How One Baptist Denomination Addressed Their Name Change (Because of Their Church Planting Focus)

Southern Baptists are talking about a name change. The stated reason: to help church planting. Much research needs to be done, and a task force is in place to ask the right questions. Yet, perhaps two helpful questions are: has anyone had this question before and what did they do?

The Baptist General Convention is a conservative, evangelical denomination with, for a point of reference, well-known pastors like Leith Anderson and John Piper. (For more context, I’ve blogged about them on my personal blog.) Also, I wrote about them in my recent Baptist Press analysis of the low SBC church planting numbers. As I wrote in the article:

Let’s look at a Baptist group with even more impressive results. The Baptist General Conference (also called Converge Worldwide) planted 64 churches last year in a denomination of 1,150 churches — a rate of 5.5 percent.

In the NAMB presentation at the SBC annual meeting, NAMB President Kevin Ezell announced that NAMB can say with certainty that 769 churches were planted in the SBC this past year. Since we have 45,727 churches, that means we planted at a rate of 1.68 percent last year. Therefore the SBC is almost a percentage point less than what the Assemblies of God does and about a third of what the BGC does. (Or, put another way, the Baptist General Conference planting rate is more than 300 percent that of the SBC’s.) The SBC is below the rate that most scholars think is needed for basic growth, which may contribute to our membership decline…

[T]he Baptist General Conference is planting churches at a much higher rate than Southern Baptists — and guess what? — they have almost doubled the size of their denomination in the last 20 years.

In case you are wondering, the SBC potentially would have 30 million members right now if we had that same focus. Can you imagine the implications of a giving, going and growing SBC with more than 30 million members? Friends, communities and nations would be impacted for the glory of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

In 2008, the BGC discussed changing their name and decided to do so. So, what did they say and what did they do? Here is the statement directly from their website:

Our Missional Name

Converge Worldwide has made several name changes over its history in order to address the changing composition of its church attendees. As the ethnic makeup diversified, the original Swedish Baptist General Conference of America became the Baptist General Conference. Toward the end of the 20th century, that name began to lose its cultural currency.

In the late 2000s, more than a fifth of all BGC churches had been planted within the past 15 years. In order to seek a receptive audience in their communities, a scant few wanted to identify themselves by the name Baptist. They held to Baptist convictions, but didn’t want to spend precious time refuting stereotypes of other Baptist leaders or groups. Meanwhile, the name Baptist was putting valuable missionaries and their national partners at risk in several countries overseas. Converge leaders saw the need to make a change.

In 2008 the board of overseers approved a new missional name, Converge Worldwide, while retaining the historic name Baptist General Conference in some settings and for legal purposes. Many church planters and missionaries find the new name helpful in their efforts to expand Christ’s kingdom. Our historic beliefs and values stand unchanged, but the new name helps new generations to continue the mission begun many generations before.

Now, for full disclosure: I have consulted with Converge Worldwide on their denominational reorganization (though I was not involved in the name discussion) and their president and I will be doing their national church planting conference in 2012.

The statement speaks for itself. As we consider the future, it’s best to get all the facts– and their experience is yet another one to consider.mobile games rpg

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  38Comments

  1. Rick   •  

    Thanks for the thoughts here. A few things to keep in mind. 1. This is a tiny little convention where two voices have even more disproportionate influence. 2. This tiny little convention does not have anything akin to the CP. 3. The historicity the Souths’ fall and rise has never been any of their concern. 4. Planting 230 churches in 11 years really isn’t that big of a deal.

  2. Ed Stetzer   •     Author

    Rick,

    This would be a mid-sized denomination– not tiny. I can introduce you to some tiny ones. The SBC is just so ginormous. ;-)

    Of course, you are right about the CP and the South– but hopefully every example is not discounted because it is not exactly the SBC.

    This is as close as it gets to the same question. The Tennessean cites the BGC (in the SBC name change article) as a “name change success story“:

    There will be lots to learn and many voices to hear– and none of them will be “just right.”

    If we discount the leaders of the northeast state conventions because they have not done well in church planting, then discount the experience of other denominations that have done well, then we discount the research that points one way of another, well… we can’t learn from anywhere.

    I am actually not saying you are doing that… but I think I just had to get out a little rant. ;-)

    Instead, let me encourage everyone (me included) to listen broadly and willingly as information comes in. There will be helpful info all over the place.

    Thanks,

    Ed

  3. David   •  

    I believe the Assembly of God # you mentioned, I’m a planter with the SBC in Texas; and in our community they’re out here agressively planting more churches than Baptists.

