Saturday, January 23, 2010

If Heaven Ain't A Lot Like Dixie?

So, the "Southern" in "Southern Baptist Convention" has had the attention of the blogging world lately. Right out of the gate, we ought to acknowledge that the topic is an emotional one. The likelihood of this matter coming to an actual vote—and if it does come to a vote, the outcome of that vote—will be determined at least as much by non-rational factors as it will be determined by lists of reasons pro and con. What's more, I confess that I also have as many feelings as I have thoughts about the question. I will endeavor, in this post, to stick with thoughts and leave the feelings aside.

Thesis to Test

I have seen two logical rationales offered for changing the name of the convention:

  1. The argument from identity: This rationale asserts that the Southern Baptist Convention is not really all that Southern, and that the name therefore does not fit the identity of our convention.

  2. The argument from pragmatics: This rationale asserts that our convention's name poses a practical obstacle to our evangelistic efforts in regions other than the South.

Evidence to Consider: Southern Baptist Identity

How would we test the first argument, the argument from identity? Is the Southern Baptist Convention no longer Southern? One way of examining this thesis would be to look at demographic data describing the SBC. The Association of Religion Data Archives contains a fascinating set of data from the year 2000, showing the geographic distribution of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Geographic Distribution of Southern Baptist Adherents

Fourteen states lie east of and including Oklahoma and Texas and south of and including Missouri, Kentucky, and Virginia. Kansas makes up the outside northwestern corner of this plot of geography, but is not included in this collection of states.

Ranked by number of Southern Baptists living in the state, the top fourteen states are the fourteen Southern states. Collectively, they account for 17,635,679 self-identified Southern Baptists. The other thirty-six states outside the South account for 2,206,936 Southern Baptists.

Thus, a whopping 89% of Southern Baptists live in the South, compared to 11% outside the South.

Geographic Distribution of Southern Baptist Congregations

Ranked by the number of Southern Baptist congregations, the states line up similarly. The fourteen southern states again dominate the listing. One noteworthy exception appears, however—California, one of the largest states in the nation, just edges out Arkansas for the fourteenth spot on the list. Arkansas takes the fifteenth slot.

The fourteen southern states account for 34,365 of the SBC's congregations, or 83%. The other thirty-six states collectively have 7,100 congregations representing 17% of the convention.

Southern Baptist Adherents as a Percentage of State Total Population

California's successful grasping of the fourteenth slot in the previous table might have something to do with the fact that California is so much larger, both in land area and in population, than is Arkansas. What happens when Southern Baptists are measured as a percentage of the state's population?

Over 32% of the population of the Sovereign State of Mississippi identifies itself as Southern Baptist. At the other end of the table, barely 1% of the folks watching a Minnesota Golden Gopher game are likely to be Southern Baptists.

In this category once again the fourteen states of the South take the top fourteen slots in the table. Examine them collectively, and you learn that a full 21% of the people who live in the South identify themselves as Southern Baptists. In contrast, only 1.4% of the people living in the remaining thirty-six states identify themselves as Southern Baptists.


The demographics of the Southern Baptist Convention reveal that the label "Southern" does accurately describe the Southern Baptist Convention, which is preponderantly Southern. In every category, the fourteen states of the South dominate the demographics of the SBC.

Indeed, although I would not advance such an argument, one could make the case that it would be deceptive to call the Southern Baptist Convention anything other than the Southern Baptist Convention—the effect of the change would be to hide the demographic realities of the convention with a name that obscures our very real and inherent regionality.

One could argue with these statistics in a couple of different ways. First, one might assert that having only 10% of the membership of the convention living outside the South is enough to meet the threshold at which the convention should no longer be named the Southern Baptist Convention. This might make sense if the roughly 10% of Southern Baptists living outside the South were evenly distributed among the other states. The tables, however, reveal that a high proportion of Southern Baptists not living in the South live just across one state line from the South. The percentages become even more disproportional when one considers not only Southern Baptists living in the South but also Southern Baptists living clustered around the South.

Second, one might assert that the Southern Baptist Convention cannot be the Southern Baptist Convention if any SBC members or congregations live beyond the confines of the South. In other words, once one, single, solitary Southern Baptist relocates outside the South, we have ceased to be the Southern Baptist Convention according to this hypothetical logic. And there's a certain force of truth to this characterization—although the Southern Baptist Convention is preponderantly Southern, it is not entirely Southern.

