Since I started helping churches with incorporation paperwork, I have done due diligence in making sure that their church plant name wasn’t already taken. No one wants to show up at the Secretary of State’s office and be told, “Sorry, we’ve already got one of those. Pick a different name.”
What’s the Problem?
You could end up wasting time & money having your paperwork rejected at the State for name duplication. What a hassle! But it makes sense – a State can’t have more than one corporation with the same name.
You could end up with the embarrassment of having a name incredibly similar to another church on the other side of town. Hey, you’re new to the area and not every church is easily found, even on the internet! While you may have a different legal name, it will be confusing for people in your community.
Another new development, which caught me completely by surprise, is Federal trademarks. I can’t disclose the specifics, but can you believe that one of my church plants got a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter from an existing church in another state with the same name? That church had filed the name as a trademark with the Feds and was using their ministry time to make sure other planters didn’t use their name! Unfortunately, unless you’ve checked the Federal Trademark Database in advance of filing your name at the State, you could be forced to change it after you’re already past the point of no return. In this case, the trademark owner found out about the name use from internet articles about my planter’s grand opening. What a bad time to have to change your name!
What to Do
Perform your due diligence on the local, State & Federal levels.
- Local – get connected in town! Meet with other pastors and assure them that you’re not after their sheep; you’re planting a church to reach the unchurched (right?). Do an exhaustive search of Google Maps.
- State – I haven’t met a state yet that doesn’t make a corporate name search available on their website. Just search for ‘[name of your state] SOS business search‘. If there’s another church with the name you want on the other side of the state, you can often get around that conflict by appending your city’s name (as in “XYZ Church of Anytown, ST). That is technically a different name from simply ‘XYZ Church’, and you don’t have to use your full name in your branding.
- Federal – search the Federal Trademark Database to be sure some other church hasn’t already claimed the name. Unfortunately, the appendage trick above doesn’t work here, as they will have trademarked the phrase. Adding extra verbiage doesn’t get you around this one. Better pick a different name. In order for that church’s trademark to remain valid, they are compelled to defend against any infringement. Fortunately there are very few churches that have taken this step.
What are you thinking about for your church plant name?