  4. Rick   •  

    Ed,
    Tiny in comparison to the SBC.
    Other voices are nice to consider as long as we remember Piper’s convention is 3% the size of SBC.

  5. David Drake   •  

    As a Converge church planter I can testify to two things: 1. We have had no theological drift since our name change
    2. It has honestly removed an unnecessary barrier to sharing the gospel for us. As baptists we sometime forget that not everyone is familiar with all the great things about being baptist that we are. We forget that some of them might have preconceived notions about what being “baptist” is. We have found that when we take out the name baptist it is much easier for us to gain a foothold to share who Jesus is, make disciples and baptize them…which is I think what being truly baptist is all about. :)

  6. Mike Dunger   •  

    I’m not opposed to a name change altogether, but i’d rather see revival instead of renaming.

    That said, I’m one of those rebels who fellowship, serve and minister with brothers of other denominations. I’ve got scores of Assembly of God brothers that I love dearly & we regularly cross-pollinate at each other’s men’s ministry gatherings. I say that to say that I’m NOT an enemy or in competition with Bible preaching denoms that we SLIGHTLY disagree with. What about a name change in conjunction with mergers & unity among the Church?

  7. Jason   •  

    Doesn’t the fact that you used the BGC name work against the argument, though?

    They are not known simply as “Converge Worldwide” but as “Converge Worldwide aka the Baptist General Convention”. The name change didn’t distance themselves from their former name, it simply added a name that can be used to speak of them.

    I am not against a name change at all…but I am not sure what it will actually gain us in church planting. Hopefully the task force will shed light on that…in an honest manner, not one with an agenda.

  8. Nick P.   •  

    “Planting 230 churches in 11 years really isn’t that big of a deal.”

    Here’s to hoping that’s an opinion you hold loosely.

  9. Chris Aiken   •  

    Ed,
    Great post with good insights. As a church planter in the Northeast, I found nothing helpful about the name SBC. It was at best, NEUTRAL, and at worst a liability (as I remember trying to explain that we were “southern” but actually global. A common response was “southern to what…Canada?”) As an lifelong and convictional SBC guy who now pastors a church in the South again..being SBC is not necessarily a liability, so it is at best a “positive” and at worst “neutral.”

    So, the question for me to ask is whether having a more “neutral” (less charged) name would hurt me in the South. I think not…and if it would be helpful to the cause of Christ in the Northeast, Northwest, and Southwest…then why wouldn’t I want to help my fellow Kingdom Agents who are working in these areas?

    I love the SBC. Again… it is convictional. If she ever loses her theological moorings or missional impetus, then convictionally that will change. Why? Because I am more loyal to the Lord than I am to a name or to a tradition or even to a wonderful missionary people called SBC.

    Thanks for leading!!!

  10. William   •  

    Baptist General Conference to Converge Worldwide.

    I can’t see the SBC going to a trendy name. Sorry.

    If some SBC leaders have something in mind, I wish they would speak up about it. As I navigate Bryant Wright’s name change website, I don’t see any place to view the suggested names.

  11. The BGC to Converge Worldwide is an excellent example and the size difference has nothing to do with your point. What is going to be harder for the SBC is getting consensus on what a new name would be. It hard to turn such a big ship but at the rate of less than two percent, it is more than worth considering if it would help the mission go forward.

    Sneezing at the 230 churches of the BGC and the rate of their planting reveals more hubris than humility and is exactly the attitude that will accelerate the decline of the SBC if not changed.

  12. Jason   •  

    Chris,

    I am confused, how is someone being confused about the nature of the SBC including the word “southern” an actual liability? Confusing, sure, I can see that…but a TRUE liability?

    I was on staff at a church in Denver for a few years, and this was never a problem there. I also never really mentioned the SBC, there is not much need to do so. In evangelism I definitely never mentioned the SBC, why would I? When people joined our church they were more concerned with our church itself than doctrinal affiliations, it seems, as no one questioned the SBC name at all.

    As I said before, I am not opposed to a name that more accurately reflects our global nature, but I am not convinced that it will change effectiveness or that there is a REAL liability in the use of the SBC name. Any negative reaction I have ever received in the name has been to the stances that the SBC has taken theologically or culturally…since those are not changing, I am not sure what the name change will actually gain us in regard to effective ministry as those offenses will remain under a new name.

    I am open to the discussion…and interested in what the task force finds out.

  13. Mitchell Landress   •  

    The size of the convention should and the trendiness of a name should not be the issue. Ed is right. Our name needs to reflect our mission and if the name is a hinderance then a change must at least be considered. We need to hear from our missionaries to determine if the name is a hinderance or not.

