Southern Baptists may change name, but will keep 'Baptist'
Jimmy Draper, chairman of the 20-member task force appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to study the possibility of changing the name of the church has said that the church was not considering removing "Baptist" in the name of the church.
The task force, after months of considering the issue of a change of name for the church, met on Wednesday in Atlanta, Ga., and took final decisions on its recommendation. The recommendation will be formally presented to the SBC's executive committee and president of the SBC Bryant Wright, on February 20.
As the task force finalized its recommendation on the proposal of name change for SBC, LifeWay Research, an agency of the SBC, released a study which said that 53 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Southern Baptists. The study said that 40 percent have an unfavorable view. The survey also said that non-church members have significantly higher rates of unfavorable impression of the church.
The Christian Post
reports that 2,000 Americans were surveyed in the poll, out of which 35 percent strongly agreed that they would not join any Southern Baptist church. 44 percent said knowledge that a church was Southern Baptist would negatively affect their decision to join or worship at the church. Only 10 percent of those polled said it would have no negative effect on their decision.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, told The Christian Post
“The words ‘southern’ and ‘baptist’ both have connotations for people. 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."
According to Stetzer, the name discourages some people from associating with the church because of its historical connections. Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said that while the church's goal was not simply to become popular it was important that the church's name and what it connotes to people does not hinder propagation of the gospel.
Draper said that the task force was not surprised at the results of the LifeWay Research survey and the recommendation the task force will be presenting to the church executive committee. He said they “pretty well confirmed things that we expected, and I don't think it was necessarily a surprise.”
Not everyone is happy with the move to change the name of the church. The Christian Post
reports that the Tennessee Baptist Convention of the SBC voted last month to oppose name change. AP
reports that Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., has also strongly opposed proposals to change the name of the church. The pastor said:
"We're very conservative, very biblically based. We always have been known for that...To take 'Southern' out of our name would be to water down our theology...and hide who were are as Baptists."
Drake says he will not change the name of his church if the church's executive committee approves a name change. AP
reports that Southern Baptist Churches are independent and a church may use the name its prefers.
The Southern Baptist Convention
is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with 16 million members, but the church has been faced with the challenge of declining membership in recent times. AP reports that the latest figures released by the church early in the year showed that membership decline began recently in spite of renewed missionary effort. The figures showed total membership declined in 2010 for the fourth consecutive year. The church is looking to take action to stop the decline. According to Jimmy Draper,
"If we don't aggressively plant churches and lead people to Christ, we become increasingly irrelevant to the world around us."
The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 after it split with northern Baptists in a dispute over the institution of slavery and whether slave owners could be allowed into missionary work. The split was followed by a civil war which the southern Confederate States of America