Sometimes you just can’t get around a church plant name change. Here’s what you need to do.
There are a couple of things that might be forcing the name change:
- You incorporated early with a placeholder name and now you’ve settled on the permanent name
- You incorporated early with a name that is a complete mismatch in your community (how to choose a better one)
- You didn’t do your homework and incorporated with a name that is really close to another church in town
- You got a cease & desist letter from a church in another state that trademarked the name (yeah, seen it)
Whatever the reason, there a some government paperwork steps you need to take and some important things to follow up with after the name change goes into effect.
Method 1: Fictitious Business Name
The quick & dirty way to do a church plant name change is to file a Fictitious Business Name Statement. It actually leaves the name of your corporation the same but creates a legal alias. So you haven’t actually changed it; you’ve masked it. The Fictitious Business Name, (might be called a Trade Name in your state), is sometimes informally called a DBA (Doing Business As). So if you went this way, it would look like The First Church of the Presumptuous Assumption DBA Awesome Hipster Church.
In many states you’ll file this with your County Clerk, but in a few states you’ll file with the state Corporation Commission (or similar).
- First check your proposed name against county DBA filings, existing corporations in your state, and the federal trademark database
- Then visit your county’s website and read their instructions, download a form, etc.
- Walk or mail in your filing and you’ll usually get in back in pretty short order
- In most jurisdictions you’ll have to publish the DBA in a local newspaper; you may even have to prove to the county that you’ve taken care of that by turning in a receipt or a copy of the newspaper.
- Get your new name added to the public-facing institutions:
- Your bank & bookkeeper
- Your online giving provider (credit card processor)
- Your church management software (ChMS)
- The Post Office (if you have a PO Box and/or have already applied for postal permits)
This route probably doesn’t solve the cease & desist situation (mentioned above), and it’s not a good long term solution. Trust me, you’ll get tired of explaining how you really have 2 names. And you’ll have to remember to use the mothballed corporation name when you sign any legal or financial documents.
Method 2: Amend Your Articles of Incorporation
The better long term solution for your church plant name change is to update or amend your incorporation paperwork with your state. I’ve written about that in detail, so pop on over there for a step-by-step guide.
If you permanently changed your church plant name with an amendment, then notify those same public-facing institutions (above) as well as:
- The IRS (for your EIN and perhaps even your 501c3 if you’ve already filed for that)
- State Department of Revenue (if you have any employer withholding accounts)
- State Attorney General (only in some states; might want to call & ask)
- the DMV (if the church owns a trailer or motor vehicle)
- Your payroll processor
- Your insurance company
- Church copyright agencies
Amending your Articles is definitely more work, but you’ll only have to do it this once. Ten years from now you’ll be glad you did.