    This is another defining time in the life of the SBC. I am certain that if a name change is needed we can and will do it. Not for trend and not for show, but to better reach the nations with the gospel of Christ.

  14. J.E, Hail, Jr.   •  

    Why don’t we change our name to the Midwest Baptist Convention? Since that is where I have lived and served for the last 20 years. I wonder how the churches in the south would feel about that name. They probably would hate the name because that is not who they are. Southern Baptists are not going to change their name, because the majority of Southern Baptists live in the south and they don’t want to change. But I can tell you as a former pastor and now a missionary, the name is a hindrance to sharing the gospel and planting churches outside of the south. If we want to reach more people then a change of identity would help from my perspective. ” I have become all things to all men, that I may win some.”

  15. Ken   •  

    I’ve asked several people to explain how changing the name of the SBC is going to change people’s perception of us. Thus far, I have received no responses. In my opinion, that alone speaks volumes.

    I don’t want the SBC to worship tradition, but neither do I want us to worship fads. In my opinion, we are dangerously close to doing the latter.

  16. Doc B   •  

    I would assume that anyone who would say that planting 230 churches in 11 years “isn’t that big of a deal” has planted significantly more than that themselves. So I’ll defer to Rick in that he’s got a lot more church planting experience than most of us. I have a couple points of disagreement/discussion, though-

    (1) If the baggage of the legacy of the Confederacy is a barrier to the gospel that we can’t overcome (for example, by changing our name), the we need to just go away. Completely. Substitute ‘historical legacy’ for ‘eye’ in Jesus words in Mt 5:29 if you need further clarity.

    (2) The fact that the BGC doesn’t have anything akin to the CP is a statement in their favor, not against them. They’ve managed to plant churches at the rate that they have without hundreds of millions of dollars.

    On another tack, as big a barrier to church planting as our name might be our attitude toward new congregations. We have a tendency (not all, but some, including some in positions of influence) toward a bigger-is-better approach to the local church. We’d rather program ourselves to mega-church status than plant new congregations in logical places in our community (knowing these plants reduce our market audience). Until we overcome this tendency, changing our name won’t help.

    Yes, we can learn a lot from them. We need to ‘listen and listen good’, as they say down heah in the south.

    I realize I sound overly critical in this response, and don’t mean to sound that way. But this discussion on the name change will be focused on two things: what we’ve done poorly and how we can do better. Describing what we’ve done poorly is usually going to sound overly critical. Describing what we can do better may sound overly optimistic. That’s the nature of the beast.

  17. Les Puryear   •  

    Is God hindered by the current name of our convention?
    No.

    Do the words “Southern Baptist Convention” tie God’s hands in changing a person’s heart?
    No.

    Is this an issue of humanistic pragmatism vs biblical principles? Yes.

    Man’s ideas will always fail. Fads are fleeing failures.

    Fear God. Walk in all His ways.

  18. Les Puryear   •  

    “fleeting” not “fleeing.” Sorry

  19. Mitchell Landress   •  

    In response to Ken: I think a name change would speak volumes for at least one reason. To say you are wrong is one thing, but to take action against that wrong goes beyond words. We have admitted the error of our past, but a name change would offer proof that we mean what we say and are willing to go to great lengths to prove that both our intentions and repentance are genuine.

  20. Jason   •  

    JE Hail said: “But I can tell you as a former pastor and now a missionary, the name is a hindrance to sharing the gospel and planting churches outside of the south.”

    OK. As someone who has pastored outside of the south, and midwest, I did not have that experience.

    I have a couple thoughts:

    1. The name of the convention should have zero affect in sharing the Gospel with people. Why is anyone bringing up the SBC when sharing the Gospel? I am not winning them to the SBC, but to Christ. I understand we end up talking about our local churches in that process, but our local church is not “southern” so that should not impact it at all. If people are really getting turned off because an affiliation that a local church has with an organization located in the south, I’m not sure how a name change will help that.

    2. Any negative response from the SBC I have faced has been about the beliefs and policies of the SBC, not the name. Those beliefs aren’t changing, so a name change won’t affect those.

    3. I am curious about the responses from church planters in some areas. I want to hear specifically how things are a hindrance to them, and if those hindrances will be removed with a name change. Is the problem “southern” in the name or is the problem a bias from people in those regions against the south? Is the problem the name or the beliefs? How and why are they promoting themselves and bring the SBC into the discussion? There are a lot of factors involved. Maybe, just maybe, the church plants are struggling for other reasons.

    4. If this was CLEAR that it was a hindrance, change it today! But I am skeptical that it is really a factor at all – and I speak from experience on that.

