As the Southern Baptist Convention considers changing its 166-year-old name in order to reach more people for Christ, denominational leaders have made it clear that they don't plan on removing "Baptist" from its name.
After months of discussion, a task force appointed to study the possibility of changing SBC’s name has reached a decision, as reported by Baptist Press. The task force met Wednesday in Atlanta, Ga., for the second time and has come up with recommendations that it will present to SBC’s executive committee at a meeting on Feb. 20.
Task force chairman Jimmy Draper said in a statement to Baptist Press that “Baptist” would remain in the title, and that the main reason for the name change was to ensure there were no barriers in their evangelizing efforts.
"Every member was represented in this important meeting," Draper said. "Again, I was impressed with the seriousness of the group as we discussed vital issues, and the openness to discuss every aspect of the assignment given to us. There was a unanimity both in the discussions and in the decisions we made."
The 20-member task force was appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright. Their meeting came on the same day LifeWay Research, a research entity of the SBC, released a study saying that 53 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Southern Baptists, but 40 percent had an unfavorable view of the denomination. The negativity was higher among the unchurched.
Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 35 percent strongly agreed that a Southern Baptist church was not for them. Forty-four percent said that knowing a church is Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to visit or join the church, while only 10 percent say it would positively impact their decision.
“The words ‘southern’ and ‘baptist’ both have connotations for people," Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, told The Christian Post earlier. "When you combine them, they add another set of connotations. They may be regional, racial, moral, and denominational, but they are real and it is wise to consider them.
The study, he said, was necessary because "Southern Baptists need to know that for some people, the name is a hindrance.”
Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, told CP that there are a lot of factors that go into the meanings people attach to a brand name or denomination. They could be from the impact of the denomination’s work in the community, personal experience with the church or societal opinions.
Southern Baptists can change people’s perceptions through the work they do in the community, McConnell noted. Much of what a church does is based in a particular community, he said. The “stories people tell positively or negatively” impact the perceptions of a church.
And while the goal of a church isn’t to be popular, McConnell noted that churches and the SBC do want the message of the Gospel to be well received, and that they should be aware of contextual factors when sharing their message.
While the SBC is moving forward with their decision, not all in the Southern Baptist community are happy with a possible name change. Last month, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, a state convention of the SBC, voted to oppose any name changes.
Draper, meanwhile, told Baptist Press that the task force’s decision “pretty well confirmed things that we expected, and I don't think it was necessarily a surprise.”
The name change task force first met Oct. 26 in Fort Worth, Texas. Draper said they spent a lot of time in prayer for the committee’s work, and on whether or not their mission would have a greater impact if they had a different name.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, claiming 16 million members.