08 December 2011

Southern Baptist Name Change?

Is a big change in the cards for the nation's largest Protestant denomination?  A couple of articles I've seen in the past few days indicates that it could be.  The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States, is considering changing its name after a poll indicated that 40% of Americans would refuse to go to one of their churches.

In the era of the mega-church, we've seen the influence of marketing strategies and the equivalent of customer satisfaction surveys.  Is this just one more attempt to cater to the public at large?  Or is it actually, as Convention President Bryan Wright said, just an attempt to remove barriers that turn people away.  The association is apparently not removing Baptist from their name, so there will still be a tie to the historical "denomination" (some Baptists don't like being thought of as a denomination).

One of the reason for this consideration is a downward trend in memberships.  In the current market-driven environment, it is quite easy for people to just leave a congregation that they don't like and find another.  In the days before the Second Great Awakening, this was more difficult.  Historian Nathan Hatch emphasized the democratization of American Christianity that this event brought about.  With this democratization, and earlier moves to religious toleration, the power of state churches eroded immensely (the Congregational Church remained established in some New England States into the 19th century).  This brought the ability for people choose their congregations more easily.

There could be the question of whether this would change the theological and doctrinal stands to which Southern Baptists have traditionally held?  Church officials argue that it won't.  If so, they probably won't change people's opinion of them with a simple name change.  The question then becomes, if they truly hold these offensive beliefs dearly, why would they really want to change?

Please note that I'm not discussing issues related to nineteenth-century opinions about slavery or anything related to race.  I'm only concerned with doctrinal/theological issues.  Any thoughts or comments are appreciated.


  1. Hey Chris, I've talked to a few folks who associate 'southern' with the pre-civil war attitude - i.e. segregation and 'anti-north.'

    One of my opinions? If "Grand Forks Baptist Church" identifies the locale of a Church, then does 'southern' define the locale of the convention? I'm interested & supportive of the SBC and I say CHANGE the name and keep your mission statement to plant churches all over the world.

    Hope you are well. Pete

  2. I personally don't have a problem either way. I do have a problem with excessively market-based concerns and wonder if a name change would actually change anyone's mind. I do wish them global success whichever road they take. We are well and heading that way in a few days.