    5. I am all for a name change for the purpose of better representing who we are and the mission of the convention. (Mitch had great points on that, and I agree.) I just don’t want us to use emotional ploys like “people aren’t being saved because we have the word ‘southern’ in our name”, which is what this “hindrance” argument basically is. We need to be better than that. Sadly, we as the SBC have often fallen back on cheap emotional arguments rather than substantive ones. Let’s not do that here.

    6. I think one thing that should be instructive here is that we need to make sure our mission is clear. Maybe the fact that our reputation might need repair should point us to changing the inside (our focus – lining up our mission with Christ’s mission) before we just change the outside (name). Just a thought.

  21. Bill   •  

    Dr. Stetzer,

    I believe that this is a bit too early in our church planting emphasis to be considering a name change. If we are doing evangelism and church planting well, the SBC name should not be (and from my experience is not) a hindrance. I don’t think that anyone is going to say to themselves “Boy, that is a great church. The preacher is fantastic at preaching the whole counsel of God, the people are friendly and inviting, the music was excellent. I loved it. If its affiliated convention just did not have ‘southern’ in the name, I would attend and join that church.” Maybe someone will come forward and explain how often that is or something like this is happening. That seems to be the big argument in favor of the name change – that the word “southern” is an impediment to church planting. How so? If we are doing church planting well, I just can’t see how this is a big deal. Maybe the problem is that many of the SBC church planters are just a few year out of seminary (or don’t have any formal theological education) or need some structural assistance that the SBC has not been providing.

    My impression from the recent GCR discussions, at least as it pertains to church planting, was that the NAMB was going to retool and repurpose to support and focus on church planting because that was an area that the SBC has not historically done well on a consistent basis. That indicates to me that there has not been a sustained Southern Baptist church planting effort. Could that possibly be the reason why we have had difficulty planting churches? Could it possibly be another reason other than because we have the word “southern” in our name? I think that discretion requires that we wait a few years to see if our renewed efforts at church planting are going to bear fruit. If after a reasonable amount of time we start to get reports back from our own, SBC supported and SBC organized church planting efforts that the name Southern Baptist Convention is a liability, then we can consider a name change at that time. Let’s face it, Dr. Ezell has been at the helm of the NAMB for about fifty-four weeks; barely over a year. To my knowledge we have not yet begun our concerted efforts for SBC planted churches. Yet, we have determined that those efforts will be seriously hindered by the word southern despite our best efforts? That does not make sense.

    Bill

  22. John Newland   •  

    Last I checked, the “Southern” part of our name came from a very unbiblical position that our forbears took and we have since publicly repented of. Also, last I checked, the Bible says that when we repent we leave the old ways of sin, including our identity with it. But I’m sure many of our number will prefer to hide behind tradition or history or regional majority.

    We need to be honest with ourselves if we hope to point the lost to Christ in this generation.

  23. Doc B   •  

    Les,

    Is God hindered by changing the name of our convention? No.

    Does changing the name “Southern Baptist Convention” tie God’s hands in changing a person’s heart? No.

    (Kinda shoots down your conclusion, I think.)

    But there’s a third question: Will changing the name make it easier for missionaries and church planters in areas outside the south? Maybe. Possibly.

    That makes the question worth asking, and I think that’s all the president is requesting. Ask the questions.

  24. Dave Miller   •  

    Les,

    Would God be hindered by the changing of our name?
    No.

    Do the absence of the words “Southern Baptist Convention” tie God’s hands in changing a person’s heart?
    No.

    Is keeping the name an issue of human tradition vs biblical principles? Yes.

    Man’s ideas will always fail. Fads are fleeing failures.

    Fear God. Walk in all His ways.

    Every argument you made could be turned around just as easy.

    Evidently, from your comment, there is a biblical principle at stake in keeping the name and not changing it. What scriptural principle would we be violating by changing the name of the SBC?

  25. Doc B   •  

    Jason,

    You raise some good, even excellent, points. It’s folks like you (folks who’ve served outside the traditional ‘south’) whose voices need to be heard in this discussion.

    We need to hear lots of those voices. The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’. This process will take some serious though and analysis, not for the sake of making God happy (I think we’d be right either way in that regard), but to maintain unity and cooperation by making a logical and justifiable decision.

  26. Paul Duncan   •  

    I’m up for trusting our elected leadership unless they’re leading us into sin. I hope the church I pastor would give me the same grace on such leadership issues. And they just want to look at the issue again. There’s been no decision yet.

    Clearly everyone has their own opinions. Let’s trust these guys who I know aren’t looking for another thing to spend their free time on. If there’s greater benefit in the change then lets change.

