Naming the Southern Baptist Convention


The Southern Baptist Convention is appointing a task force to study the possibility of changing the convention’s name to something less regional. For a denomination committed to fulfilling the great commission, to taking the gospel and making disciples of all nations, it makes sense to have this discussion and seriously consider a name-change.

I was in high school when I first heard of a Southern Baptist church located somewhere out west, and I thought, “But they’re not in the south.” I wondered, how there could be a Southern Baptist church anywhere but the South? Not only is the name confusing to the unfamiliar (or ignorant youth, in my case), the moniker is not an accurate reflection of our purpose.

Though funny, neither are these suggestions:

The SBC is planting new churches all over the world. Can you imagine living in a country on the other side of the world and being a member of a “Southern Baptist” church? Does that name carry any meaning in another country?

In the US, however, the name carries negative connotations. For this reason, some people think that a name change would not amount to any real change. But I disagree. A name change would signal that real change has occurred.

The SBC is changing rapidly. A new generation of leaders has been emerging. I am confident that these leaders will bring real change to the convention. The SBC is not my grandparents’ convention for long.

Late last night, Baptist Press published this press release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright has announced the appointment of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the 166-year-old convention’s name.

Wright, who was re-elected to a second one-year term during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix this past June, said he believes the study will be helpful for two main reasons.

“First, the convention’s name is so regional,” he said. “With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”

Wright announced the task force during the opening session of the SBC Executive Committee’s Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Read the whole thing here.

I’m not too excited about the possibility for a name change. Right now, it’s just an idea for a task force to consider. It may not even be discussed during the 2012 convention. IF it is, based on the success of past name-change debates, it will go over like a lead balloon. If it does pass, and that’s a big if, then it will have to be approved again at the next year’s convention.

This is something that will take YEARS to determine.

Not only that, but can you imagine the debate over new names? Arguments over the color of the sanctuary carpet are a cliché for a reason. I’ve participated in church name-change discussions. I doubt I could stomach a convention-sized one.

Even so, with heated debate and discussion, years of wrangling and voting, I would welcome a name change for the SBC.

What do you think? What comes to mind when you hear “Southern Baptist Convention?” Will changing the name matter? What about 100 years from now? Is this something that needs to be done for the good of sharing the gospel around the world during the next century? If it will only negatively impact our ability to fulfill the Great Commission, then why spend the time and resources on it? If it will have an immediate positive impact, why argue?

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5 thoughts on “Naming the Southern Baptist Convention

  1. Honestly, it’s difficult to give a simple answer to your question, and I think, even more difficult to do it in a written casual forum without sounding harsh (I don’t want to come off that way). I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and I have many MANY thoughts about it, some good, some not so. The same can probably be said of most other denominations as well. But the short answer is that for someone who grew up with the SBC and eventually grew out of the SBC..a name change isn’t going to change what we think about the SBC.

    I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. Every one of your points is a valid one and for those who are not already familiar with the denom, it can only help. But will the new name change what I think about it? Probably not.

    But that’s okay. They aren’t asking me. *grin*

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  2. As a member of an SBC church, I’m already cringing at the debate this will spark. I agree that a name change might be good in order to clarify that we are not limited in region. Still, I’m thinking there are many larger changes that need to be made before we worry about our name. A rose by any other name…

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  3. Not a member of an SBC church, but I think a name change would be a good idea. The term “southern” implies a regional church. And, sadly, in some areas of the country, southern implies racism. I’m not saying that that’s fair, but that’s how it is.

    But change is hard, and I’m sure there will be much debate.

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  4. As a Southern girl, there is a a bit of regional pride in the term. It is the roots and birthplace of the denomination. There have been many faiths, organizations, and even companies that have turned their backs on their roots in the name of expansion only to lose their base and eventually the “newcomers” they sought to reach because those newcomers did not have a vested interest. Secondly, being able to identify a church as Southern Baptist gives a sense of security. To better explain, if I walk into a Free-Will Baptist Church, an Independent Baptist Church, or one affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance, their core beliefs and mission may be unclear and even Biblically questionable, but if I walk into a church that is an active, affiliated member of the Southern Baptist Convention, I know what I’m getting.

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