How do you put a name on a church youth group? What are the best youth group name ideas and how do you select one? Which names work, and which ones don't?
The naming challenge is something I have gone through myself. Upon seeing how deeply my youth group's name -- Faith Lutheran Youth (FLY) -- was ingrained in the church culture, we decided that rather than change it I would give kids in my group the authority to come up with their own preferred name for our Sunday night program.
The result? We are now called Sunday Night Jingle Bells!
This somewhat absurd choice left me wondering how and why other youth group names originate. To find out, I spoke with youth workers at churches throughout America, including some in my home state of Illinois. These youth workers have put much thought and energy into giving their youth groups the names that best serve the needs of their youth, of young people they are trying to reach, and of the churches and parachurch organizations that sponsor them.
Break Through in Florida
Student Minister Nhu Nguyen of First Christian Church in Boca Raton, Fla., wanted to show his students a new way of living through Jesus, so he knew his youth group's name before he even began it: Break Through.
"A lot of people read the Bible, go to church, and go to youth group," Nguyen said. "But how do you take that and live it out? Doing that's a breakthrough in our society."
Because the name is short and easy to communicate to their friends, youth have embraced it, in part because of Nguyen's careful branding of it. Break Through's logo is on everything the ministry does, including postcards and business cards that feature only the group and the ministry's Web address, breakthroughyouth.net. Nguyen hopes this will raise curiosity and drive people to the ministry's Web site where they'll see it's purpose and scope.
180 Degrees in Illinois
The name of the youth ministry at First United Methodist Church in La Grange, Ill. -- 180 Degrees -- was a gift from the previous youth director to the current one, Hattie Stahl.
"The name is based on the 2 Corinthians 5:17 verse," Stahl said. "The idea is that students who walk fully through the youth ministry program, who come to know Christ, are changed completely to become renewed creations."
Fusion in Texas
When High School Pastor Matt Fogle accepted his position at Compass Christian Church in Colleyville, Texas, each of Compass High School Ministry's programs had a separate name. Fusion was the name Fogle inherited for his Wednesday night worship service.
Despite the fact the name's meaning had been lost over time, Fogle decided to keep the name but focus on revamping its meaning: Now Fusion is about connecting youth to one another and to solid mentors, and its name is widely known and used by those who attend.
The Forge in Colorado
The Forge is the Student Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This unique name came about because of this ministry's efforts to live out Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
To help sharpen one another, each month a youth shares his or her faith story. As youth worker Jeremy Phifer recalls, "These nights were insightful into the lives of the students. You could see who was going through the refining process and who was trying to appear as though they had it all together. The image of a forge where the refining process took place came to me. The idea is that when kids were left to their own devices they "forged" an identity on their own and became a fraud also rang true. It was the perfect name."
Velocity in Illinois
For six years, the junior high ministry at Westside Christian Church in Springfield, Ill., was known as Student Explosion. Junior High Minister Chris Sandel says that when the church's new high school minister decided to change the name of the church's high school ministry, Sandel felt it was time to rename the junior high ministry, as well.
For Sandel, it was important that the ministry's new name reflect the energy of a junior high ministry; that it be short and easy to communicate verbally and visually; and that it be connected to the name of the high school ministry, which is the culmination of the church's family ministries. When the high school ministry chose Fusion for its name, it seemed logical to name the junior high ministry Velocity.
Because Velocity was a name change, publicizing it was key. To help build mystery and excitement about the ministry's new name, Sandel kept it a surprise until the fall kick-off and then did a series built around the ministry's new name. He also launched a new Web site, westsidevelocity.org, featuring the ministry's new name and logo. This excitement generated momentum for the ministry and allowed it to communicate its values in new ways.
Good Shep Youth in Illinois
David Perez is the Director of Youth and Children at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Bartlett, Illinois. As a new youth worker, he didn't have time to give a lot of thought to coming up with a more creative name for his ministry than Good Shep Youth, a name his youth have now accepted.
"My focus right now is for our youth to identify with our church's vision, 'Making Jesus real in our hearts and community,'" Perez said. "Keeping our name Good Shep Youth is a way for me to make sure they know they're actually a part of the church and not just a group that uses the church building."
While Perez admits that a catchier youth group name might help attract students to his ministry, he also fears that a catchy youth group name might be the equivalent of the shallow soil in the Parable of the Sower. According to Perez, "Unless the ministry is already rooted firmly, the name might just end up becoming a passing fad."
Principles for Naming Your Group
How then can you avoid having your youth group name become another passing fad and instead choose a name that sticks and reflects what your ministry is?
First, don't force the naming process. "Students may hold tightly to a name because it may remind them of a special time in their life," The Forge's Phifer warns. "Get to know the students. Feel the pulse of the group. That will help you know when the time is right."
Second, when the time is right to name your group, focus on your brand and your message. Velocity's Sandel urges youth workers to answer the questions, "What do we want our name to communicate? What makes our group different?"
After answering those questions, gather an intergenerational group of creative people to brainstorm names. Choose names that are short and easy to communicate verbally and visually. If you're planning on launching a Web site featuring the group's name, check the availability of domain names as you brainstorm.
Third, go for something that can last. Don't focus on the flashiness of a particular name. Instead, as Fusion's Fogle suggests, "Let your youth group name be birthed out of what God is calling your ministry to do."
When you do that, your youth group name is much more likely to stick and be used by adults and youth.
Join the conversation: Tell us the name of your youth group and how you came up with it!