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.