Last month, Southern Baptist Convention president Bryant Wright announced the formation of a committee to explore the option of changing the name of the SBC. Blogs quickly became forums for people to discuss the merits of the proposal. Some believe the name change represents a sell-out of our historic identity. Others believe that not changing the name keeps us stuck in the past (with racial connotations even!) and hinders our future growth and effectiveness. Still others are open to a name change, but don’t like the way the current president is going about things.

I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another regarding changing the name of the SBC. But I do have some thoughts on the subject, and a few people have asked me to make them public. So, at risk of making people on both sides of this contentious debate angry, here goes nothing…

1. We’re not as big or important as we think we are.

Much of the talk about changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention assumes that people have a terribly negative perception of Southern Baptists. It’s assumed that our mission work in many parts of the country is hindered because the term “Southern” is an obstacle. Or perhaps we’re afraid people associate our name with the backwoods Baptists of yesteryear.

I may be mistaken, and I am willing to be corrected, but I doubt that most non-Christians have a negative perception of Southern Baptists. Truth be told, most non-Christians don’t even know who we are. Right now, we look a lot like the wider world of evangelicalism, which also suffers from this navel-gazing, Everyone hates us! mentality that research has proven to be untrue. It reminds me of the teenage girl who goes home from a party crying about how everyone hated her outfit, when in actuality, no one even noticed it.

Still, the acknowledgement that “we’re not as important as we think we are” cuts the other way too. It’s true that we’re not universally panned in the way some of those desiring a name-change think we are. But neither are we too big or important to refrain from considering a name change. Those who resist any idea of changing the name tend to overestimate the Convention’s importance as well, but from the other side.

So, let’s keep this discussion in perspective and remember that changing the name of the SBC will barely register as a blip in the overarching scheme of church history. We’re not so big and important in the perception of others that we have to change it. Neither are we so big and important to reject any notion of change.

2. We shouldn’t caricature people who approach this issue differently.

Some of the more vocal opponents of changing the SBC’s name believe that historic Baptist identity will suffer if the name were to change. Unfortunately, they level an implied accusation against the proponents of a name-change: They’re not really Baptist. Meanwhile, some who want to change the name have given the impression that anyone who opposes the idea must be more focused on the past than the future, or worse yet, racist for wanting to keep “Southern” in the name.

Both of these lines of attack and argumentation are unbecoming and unworthy of the Southern Baptist Convention. It would do us all well if we would assume good and godly motives on behalf of each other, and then recognize that there are good points to be made on both sides. There may indeed be sound, missiological reasons for considering a name more representative of the Convention’s direction. There may also be good reasons to refrain from going to the expense of changing the name at this time. We need not resort to caricature and insinuation of the worst possible sort when it comes to this issue.

3. Our mission should be at the forefront in this discussion.

For me personally, the most attractive reason for changing the name of the SBC is that we better describe who we are and who we are becoming. It seems strange to think that church planters in Boston or Sacramento would be planting churches that belong to a Convention whose name is regional. That said, I doubt that any of these church planters are publicly advertising their churches as Southern Baptist. It’s quite possible to belong to the Convention and yet choose for missiological purposes to not wave the SBC flag.

If our name gets in the way of the mission, then by all means, ditch the name for something better! After all, as Southern Baptists, we are a missionary people, and the impulse to cast aside anything that hinders the mission is one that we should embrace. At the same time, in a time of recession, one has to wonder whether or not the amount of expense that would be generated by all the ramifications of altering the Constitution and by-laws would be the best use of funds. We’ve just had a major discussion (some would say battle) within the Convention over the need to get more money to the mission field. It’s not wrong to wonder openly if a name-change controversy could distract from the mission, or if our funds would be better suited elsewhere.

In other words, the missiological question cuts both ways. Missiology challenges those who resist the change out of nostalgia, but it also challenges those who promote the change, particularly when it takes into account the time and expense of changing the name. Either way we move forward, let’s make sure missiology is at the forefront of this discussion.

4. We can learn from other organizations who have changed their names.

In recent years, a number of groups and denominations have chosen to change their names. Campus Crusade for Christ is now Cru. The Baptist General Conference is now Converge Worldwide. If a new name is so vague or trendy that everyone has to repeat the old name after it, it probably isn’t working too well. I hope we don’t make the same mistake.

On the other hand, there may be an easier way to go about a name change – a way that avoids the exorbitant costs associated with changing the Convention’s constitution and yet still allows us to be Southern Baptists with a new moniker. We could adopt a fresh name that describes who we are, and still maintain “Southern Baptist Convention” for clarifying purposes. In a nutshell, a DBA (“doing business as”) is the name of a corporation that is different from the legal or true corporate name as on file. We could be the Southern Baptist Convention “doing business as Great Commission Baptist Fellowship” or something of that nature. This would give us the opportunity to avoid a bitter and public controversy. It would also keep costs down.

Conclusion

Whatever Southern Baptists choose to do with our name, I hope that we will keep missiology at the forefront of our thinking. The big issues are God’s kingdom and our representation as Christ the King – not our denominational brand and history. His name is what we must care about most passionately, not our own.

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Comments:


18 thoughts on “Should the SBC Change Its Name?”

  1. Pastor Jim Sharp says:

    most of the 7 churches in revelation would want to change their name. what does Christ, i wonder, think about the SBC? i might hear Him say; “get over yourselves already … its about Me.” how much of your concern over a “name” is, once again, driven by the ongoing trust in “marketing” the church?

