NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The nation’s largest protestant denomination will definitely remain “Baptist,” but leaders are thinking about whether it will be “Southern” for much longer.
Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright was expected to present the recommendation of a task force assigned to study a name change to the denomination’s executive committee at a meeting Monday night. Any name change would have to be approved at the SBC’s annual conventions the next two years.
Wright has said he is concerned the name is too regional and hinders efforts to plant new churches outside of the South. Others outside of church leadership say the name has become a liability because it is too often associated with divisive, partisan politics.
Changing a name can be a dangerous thing and the Southern Baptist Convention may not be exempt from its consequences, said Rev. Paul Lambert, of the North River Community Church in Ellenton.
“People are very familiar with the name,” Lambert said. “They either respect it a great deal or they don’t.”
About 40 percent of American adults surveyed online said they had an unfavorable view of Southern Baptists, according to a study conducted by LifeWay Research. a nonprofit entity of SBC. About 2,114 people were surveyed.
According to LifeWay Research, one of the points of the study was to determine “how the name might impact the interest or connection with a congregation.”
Of the people surveyed, 35 percent said they “strongly agreed” Southern Baptist church was not for them, the study said.
“Our concern is not public relations, politics, positioning or personal agendas,” Jimmy Draper, chairman of the task force said in an October 2011 statement. “We must ask ourselves constantly if there is anything that would help us to reach more people, plant more churches, and penetrate lostness here in the United States and around the world as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.”
SBC, founded in 1845, has more than 16 million members attending more than 45,000 churches in the U.S., according to its website. Lambert said SBC represents the largest group of protestants in the country.
If a name change is proposed, it could take several years before the new name is enforced, Lambert said.
In the October statement, Draper said the task force could not “envision a name change that would not include “Baptist” in the name.”
North River Community Church, though affiliated with SBC, would not be affected by a possible name change because it operates as a nondenominational church, Lambert said, The Ellenton church was organized in 2008 and has about 25 members, he said.
“Denominations in America are struggling right now, and that’s why it may not work,” Lambert said of a possible name change. “I don’t think (SBC) will pick up more people. I don’t know if people will drift away, but I don’t think it’ll draw more people.”
While the 16 million member denomination continues to plant new churches in the U.S. and around the world, it has seen a decline in baptisms, church attendance and membership in recent years.
Herald reporter Miriam Valverde contributed to this report.