By Travis Loller/The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A panel for the Southern Baptist Convention recommended Monday that its leadership approve a new, add-on description for the denomination — “Great Commission Baptists” — but stopped short of a complete, legal name change.
Officials described the new term as a way to give an official, sanctioned identity to affiliated churches and believers who don’t want to use the term “Southern.”
The Rev. Bryant Wright, president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, has said he is concerned that the “Southern” name is too regional and hinders the evangelistic faith’s effort to expand beyond the South.
The panel rejected a complete name change, citing the legal costs and difficulties. They also noted the positive associations many hold with the Southern Baptist name, such as with its well-regarded disaster relief organization.
A recent survey conducted by the SBC’s own Lifeway Research firm gives weight to the idea that the name does drive away some potential members.
Of the 2,000 Americans surveyed, 40 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the denomination and 44 percent of respondents said that knowing a church was Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to visit or join the church.
Although 53 percent of respondents overall had a favorable view of the Southern Baptists, the high negatives are a concern for a denomination in which spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a fundamental to their faith.
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.