  2. Rick Patrick says:

    Then again, for the sake of clarity and simplicity, we could always be the “Southern Baptist Convention” DOING BUSINESS AS the “Southern Baptist Convention.”

  3. Bruce H says:

    Simply and silently change it to “THE BAPTIST”, formerly Southern Baptist Convention. Develop a committee to begin a new structure and mission. We have bandaided as we have grown and it is time for structure reform. Changing the name will only be the pivot point if done this way.

  4. Rick Patrick says:

    Bruce,

    Seriously? “The Baptist?” Singular not plural? As if there was only one? Even if we made it plural and called ourselves “the Baptists” it would not sit well with other Baptist denominations since it implies we are the only ones.

    Our name may not be perfect, but the alternatives are no better and are too costly to implement.

  5. Bruce H says:

    Rick,

    I never had a problem with the “name” Southern Baptist. I am a native “Houstonian, Texan” and it has always fit for me. My main desire is to uproot the politics within this denomination and be about the Masters business, specifically, “discipleship”. Since the name change has made its way to the public notice I wanted to restructure at the same time. Any “Baptist” name would do fine for me. Additionally, our doctrine prevails all other denomination and non-denomination alike. We would do better in this day and time to remove the bandaids and do what is necessary to protect the truths that God has given Baptists. I would hope that they would never use the words, “New and Improved” either.

  6. Eric W says:

    In 2003, a small anabaptist denomination, Evangelical Mennonite Church, changed its name to Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. Most of their new church plants had not been using the “Mennonite” in their name. At present only 20% of the churches have retained Mennonite. They remain rooted in the anabaptist tradition.

    http://fecministries.org/

  7. DaveAlan says:

    Big deal on the name change. I still call it Kentucky Fried Chicken, my daughter calls it Kentucky Fried Chicken, though it has officially been KFC all her life. How about “The Christians formerly known as SBC”. It will take a generation to get the media to stop referring to us as SBC.

  8. Sam S says:

    I am a Missouri Synod Lutheran, emphasis on Missouri synod, and I’ve never lived in Missouri or for that matter the South. But, for me it’s an important distinction given what I’ve seen of late in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American (ELCA) which is not evangelical at all and thus certainly not Lutheran. Just for the record, I’d become a Southern Baptist, or whatever you’ll call yourselves in the future before I’d become an ELCA Lutheran. We’re all just as much defined by who we are not as we are by who we are. This is an important discussion and I think Trevin has done a good job laying out the issues. I wish the SBC the best in working through it. I think it’s safe to say this is going to take some time.

  9. Kenneth says:

    “Some believe the name change represents a sell-out of our historic identity.” No! We sold out when we put 12 BILLION dollars into the collection plate in 2010 and less than 2% went to reach the unreached!!!

  10. Carl says:

    As an outsider of the SBC, from the north (MN!) no less, all I can say, anecdotally, is that “Baptist” has negative connotations in the minds of “outsiders”-and churches in our region of the country are abandoning the term “Baptist” as fast as they can make new church signs. This has been going on for years now.

  11. Allen Jones (Student Minister) says:

    This is silliness, our focus is Jesus not The Southern Baptist Convention. This is a waste of God’s resources, time and money. How about let’s take care of the poor, needy and widows. I’m embarrassed that we are even having this conversation. David Platt for SBC president!!!! He’ll get us straight and focused on the right things! :) Smily face, so ya’ll dont think I’m too mean.

  12. Mitch Robinson says:

    As a Southern Baptist, I consider the issue to be of very little importance in my own mind. What I certainly don’t care to see is for this question to become a distraction among otherwise like-minded believers. I realize that some people feel very strongly about this issue. However, we all need to keep a proper perspective regarding this potentially divisive question. It really is small potatoes!

  13. I started suggesting “SBC International” about 2-1/2 years ago. I’ve seen a similar name change (or a “dba”) work well for another organization.

  14. Rick Patrick says:

    No offense, but “SBC International” sounds a bit too corporate to me, more like a phone company than a denomination, and while it does a great job describing the part of our mandate that includes “the ends of the earth,” it fails to capture adequately our equally biblical emphasis upon Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

  15. Having studied the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and its predecessor, the Triennial Convention, and its predecessors, the associations, and having observed that the most noted Evangelist in Christian History associated himself with the SBC, I think it is unwise to change the name. And racism does not play a part in my thinking, as I graduated from a Black University, proposed a Doctoral Dissertation in Black History at an ivy league school, and did my doctor of ministry project on “Christian Love and Race Relations” at the seminary that was then known to be “the most liberal seminary in the Southern Baptist Convention.” The first churches and associations in the South were for the most part the result of the two Great Awakenings and the theology that produced them. That theology is still encapsulated in the Convention, its entities, and churches, even though it is much diminished. Still prayer is being made for another Awakening, and the theology is beginning to revive, a precursor to another awakening. Leave the name as it is and get on with the fussin’ so we can work our way through the difficulties until we are comfortable with the results of our trying to think with God on these difficult and painful issues. The results will be worth it…even as the Reformation came to fruition in American where it transformed from being a Gospel recovery effort that was contgroversial, contensious, and conflicted into a an outgoing, we are going to win you by persuasion with paradoxes seemingly unappealing in appearance but designed to get the job of changing lives done..just as that Sovereign Grace theology of the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s, produced a nation to whom everyone looks for help today, a bunch of persevering people who hang in there until they get the job done….And the same shall be said of the SBC…or so we pray…

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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