11 Lessons from Announcing our Name Change

If you’re a leader, you’ve had to make and then announce a big decision before. How’d it go? I bet like me you learned a lot in the process.

At the church where I lead, we just announced we are changing the name of our church from Watermarke Church to Woodstock City Church. If you’re not in the world of church, you should know this is a big decision and a big announcement. It’s the equivalent of changing a company name where the name is the product. This change could be problematic in any size church, but with over 5,000 people attending our church every Sunday, our scale increases the possibility of resistance and complication.

Interestingly, with all the potential pitfalls of an announcement of this magnitude, thus far we have received nothing but praise on the heels of going public. Why? Well, partially due to the name we are leaving — Watermarke Church. Why the silent “e?” What does it mean? Well, nothing really. The silent “e” was added to avoid a potential lawsuit (very Christian-like, huh?).

But the real reason this change has been so well received is because of our approach.

Whether you are changing your business name or need to introduce an organizational or product change, these basic principles will help eliminate the possible negative while enhancing acceptance. I know it’s early in our announcement process, but thus far, it seems we learned a few things and made some good decisions. Here’s a summary of our 11 lessons learned:

1. People need time to process change.

I know you’ve been thinking about this change for months — maybe years, but most of the people in your church or organization are about to hear it for the first time, and they will need time to process. If you rush the process, you’ll eliminate their time to process. If the change is necessary, people will eventually see what you see, but that may take time.

The decision to change the name of our church was not made quickly. In fact, our Leadership Team discussed it off and on for a full year. We weighed every implication time and again before making the decision. I should tell you that, within the first few weeks of the discussion, I felt we needed to make the change. But, I allowed the conversation to continue as long as necessary for the process to fully process. People need time, and the closer they are to the change, the more time they often need.

Principle: If you rush the process, you eliminate other’s time to process.

2. Don’t rush to announce what can wait to be announced.

When a decision has been made, there’s something in every leader than wants to start moving forward with the change immediately. That’s certainly necessary at times, but whenever possible, pause and avoid rushing to announce. Few good things happen when we rush. When we pause, however, we are able to develop a comprehensive strategy that builds momentum like a positive change avalanche.

Principle: Announcement timing is as important and change implementation.

3. Inform (leak) from small to large, insider to outsider.

Your different constituents will always feel change differently. For us, our most loyal volunteers needed to hear about this change first – especially considering they are the people who create our church every week. We met with them in smaller groups and took more time announcing the change to them. We allowed for questions and gave transparent answers. It’s always important to share first with the people who care most.

Starting small with key stakeholders and working out concentrically is good leadership. It takes more time, but the investment is worth it.

Principle: Share first with those who care most.

4. Give away a piece of the pie first.

Don’t tell everyone everything in one moment. I accidentally stumbled upon this strategy and I’ll use it forevermore!

As we were working through our announcement process, I decided to tell our most devoted volunteers the news of our name change first, but I did not tell them the new name or reveal the logo/branding changes. I literally told them, “We have decided to change the name of our church, and I’m not going to tell you the new name yet.

It drove them crazy at first, which would seem like a negative, but it worked in our favor big time. The gap in announcing there would be a change and the actual change gave our most devoted insiders time to process the change. If they were against the change, the gap gave them time to settle into the reality. If they were for the change, the gap fueled their anticipation. By the time we announced the new name, any negative emotion had been replaced by positive anticipation, and the new name fell on open hearts.

Principle: Staggering the announcement created a gap for negative emotion to be replaced by positive anticipation.

5. Don’t wing the strategy or the announcement.

It’s tempting as a leader to trust ourselves a little too much at times. When it comes to announcing change, preparation is critical. Every word counts. The structure of the content counts. The mood you create with your words counts. Prepare before your announce.

Principle: Prepare before your announce.

6. Overcome objections before there are objections.

No matter how great or necessary the change, there will be people who are opposed. As a leader, we should anticipate objections and speak to them before they even exist.

For instance, I anticipated those who have been at our church the longest would be the most resistant to this change. To combat their potential resistance, before I announced the new name publicly, I said, “The good news is none of us attend this church because of the name. We attend because we love this church. We love what this church has meant for our family. For our marriage. For our kids. For our relationships. And mostly for our relationship with Jesus. That’s why we love this church. We could call it anything we want and that would not change.

Well, after everyone heard that, the name change resistors in the crowd had a hard time holding on to their resistance.

