The Southern Baptist Convention is once again discussing a name change. I hope they do it this time.
The president of the SBC, Bryant Wright, recently told the SBC executive committee in a Nashville meeting that he had appointed a task force to look at a possible name change. Giving up a 166-year old name for this denomination will not be easy to do. But make no mistake about it—this should be done for the sake of the gospel and the witness of the SBC to Americans.
Wright said the SBC name represented a region of the country when the denomination is now scattered to every part of America. What this means, quite simply, is that the name SBC is simply not accurate. It wasn’t accurate forty-one years ago when I pastored a little SBC congregation in suburban Chicago but it is really not accurate in the 21st century. SBC churches are now in all 50 states and thousands of missionaries have taken the gospel all over the planet. Jonathan Merritt rightly notes: “It’s safe to assume that if the denomination were forming today, the name ‘Southern Baptist Convention’ wouldn’t even be considered” (USA Today, September 26, 2011).
Al Mohler rightly notes that the SBC is not driven by a “Southern agenda nor a Southern vision. In the context of the United States, ‘Southern’ refers to a region. That region gave birth to the Southern Baptist Convention, but it no longer contains it” (USA Today, September 26, 2011).
The real problem here is not about a region of the country. The real problem has been identified for some time and this is not a conservative/liberal issue in any sense of the term. A 2006 Center for Missional Research/Zogby poll found that more than 40% of those between the ages of 18-24 said knowing theat the name of a church was Southern Baptist was a negative. I would have guessed that the number would have been higher.
The SBC has often been a major player in the culture wars. This is slowly changing as a new generation of leaders are more focused on mission and discipleship. I applaud this change, support friends who are engaging in it directly with my prayers and friendship and hope and pray the SBC soon changes its name to reflect its growing missional intention. The church in America needs a healthy and mission-oriented SBC now more than ever!