During the recent SBC Executive Committee meeting, SBC LIFE was able to sit down for a few minutes with Bryant Wright, president of the SBC, and Jimmy Draper, chairman of the task force Wright appointed to advise him on the advisability of proposing a name change for the SBC to the Convention. SBC LIFE also solicited and received email replies to its questions.
SBCLIFE: Dr. Wright, you went on record last fall stating a strong interest in changing the name of the Convention. Having been a participant in the task force discussions, have you changed your position?
Wright: Yes, I changed my position as the task force came together with tremendous unity. All of us were most of all seeking God's will in this study. With the autonomy of the state conventions and churches, we felt it was important not to make a legal name change, not to mention the incredible cost of doing so. So we felt a "descriptor" or brand name would be the best way to go. This allows us to keep our legal name but gives freedom and encouragement to all churches and entities to focus on "Great Commission Baptists," because it so clearly describes who we are and want to be—from our origin to the present and into the future.
SBCLIFE: Bryant mentioned two factors that led him to change his position about a name change: "the autonomy of state conventions and churches" and "the incredible cost" of changing the name. What "costs" did the task force identify—financial, relational, other—and how "incredible" were they?
Draper: The "costs" came in several ways. First, the financial costs, which no one could even dare predict. They include changing legal papers by the thousands that refer to the Southern Baptist Convention. Then, the uncertainty about whether or not we would be able to retain our "grandfather" position gained from the Act of the Georgia Legislature in 1845, which exempts us from some of the requirements of modern non-profit legislation and their requirements. Then, there would be the cost to "rebrand" our name, to recapture all the equity we have in the name Southern Baptists. Additionally there would be the expenses to every church, association, state convention that would have signage expenses, legal changes to change the name of Southern Baptist where it appeared, etc. The value of the name change just is not worth the risks!
SBCLIFE: What about the autonomy of state conventions and local churches?
Draper: We are intertwined in our cooperation and any change in the SBC format affects every entity in Southern Baptist life, whether a church, association, state convention, or SBC entities themselves. Many of the state conventions make reference to the Southern Baptist Convention in their charters, names, and other documents. Many churches refer to it. For instance, the church I just finished serving as interim pastor has in their constitution that if the church were to close, all the properties would go to the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no way to unwind our cooperation with other Baptist entities that work alongside the Convention.
SBCLIFE: Can you characterize what the task force meetings were like, how often you met, and how you were able to reach consensus so quickly?
Draper: The task force meetings were incredible. We met twice for about six hours each. We had the advantage of the reports of the previous studies, which saved literally multitudes of meetings. There was never any agenda evident with the members. While some did have strong feelings about the issue, those were never apparent in the meetings as we discussed and prayed through the issues. We never took a vote not to change the name; we just naturally turned away from that in light of the enormous challenges it would have required. When we began talking about a non-legal name, we reached an "ah-ha" moment, and it was unanimous to go forward with it.
SBCLIFE: Bryant, you said you envision churches beginning to use the phrase "Great Commission Baptists." Do you see it catching on?
Wright: Obviously, it will be up to every entity, autonomous state convention, and church, but I believe it will have a great chance of catching on because our entities are especially supportive of this recommendation. As churches start seeing information from the IMB, NAMB, seminaries, and other entities, it can become how we are known.
SBCLIFE: What are some specific ways you and the task force members envision the descriptor "Great Commission Baptists" being used at the local level and across the Convention?
Draper: We believe we have given those who desire a new name the "official okay" from the Convention to do that. We know that every ingredient in SBC life, from the church, association, state, and SBC is absolutely sovereign and that participation in SBC ministry is voluntary. But in the past we have too often criticized those who are more creative and made changes [in how they identify themselves]. Now we have the opportunity to tell them, "It is okay to use another name if you believe it would help you, and we suggest you consider 'Great Commission Baptists.'"
SBCLIFE: A stated motivation for proposing a possible name change for the SBC was to promote an increase in evangelistic effectiveness. Given that the number of baptisms reported by our cooperating churches has declined over the years and the number of Baptists it takes to baptize one new believer in a given year has risen dramatically, how will this name change help?
Wright: I think referring to ourselves as "Great Commission Baptists" will remove barriers to reaching people for Christ outside the South and Southwest and probably in many major cities within the South and Southwest. But the name itself will not reverse the downward trend in baptisms. That reversal will come from a radical reprioritization of the Great Commission by individual Christians and local churches within our Convention.
Draper: Our culture has to change to where we are more given to witnessing and sharing the Gospel. However, there are some who feel that the very name "Southern" would keep some from even being receptive to a Gospel witness. We don't know if that is actually true, but we do not want to have any barrier to spreading the Gospel. Surely, the very name "Great Commission Baptists" would point us to realizing that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is what we are assigned by God to do.
