The name of the church often comes to the pastor in dreams or visions, though it is not uncommon for the name of the area, the street or the founder's last name to become part of the church's identity. The words "First," "Second," "Third" or "Greater" might be added when the church registers with the secretary of state to distinguish it from a church with a similar name. Stagnant congregations often change their names in an effort to make a new start. Sometimes the pastors have other reasons. "I chose the word 'hosanna,' meaning 'save us,' " says Felipe Salazar of Iglesia Apostolica Hosanna in Compton. "I thought that people would ask me what the name meant and I would tell them that it means salvation, then I could explain to them what salvation means."
"I called it Rainbow because I worked for a Rainbow Casino in Gardena," says Pastor Raymond Branch of Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church in South-Central. "Everything I got I name rainbow. I had a barbershop and beauty supply I called Rainbow. I had a mattress store called Rainbow Ray Mattresses. One of the members of the congregation suggested calling it Heavenly Rainbow," making reference to the rainbow that appears to Noah after the great flood, and that way tying it to the Bible.
Windows and doors are often barred, since thieves break in searching for sound equipment or video cameras. If this represents reality, then the steeples represent dreams, and something more. "A lending institution will tell you that the steeple gives the character and the distinction that makes a church," says Vivian Thompson of Messiah African Baptist Church in South-Central. "They won't lend to you otherwise. The steeple then comes on a truck, and you have to hire a company with a crane to put it up."
Most of the storefront pastors are male and are often referred to as "our men of God," although women make up the majority of the congregations. Some eventually do acquire large congregations--such as Bishop Charles E. Blake of West Angeles Church of God in Christ on Crenshaw Boulevard--and are able to construct mega church buildings, a dream held by many storefront preachers.
But there are others who believe that getting bigger will cause them to lose touch with their members, as pastors no longer have the time to visit the sick or despondent. "Big churches figure the small ones have nothing to offer, but the small churches give the best sermons," says Bishop Andrew Davis of Go Tell It on the Mountain Full Gospel Church in South-Central.
"The church is like the ocean, and I would liken each building to a ship," says Pastor E.L. Williams Jr. of Southwest Institutional Baptist Church in South-Central. "There are ocean liners that convey people through the seaways, there are battleships and cargo ships and tugboats. The ocean liners and battleships need the tugboats, and some tugboats dream of being ocean liners, while others are content to be tugboats. All of these ships have one thing in common: They are running in the water, which is the word of God."