For church singles groups, it's all in a name:
The singles group at Sherman Oaks Presbyterian church was languishing, with poorly attended potlucks and a core of only 9 people, five of whom were mentally retarded or had just been released from prison.
"It's pretty bad when even the singles group leader doesn't want to go," says leader Jerry Cook with a laugh.
Cook convinced the church to hire a consulting firm to create a better name than the one they were using, Singled Out. After spending $50,000 and going through hundreds of options, they ditched the old moniker and embraced a new one: 2gather.
What does it mean?
"Lots of things," says Cook. "Gathering together, building community — all the things singles want."
2gather quickly gained momentum in the Christian singles market in L.A., and now draws hundreds of singles to its mid-week "2do" parties.
"The cost of the name change was worth every penny," says Cook, who has been promoted to assistant pastor.
Dozens of U.S. churches are paying consulting firms big money for clever names they hope will turn their fortunes with fickle single church-goers.
"Our old name wasn't saying anything," says a Milwaukee singles pastor whose group had attracted mostly divorced men over 45. Now that the group changed its name to 1-2-1, "membership has quintupled, and we don't get as many weirdos," he says.
Other groups have found success switching to names like SingleMinded, 1-4Him and Only U., for which a large Virginia church paid a consultant $75,000.
Observers say churches are rediscovering singles groups again. Singles have more disposable income than families, and can be "amazing" sources of revenue for a church if they become tithers, says one pastor. Singles also have more time to volunteer at church.
On the downside, they tend to be flakier, church-hopping in search of potential mates. But with the market for new church-goers staying stagnant, churches are leveraging any asset they can, including names, to battle for singles. One church singles group in St. Augustine changed its name to OneHeart and now holds OneHeart cruises — 5-day ship tours of the Bahamas for thousands of singles who come from as far away as Kentucky. The OneHeart brochure promises that "attendees are screened for odd behavior and criminal backgrounds," and that singles will enjoy "life-position appropriate" social events — code words meaning that never-married 20-somethings will have a separate mixer from, say, aging divorced people.
Smaller churches which lack the money to pay for new names are a tad resentful, and have started an underground backlash. A boundary-pushing church in Boise cheekily named its singles group LonelyAsHell 2:18, taking inspiration from Genesis 2:18 which says, "It is not good for the man to be alone."
"Why hide it?" says LonelyAsHell 2:18 pastor Derek Cavel. "That's why people come here."