiling because he was unable to sleep. Sleepless nights were not something new to Darrell. He had been experiencing nights like this for the past six weeks or so. Though on this particular night, Darrell decided to seek the Lord for clear guidance, and what Darrell heard was surprising.

Darrell was given a new vision for the church.The Lord showed him how the church would have an even bigger impact both locally and globally within the next three years, but in order for that to take place, changes would need to be made.

Among other things, Darrell felt the Lord provide to him a new name for the church. But the problem was that Darrell did not know how to change his church's name.

All of this caused Darrell both apprehension and anticipation, as well as the awareness of one important fact; he simply was not sure where to begin.

Change is never easy, but often necessary

Thankfully, Darrell was blessed with a staff and leadership team that was very supportive of the new vision and changes that he presented. In fact, several individuals on his leadership team had also been sensing a time of change approaching the church.

There were some in the church who were not too pleased with the new direction of the church, but the truth is that change is never easy, but often necessary

As the church began to slowly implement changes, Darrell realized that neither he nor anyone on his leadership team was certain about how to legally change the church’s name.

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Initially, it seemed like a simple task. He thought that changing the name of his church required one government form, but was he wrong. 

Why churches change their names

Perhaps the story of Pastor Darrell resonates with many of you reading this post. Now your church might not be over 75 years old, but just like Pastor Darrell, you have been sensing the Lord nudging you to make some changes. For many of you, those changes may include changing your church’s name.

Change is never easy, but often necessary.

When churches decide to change their names it can be for varying reasons. In 2014, Thom Rainer wrote an article giving six reasons why churches change their names. By no means are the six reasons meant to be exhaustive, but I think they are still relevant today, and you may find that one of these reasons applies to you.

The six reasons are as follows:

  1.  To create a clear or new priority,
  2.  To change a geographical distinction that is no longer relevant,
  3.  To identify with the community more clearly and emphatically,
  4.  To avoid confusion with another church,
  5.  To do a de facto relaunch, and
  6.  To reflect the merger with, or acquisition by, another church.

8 steps to legally change your church’s name

Since it is a real possibility that at some point in your ministry you will consider changing your church’s name, I will give you 8 steps that will help with that process.

8 steps to legally change your church's name

1. Pass a resolution:

It is required that a name change be done according to the laws of the state and the church's articles of incorporation and bylaws. Make sure that your board of directors follows any documented requirements and procedures outlined in your church's articles of incorporation or bylaws.

Next, you will need to pass a resolution stating that the church’s name is changing from ABC to XYV. Finally, make sure that the appropriate persons sign the resolution.

(Recommended reading: “How to Conduct a Better Board Meeting, Part 1”)

2. Search the name:

When doing a search, there are several things to consider. Search the name with the state (usually through the secretary of state’s office) in which your church is incorporated. Make sure that your church’s new name is not deceptively similar to another church that is incorporated in the same state.

Also, do an online search for the name to see if any church is using the name as a DBA (doing business as). Sometimes, a church incorporates under one name and then files for a DBA and uses another name. This is not common, but perfectly legal.

3. File articles of amendment:

Each state has a codified process for accepting articles of amendment and name changes. Make sure that you follow the rules that your state has established for such processes.

If you are filing a name change amendment, it is also a good time to thoroughly review your entire articles of incorporation to see if you want to amend any other parts. It is best to do so in one fell swoop. 

4. Amend the church's bylaws:

Your bylaws will also need to be amended to reflect your church’s new name. When amending bylaws, do not throw away the old ones. Rescind the old bylaws and adopt the new ones as of the board meeting date that approves the new bylaws. 

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(Recommended reading: “Why Bylaws Are Important, And How to Make Yours Better”)

5. Update the tax ID number with the IRS:

When a new church corporation begins, it files for a tax ID number, known as the Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). The IRS has a record of the original name associated with your tax ID number. You must notify the IRS by submitting a letter with a copy of the approved articles of amendment.

6. Update the IRS Exempt Organizations Division:

The IRS has regulations that require your church to submit any significant changes that occur within your church. A name change is significant. The IRS has a very extensive list of items or events that require a submission to update your church’s 501(c)(3).

The list is quite lengthy and chances are, your church is probably due to submit an update. Here, at StartCHURCH, we call it a 501(c)(3) reconsideration. We teach the details of this process at all of our conferences.

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7. Request a new 501(c)(3) approval letter:

When the IRS receives your reconsideration request, it may write you a letter and ask for clarification. If not, it should send you a letter stating that it has received your update and has revised your record. The IRS will not send you a new 501(c)(3) approval letter.

To get the actual updated approval letter, you must formally request it from the IRS using Form 4506-A. Once the IRS receives the form, it will send you an updated copy of the approval letter with your church’s new name. This generally takes the IRS 90 days to process.

8. Check IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check:

Once you receive the updated approval letter, you will want to check IRS Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, formerly known as Publication 78, to make sure your church’s new name has been updated there as well.

To check EO Select Check, click here, click on the “button” that says “Exempt Organizations Check Tool”, and then follow the directions. In general, you will only need to input your church’s tax ID number (FEIN). Your church’s new name should appear. We have noticed that on some occasions an organization’s new name did not get updated on EO Select Check. If that were to happen to you, an update request would need to be made to the EO Division at 1-877-829-5500. This division will look you up by name and tax ID number.

What is the Lord leading you to do?

If you have been considering changing the name of your church, we can help. We can review all of your corporate documents, make all necessary changes, and then submit those changes to your state, as well as to the IRS. This saves you both time and money.

Furthermore, this service also ensures that your church’s documents contain the strategic language that we teach at all of our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences. This strategic language is implemented into your church’s corporate documents to maximize protection of the vision that God has placed in your heart.

So, what are you waiting for? Register for a conference today!

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