Task force completes study of SBC name change

December 9, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – A task force appointed to study a possible
name change for the Southern Baptist Convention has completed its work
and will bring recommendations to the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 20.

“We are excited to make these recommendations believing that we have
come to decisions that will please the Father and greatly strengthen our
ability to reach more people with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
task force chair Jimmy Draper, former head of LifeWay Christian
Resources, said in a statement released through Baptist Press. “From the
beginning we have desired only to discern God's will in this matter.”

SBC President Bryant Wright appointed the advisory group without
Executive Committee action last fall. Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry
Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said he believed the current name is
too regional and that a new identity might make the convention more
effective in church planting.

Southern Baptists have rejected
proposals to rename the convention eight times since 1965. The last was
in 2004, when messengers to the convention voted 55 percent to 45
percent against then-President Jack Graham’s suggestion to appoint a
committee to study a new name to better reflect the convention’s
geographical scope.

Conventional wisdom holds that the
“Southern” designation -- a holdover from North-South separation prior
to the Civil War -- is a hindrance to appealing to converts beyond the
Bible Belt. A new study by LifeWay Research, however, found that
Southern Baptists have a more negative image in areas where they are
better known.

Polling by the research arm of the SBC publisher LifeWay Christian Resources found
that a majority of Americans -- 53 percent -- have a favorable
impression of Southern Baptists. Forty percent, however, said they have a
negative impression, ranking Southern Baptists behind Methodists and
Catholics in popularity but ahead of Mormons and Muslims.

Americans in the South (40 percent) and West (44 percent) were found
more likely to have an unfavorable opinion than those in the Northeast
(34 percent) and Midwest (36 percent).

Americans age 18-29
were least likely to have a somewhat favorable opinion (26 percent) and
the most likely to have a very unfavorable opinion (25 percent).

LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer said many would likely see the research as “a bit of a Rorschach Test -- people will see in it what they want to see.” He opened the comments section on his blog to discussion of what the findings might mean.

Ideas ranged from
the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church giving Baptists a bad name to “our
stubborn resistance to change/increasing methodological irrelevance.”

“If I were a betting man, I'd say part of it is the impression that
Baptists are fighting and ‘against’ things,” Stetzer offered. “Then, I
would add that some of it is that Southern Baptists believe things that
the world does not like…. You can fix the first part but not the
second.”

Draper didn’t offer many hints to what the task force,
which has no formal authority and will report to the Executive
Committee by invitation of the president, might recommend, but he told
Baptist Press that no one on the 19-member task force believed the word
“Baptist” should be removed from the convention’s name.