Yet it is not uncommon to employ geographical terms in this general rather than precise manner. For example, one could accurately say that California is west of Nevada. And yet, portions of Nevada are actually west of portions of California. When each constituent city of Nevada is considered atomically against each constitutent city of California, one cannot say of California that it lies west of Nevada; when the two states are considered collectively and in general, then the geographical description makes sense. The same is true of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Evidence to Consider: Evangelistic Pragmatics

Preceding are the statistics. As I mentioned at the beginning, many of the factors involved in this topic are emotional rather than factual. The 10% of Southern Baptists might feel offended that the convention has not altered its name in consideration of the tiny minority of Southern Baptists who do not live in the South. A Southern Baptist living in the South might feel offended that anyone would even consider slighting the Southern preponderance of the convention by changing the name. These emotional factors do not easily submit themselves to analysis and are even more resistant to change.

Another argument is more complex, involving a mixture of feelings and ideas: Some suggest that we ought to remove the "Southern" from our name because the word poses a hindrance to evangelism. I say that this argument involves both feelings and ideas because we Southern Baptists feel passionately about the question of evangelism. Make Southern Baptists think about the Great Commission and you have (depending upon your motives and how you use the idea) the power either to make Southern Baptists stop and think or to make them stop thinking at all.

So, if we were setting aside the emotions for a moment and trying to be strictly cerebral, how would we test the thesis that our evangelistic efforts outside the South would be more effective if we were to rename the Southern Baptist Convention?

Comparative Denominational Demographics

One approach might be to go back to the same data source and compare the effectiveness of Southern Baptists outside the South to the effectiveness of other evangelical denominations in the same areas.

Looking at adherents, we find that there are two and only two states that break into the top fourteen when we consider evangelicals beyond the Southern Baptist Convention: California and Illinois. Otherwise, evangelicalism at large seems not to have any substantially different evangelistic effectiveness in seeing people converted beyond the South than do the Southern Baptists. The percentages do change substantially, however (again, largely because of California and Illinois), moving from 88/12 to 64/36 when we consider all evangelicals rather than only Southern Baptists.

Looking at congregations, the impact of non-Southern-Baptists congregations becomes a bit more significant, with Indiana joining Illinois and California in displacing Southern states from the top fourteen. The dramatic demotions of Mississippi (8th among Southern Baptists; 18th among evangelicals at large) and Virginia (11th among Southern Baptists; 16th among evangelicals at large) reveal that evangelical strength beyond the South is bolstered by a larger number of smaller congregations.

When we consider the rate of evangelical adherents in each state's population, we see that all evangelical groups, including all of those without any regional descriptor in their names, are far less effective outside the South than they are inside the South. Evangelicals comprise 30% of Southerners compared to a mere 8.5% of non-Southerners.

Overall, we see that other evangelicals do perform somewhat more consistently between Southern and non-Southern areas, and yet we observe that even those evangelical denominations without the word "Southern" in their names struggle to spread the gospel outside the South compared to what they achieve within the South.

Historical Examples

Beyond these statistical measurements that give us a snapshot of things as they existed in 2000, we can also pull out the home movies and see how things came to be that way.

A large number of denominations have preached the gospel and planted churches in the United States of America—most of them without the word "Southern" in their name. Perhaps the best example for Southern Baptists to consider in comparison would be the American Baptist Churches in the U. S. A. (formerly the Northern Baptist Convention). This denomination is worthy of consideration for two reasons. First, it is a sister denomination to Southern Baptists, being the group from which we separated in 1845. Second, in 1951 the Northern Baptist Convention did precisely what some people want the Southern Baptist Convention to do today—they changed the name of their convention to rid themselves of a regional name. In fact, they took the very name that some Southern Baptists were considering before the Yankees beat us to the punch (much to the consternation of some)!