SBCLIFE: Do you think this new descriptor will build greater trust and unity in cooperating together to accomplish the missions and ministries of the Convention, perhaps leading churches to be more inclined to contribute to Kingdom work through the Cooperative Program?
Wright: I don't think the name will have a major impact on churches giving to the Cooperative Program. I think giving will increase when churches feel excitement about the Great Commission being fulfilled through the state conventions, seminaries, IMB, and NAMB. Expecting people to give more when they aren't excited about the mission is futile. But seeing people give more will become a reality when they are excited about the mission.
All through the process, I've been asking God to do the impossible—that the recommendation of the task force would bring greater unity and focus rather than division. I really believe with the way the Holy Spirit has led the task force and with not changing the legal name of the Southern Baptist Convention, the potential for unity is possible. I'm certainly praying that will be the case.
Draper: It will take time. I think in the long term it will strengthen greatly our cooperation together to fulfill the Great Commission. Just the focus on the Great Commission will be a positive force in bringing greater confidence in our cooperative work.
SBCLIFE: How do you see this recommendation affecting our church planting efforts in those regions of the country that are not "southern"?
Wright: I see it as having a very positive impact in two ways. First, by removing unnecessary barriers associated with such a regional name. For example, one of our pastors in the Northeast asked, "Can you imagine starting a Yankee Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama?" Folks would not be flooding in. Second, by being able to explain our mission in the name we use. It's what we are about!
SBCLIFE: Dr. Draper, you have aggressively reached out to younger leaders in the Convention, some of whom have distanced themselves from Convention life. How do you think they will view and react to this recommendation? Will they see it as "business as usual"?
Draper: I believe there is a resurgence of younger ministers being involved in the SBC. Many of them will respond favorably to this suggestion. Others may see it as "business as usual," but at least we are giving them the opportunity to make the change with our approval. The generation of the twenty- to forty-five-year olds is one of the finest generations I have ever seen. They will buy into vision and mission, and this is one way to focus on our main responsibility the Lord gave us!
SBCLIFE: Thank you both for your time. Is there any message you would you like to leave with Southern Baptists as a result of your service on this task force?
Draper: My fervent prayer is that between now and the convention in June there will be adequate coverage of the rationale for the recommendation, and the messengers can vote on it with a full understanding of why we did not recommend a new legal name and why we did recommend the descriptor as being an option for use. If that is so, I have confidence that the Convention will respond positively.
Wright: Let's live up to our name and our heritage. Our Convention has always been at its best when passionately focused on the Great Commission.
SBC Name Change
The task force that advised President Bryant Wright on a possible SBC name change received hundreds of website and e-mail suggestions of possible names for the Convention.
- 586 unique names were suggested by 1,151 individuals
- 19 of the top 20 suggested names and 49 of the top 50 suggested names included the word Baptist
- 105 names were suggested by two or more people; of these, 96 included the word Baptist (92.3 percent)
- 646 of the 670 individuals who suggested one the top 105 names included the word Baptist (96.4 percent)
- 417 of the 586 distinct names suggested included the word Baptist (71.2 percent)
- Of the 169 distinct names that omitted the word Baptist, 160 were suggested by a single individual
- Global was the most common descriptor, appearing in a total of 53 suggested names, of which 18 began "Global Baptist"
- Individual Baptists wanted us to be an Alliance, an Association, a Brethren,
a Church, a Coalition, a Commission, a Community, a Conference,
a Connection, a Convention, a Cooperative, a Fellowship, a Ministry,
a Network, an Organization, a Partnership, a Society, or a Vision
The top twenty names were each suggested by seven or more individuals:
Global Baptist Convention (85)
International Baptist Convention (58)
United Baptist Convention (30)
Evangelical Baptist Convention (25)
Great Commission Baptist Convention (23)
North American Baptist Convention (23)
The Baptist Convention (23)
American Baptist Convention (22)
World Baptist Convention (19)
Worldwide Baptist Convention (19)
Baptist Convention (13)
Baptist Convention of America (11)
National Baptist Convention (10)
Global Baptist Fellowship (9)
Baptist Convention of the United States (8)
Christian Baptist Convention (8)
Gospel Baptist Convention (7)
Bible Baptist Convention (7)
Great Commission Convention (7)
Universal Baptist Convention (7)
- 773 e-mails, calls, letters, and website entries opposed a name change
- 252 additional names were submitted that were couched in vile, angry, even profane language
Information for this analysis was provided by Bryant Wright's office, president of the SBC