Principle: Preemptively addressing objections preemptively removes objections.

7. Make sure people feel what you want them to feel.

Feelings are difficult to manage because they are so disperse. Announcing a change to a group will evoke a spectrum of response. But, as a leader, we know the feeling we desire to be connected to the change, so we should leverage our tone, pacing, and energy to match what we want.

In announcing our name change publicly, I made several jokes throughout to lighten the mood (for those who needed to be lightened) and I intentionally ended with something comical. The last feeling the crowd had during the announcement was laughter. It’s subtle, and maybe I am giving this too much attention, but I believe it mattered.

Principle: Leverage tone, pacing, and energy to match the feeling you desire.

8. Add something exciting to push the right feeling.

In an effort to make this change even easier to embrace, we gave everyone a new car sticker. People love free swag, so we leveraged the gift to further enhance the feeling. It was only a small touch, but small touches add up.

Principle: It is always smart to give if there’s a potential feeling of take.

9. Make everyone an insider.

In our case, we treated everyone as a new brand ambassador. People love to feel special, and being on the inside of anything new carries the potential of feeling like an insider. Leverage this feeling as much as possible!

When we announced this new name change publicly, I basically commissioned the audience as brand ambassadors. I challenged them to help us spread the word to the community of people not yet at our church. Giving our attendees responsibility gave them ownership of the change.

Principle: Insiders feel they are a part, not apart.

10. Don’t fuel something that should never be a fire.

It is tempting as a leader to announce change with fan fair and confetti cannons, but that can turn what should be something of relative significance into something with massive significance. Maybe that’s great when you can guarantee a positive response, but turning something relatively negative into something massively negative is absolutely destructive.

In the case of our name change, we would have made this a really big deal. After all, it is a big deal in some respect. By downplaying the change and up-selling the vision, we minimized the potential fallout while maximizing uptake. We fueled the vision of the change over the actual change.

Principle: Never overemphasize a change while underselling the vision for the change.

11. Respect the secondary consequences.

Many organizational changes only impact the changing organization, but when that is not the case, leaders should acknowledge the secondary or unintended consequences honestly. If your change is going to potentially disrupt another group, organization, or church, they deserve to first hear the news from you — directly.

We have a very large and noteworthy church in our county — First Baptist Church of Woodstock. That may be their official name, but they are commonly known in our community as just “Woodstock.” Changing our name to Woodstock City Church will cause some confusion for both them and us. I knew the change was necessary and advantageous for our church, but I did not want to neglect the potential tension from this other church, so I met with their leadership months before we announced our change and informed them of our desire. I wasn’t asking permission, but I was leading with integrity, and that matters.

Principle: Consider and acknowledge any secondary or unintended consequences from your change.

These 11 lessons represent our learning thus far. If you have led through a major change and public announcement, I’d love to know what we missed? Even better, what should I be thinking about over the coming weeks and months? Leave a comment below, and I’d love for you to share this with others to increase our collective learning.

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4 Responses

    1. A long time, Stan. Our Leadership Team debated this name change for 9 months. Once the decision was made, we began conversations with our staff on brand colors, logo, etc. Leaving our old name and all its associated positive brand connotations was a difficult decision, but time was our friend. I didn’t want to rush the process, and thus far, I’d say our name change has been successful. Thanks for asking.

  1. Thanks, Anthony. We are still learning from our experience, but it’s been a big win thus far. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Such a great retrospective on such a potentially sensitive transition. I think #10 is probably the hardest one to learn because it requires that you acknowledge that not everything you think is of crucial importance needs to be crucially important to those in the audience. Let everything appear exactly as significant as it needs to be to support the overall mission of the organization.

    Earlier this year I replaced a 6 year old business (that had a large, dedicated following) with a completely new name and look. As I read this piece, it was like reliving that transition, almost therapeutic since I had very few people to talk to about this transition.

    The one thing that came to mind as I read it was:

    “Search your heart to make sure the reason for the change has lasting significance”.

    Businesses sometimes change their names, logos, brand, etc… to keep it fresh, but those changes often seem shallow to the audience. Something as significant as a business name should require deep, long lasting reasons to change. And the right name, when viewed through the lens of those reasons, should be obvious in retrospect.

    People can sense insecurity, and when a major change is made for shallow reasons, people can spot that very quickly. That kind of change is never respected, especially when it is communicated poorly.

    Thanks for the great post, I sincerely appreciated it.

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