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11 Jul 2017

How to Protect Your Church Name

Raul Rivera

The night Alex answered God’s call to start a church, he had a dream. 

In this dream there were two cliffs; Alex was standing on one cliff and a large group of faceless people were standing on the other cliff. Although the people in his dream were faceless, Alex felt a closeness to each of them.

The distance between the two cliffs was about half the size of an American football field, and the space between the cliffs contained a dark abyss of nothingness. 

Alex noticed that people were beginning to fall off the other cliff into the dark abyss, never to return. 

In a panic, Alex began looking for ways that he could save the remaining people from tragedy. He knew that if he could get them from the other cliff (which was starting to crumble and fall away) to his cliff, then they would all be safe. However, there was nothing he could do in his own power to help. 

Alex fell to his knees and began crying out to God to help those who were in danger of falling into the dark abyss of nothingness. 

Then, as if out of nowhere, a bridge appeared connecting the two cliffs. That is when Alex woke up from his dream.

The meaning of Alex’s dream

Upon waking up from his dream, Alex laid in bed staring at the ceiling while trying to make sense of his dream. 

"Was God speaking?" Alex wondered to himself.

Unsure, Alex began to pray for clarity from the Lord. While praying, the Holy Spirit revealed that the dream was symbolic of what God would do through the church God called Alex to start. 

The Holy Spirit revealed that Alex’s church would be a place of refuge for the weak and a “bridge” for those who were lost and in need of a Savior. Therefore, his church was to be called “The Bridge of Refuge.”

To say Alex was excited about God giving him a name for his church is an understatement. In fact, Alex could not fall back asleep that night. 

He felt a unique connection to the name God had given him for his church, and Alex wanted to “protect” it from being used by another organization. He knew there were steps he could take to do that, but he was not sure what to do or where to begin.

Has God given you a name for your church or ministry?

Although the story above is fictitious, I bet that many of you have had a similar experience to Alex. God has given you a specific name to use for your church or ministry. You become “attached” to the name and want to protect it. After all, it is a name God has specifically given to you.

The question Alex asked, and one that many of you have probably considered, is: “How?” 

How do you go about “protecting” the name that God has given you for your church or ministry?

This is the question I want to address with the remainder of this blog post.

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The easiest way to protect your ministry’s name

If you are like Alex and have yet to take any legal steps for your church or ministry, the first step and the easiest way to protect the name for your ministry is by reserving your ministry’s name with your state. 

Reserving your ministry’s name is something you complete before officially incorporating your church or ministry. Although reserving your ministry’s name is not required (except if you are in the state of Alabama), it is recommended that you do so.

The first thing you will need to do in reserving your ministry’s name is to check the name availability with your state. You can do this by simply going to the website of your state’s secretary of state.

I find that the easiest way to do this is through a Google search. For instance, I am located in the state of Georgia so I might Google something like, “Georgia name availability.” (You can do the same thing by replacing “Georgia” with the name of your state.)

IRS Expense

As you can see, the first result that Google gives me is what I need. The second result gives me an article that a state employee wrote about the process of reserving a name with the state of Georgia.

When I click on the first result that Google provides, it takes me to the following page on Georgia’s Secretary of State website:

IRS Expense

This is exactly where I need to go to check name availability in my state. 

Once you determine the availability of the name you want for your ministry, decide if you want to reserve that name while you go through the process of incorporating your ministry. 

Since I live in the state of Georgia, I would likely reserve my ministry’s name because of the incorporation process in the state of Georgia. Let me explain.

All entities in the state of Georgia, churches and ministries included, must publish an “intent to incorporate” ad in a local newspaper, and this ad must run for two periods (generally 2 weeks) with that newspaper.

When that is complete, I can then move forward with submitting my articles of incorporation for approval to the state of Georgia. Georgia is currently taking 8 weeks to approve an entity’s incorporation, and that is with no other “hiccups” along the way.

As a result, it is strongly recommended for churches and ministries in the state of Georgia to reserve their name, especially if it is a name in which they are closely attached. 

It is important to note that the process of reserving a name and incorporating is different for each state. While there may be some similarities among states, you will want to check with your state to determine the time, process, and any associated fees.

If you need help or have questions about this process, please give us a call at 877-494-4655, and one of our team members will be glad to help.

Before moving forward I want to acknowledge that while reserving your organization's name and incorporating can help protect your church's name, some of you may be wondering about obtaining a trademark. While obtaining a trademark for your church's or ministry's name will provide a broader scope of protection than just in your state, that process is out of the purview of this blog.

If you are interested in ontaining a trademark for your ministry's name, then I recommend you seek the counsel of a qualified trademark attorney. You can also read more about the process from the United States Patent and Trademark Office here.

One last thing about protecting your ministry’s name

So, let us say you have successfully reserved your ministry’s name and are now incorporated. All is well. Your name is “protected” and it is smooth sailing from here. Yet, is it really? 

The truth of the matter is that even though you are incorporated with the name that God has given your ministry, keeping that name is contingent with you maintaining compliance for your ministry with all state level requirements. 

For example, most states require all entities to complete an annual report. If your ministry fails to meet and maintain this requirement, or any other annual state level requirement, then your ministry will most likely be administratively dissolved, thus leaving your ministry’s name susceptible to being used by another entity in your state. 

This is one of the many reasons why at our conferences we emphasize to pastors and ministry leaders the importance of maintaining legal compliance, which can be done through our resources. This is why we also offer services like our KeepRIGHT Program.

We understand that life and ministry get busy, and keeping up with everything can quickly become too much. 

And that is why we are here for you.

If you want to learn more about our KeepRIGHT Program and how it can help your ministry, check out the link below, or call us at 877-494-4655.

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Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera

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About the Author

Church Planter. Speaker. Author. CEO. Raul Rivera has had ample experience in the church planting world. His current venture, StartCHURCH, has helped 1000's of churches to start right. Raul has compiled an array of manuals and software tools that help churches stay compliant with the IRS. He also hosts over 35 national conferences per year, training pastors on how to launch their churches. Raul is married to his wife Genel, and they and their five children live in Atlanta, GA.