  27. Matthew Cannizzaro   •  

    The SBC numbers on church planting is alarming and sad. With a denomination this large and with a heart for missions, the number of churches planted should be a hondres fold. Each SBC church should be palnting a church once every two to three years. What happened to the heart felt desire to see the lost saved? What happened to the tears in seeing people come to know Jesus? Where has our love for the Lord gone? We need to have a revivial in each of our lives and realize we must fulfill the Lords will. I am a church planter with a desire for the state of WA and what I hear from so many pastors is they dont feel led to help home missions. When we realize that our own back yard is a mission field we will begin to have a longing desire to plant churches to reach each and every neighborhood in the US.

  28. Ken   •  

    I think a name change is a very superficial way of rectifying our past mistakes. Last year we made a pledge to have more ethnic and racial diversity among our leadership, and some are even talking about electing a black president next year. If we follow through on these measures, it will make a more lasting impression than a name change ever will.

  29. Ed Stetzer   •     Author

    Ken,

    That is a great comment. Thanks for it!

    Ed

  30. Mitchell Landress   •  

    Ken is right. If a name change is the sum total of our efforts toward rectifying our past mistakes it would be superficial. But if added to our current trajectory, could still prove to be of great value.

  31. Ken   •  

    Is the term “southern” synonymous with bigotry? If you think so, then maybe you need to examine yourself before you judge others.

  32. Ken   •  

    John Newland says: “Last I checked, the ‘Southern’ part of our name came from a very unbiblical position that our forbears took and we have since publicly repented of.”

    With all due respect, you should check again. Not all southerners supported slavery, and not all northerners opposed it. As a southerner, I really find it offensive that so many people automatically equate “southern” with racism and bigotry. Maybe some people up north need to repent of their own bigotry.

  33. John   •  

    I have a suggestion for the new name: The Baptist catholic Church, and we call ourselves Baptist catholics. (You know how important we consider the capitalization of the word “catholic” in Baptist circles.) This new name will accomplish 2 things.

    First, the inclusion of “catholic” in the name will demonstrate that SBC’ers have finally decided to focus more on Jesus’ prayer for visible Christian unity in John 17 than on St. Paul’s 1-verse mention of separation, usually misinterpreted to justify our near-genetic fractious tendencies, in 2 Corinthians 6.

    Secondly, using the word “catholic” to refer to ourselves will demonstrate our adherence to the historical Baptist tendency to annoy the Roman Catholics. You just know the Vatican will have a conniption fit, something sure to please many traditional Southern Baptists and probably tilt the balance in favor of changing the name.

  34. Matt   •  

    People that object to a name change are stuck on church mode. Church mode is not what wins souls or builds Gods kingdom. Its where we make tradition and preference superior in value to God and the mission he has called us to. Let’s not overcomplicate the matter. “baptist” is not an essential or anything close to one. If lost people are even marginally turned away from opportunities to hear the gospel because of this word, then any rational person can see that it should be dropped. The discussions are about the politicking that is necessary to keep all the “baptist” from freaking out. And in my opinion the problem in most baptist churches is that they are to concerned about doing things like they’ve always been done instead searching out new ways to reach the lost. Whether it’s popular or not the SBC needs to change the name as a message to their churches that we are about the kingdom, not our traditions. Btw I am a minister at a SBC church, and I say these things because i love the SBC.

  35. Sam Currin   •  

    We should think twice before changing our name–for a number of reasons. First, while we are planting churches north of the Mason Dixon, there is a tremendous need for new church plants in the South as well. Northerners are relocating to the South in droves. Second, some are overreacting to the “Southern” part of our name. When most citizens don’t have a clue in what century the Civil War was fought, it’s far-fetched to think they are concerned with the history of the SBC or have any idea about it at all. Third, the American Baptist Churches (formerly Northern Baptists) have a great name, but are closing churches–which just goes to prove that a denomination’s theology is the most important factor in growth. Finally, praise for the “Converge Worldwide” name doesn’t impress me; unless you told me it was a church, I wouldn’t have any idea what kind of organization it was.

  36. Ken   •  

    If we drop the label “Baptist”, then we might as well disband as a denomination.

  37. CASEY   •  

    Those who “whine”(no matter where they are) about the name being a hinderance are wimps and fall faint at the slightest of questioning. It takes a strong Christian Baptist to ‘keep the main thing the main thing’…and this ‘name change’ is simply a diversionary tactic. We need strong Christian Southern Baptists who can lead and keep the proper perspective. For every pastor in NY, Michigan or N.D. who says “Southern” is a drawback…I can find three who say it is no big deal. It’s all in leading to the “main thing” and staying focused on Him.

  38. Pingback: Name Change « Musings on Missions, Life, and God

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *