ust what is in a name? Neither churches nor denominations often alter their names. Oh, they will change their names when they merge. Or when they fracture into separate denominations or congregations. But generally, they feel very strongly about their historic names.
The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s most popular Protestant denomination, decided to not change its name, but let local churches that don’t like the “Southern” label call themselves Great Commission Baptists instead, The Tennessean reported.
Leaders of the Nashville-based denomination decided last year to once again reconsider its name. A task force ultimately recommended it retain its identity as Southern Baptists, despite regional or even racial connotations with that name.
Southern Baptists in the South had mixed feelings on the idea. Especially outside of metropolitan areas, many Southern Baptists are proud to have it as a part of their church identities, said Gary Ledbetter, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention spokesman.
Ledbetter said he knew it would be nearly impossible to have a full name change and adopting the “doing-business-as” name meets people’s concerns without the legal, functional troubles of a new name.
“The times are different. There is a lot of effort put into trying to understand a new generation of leaders, and I think this is part of it,” he said.
If the Southern Baptist Convention had decided to officially drop the Southern part of its name, the Texas convention, too, would have to change its name to one that won’t get it confused with other Baptist conventions in the state.
The alternative name of Great Commission Baptists references Jesus’ call to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20).
Ed Stetzer, head of the Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research, predicts that over time, more Southern Baptist Churches will identify under that new moniker.
“If nothing else, every time we think of our additional name, we will be reminded of what we should be doing,” he said. “Clinging solely to our legal name, Southern Baptist Convention, would have worked functionally, but GCB speaks to our DNA. We don’t need to be primarily ‘Southern’ or ‘conventional,’ but a group of churches on mission.”