It is no mystery that the ABC is smaller by an order of magnitude than is the SBC. What you might not have considered before is the geographic distribution of ABC churches. For that, we turn once again to ARDA. The distribution map reveals that the ABC is heavily clustered in the New England states and around the Great Lakes (one stand-alone state that is strong by ABC standards is California, where 170,000 American Baptists reside)

Someone doubtless will complain that American Baptists do not make for a good comparison with Southern Baptists became American Baptists have a different theology than do Southern Baptists. I agree that Southern Baptists and adherents of the American Baptist Churches in the U. S. A. could in fact be characterized differently in their theology. That fact, however, is immaterial to the comparison. Even if one completely accepts the presumption that American Baptist theology will fail where Southern Baptist theology will succeed, the fact remains that American Baptist churches do not fail or succeed with their theology equally across the geography of our country. Also inescapable is the conclusion that American Baptist geographical distribution has not changed substantially since 1951 when they discarded their regional name for a broader name.

Somebody has already done precisely what some people want the Southern Baptist Convention to do today, and the result was a dismal failure.

Another denomination worthy of consideration is the Presbyterian Church in America. Their denominational name is national in scope, but unlike the American Baptist Churches in the U. S. A., the Presbyterian Church in America is a conservative denomination. Yet the geographical distribution map for PCA churches and adherents, just like the map for the SBC, reveals a high population cluster in the Southeast with waning adherence the farther north or west one travels (with the exception of California).

Of course, I welcome the listing by the name-change proponents of all of the denominations who have abandoned a regional name and have then gone on to great and storied effectiveness in regions of the United States where beforehand they were anemic. Apart from hard data to demonstrate that this approach has worked in the renaming of other denominations before, we're left to conclude that other factors besides denominational names (or, alternatively, no factors within our control at all!) are the secret to religious success in the United States but outside the South.

Cultural Captivity Remedied by a Name Change?

On my previous post, a friend of mine and a thoughtful commenter on this site suggested a different, more internal reason for a name change. Perhaps the changing of the name "Southern Baptist Convention" in and of itself would not effect greater receptivity for the gospel when Southern Baptists proclaim it outside the South, but perhaps the changing of the name would change Southern Baptists by liberating us from our Southern parochialism. Andrew asked, "Are we not hidebound in our comfortable Southern (intending both geographic and denominational) ways in our familiar Southern areas that we are lacking the means to reach the lost in America, much less around the globe?"

In other words, maybe the removal of "Southern" from the name "Southern Baptist Convention" would change US, thereby making us do OTHER things that would make us more effective in evangelism and church planting to non-Southerners.

It is a complex question, and one that would be difficult to measure empirically. We can, however, (and did in the comment stream of the post) explore the premise that Southern Baptist churches are held captive by Southern culture.

I replied to Andrew's question in this fashion:

As a historian I would assert that the distinctiveness of Southern culture is at its lowest point since the Colonial period. Everything from media to chain restaurants and big box stores have made it more true than ever before that Boston = Atlanta = Houston = Los Angeles. Of course, these equations are not absolutely true, but they are more true than they have ever been before.

Moving from culture-at-large to church culture, a Cowboy Church movement has arisen largely because the standard Southern Baptist church culture has almost nothing Southern about it. The music is Rock, the marketing is Madison Avenue, the platform dress is Abercrombie & Fitch, and the A-V technology is Times Square.

What's Southern about that?

I did not (as one reader misunderstood) equate "Cowboy" with "Southern" in the comment. Rather, I stated that there was a lack of Southernness in Southern Baptist churches in general, and that the Cowboy churches were able to profit from that lack. To be more specific, of those who graduated with me from Riverside High School, I'd say that generally comparable percentages of the student body listened to country music on the one hand and pop music on the other hand. Southern Baptist churches in the South, on the other hand, have featured in addition to hymnody an almost exclusive selection of pop-sounding Christian music. Southern Gospel is not really representative of recent Southern culture, and no CCM equivalent of the immensely popular music group Alabama has ever been able to break through to prominence.

Country & Western music is more Southern than is pop music. Cowboy churches frequently utilize somewhat-baptized Country & Western music in their worship services. In doing so, they provide worship services that are more compatible with Southern culture as a whole (although Southern culture as a whole is different from Cowboy culture) than are the Bono-clone worship services that have been the vogue in many SBC churches in the South.

Hank Williams Jr. famously opined in a song, "If Heaven ain't a lot like Dixie, I don't want to go." Does the presence of the word "Southern" in the name "Southern Baptist Convention" indicate that SBC members and churches pretty much agree with Bocephus?

I certainly don't feel that way (nor have I ever really liked Hank that much). Do some people feel that way? I don't know. Maybe. But I'm certain of this much: Even if some people do hold that opinion, changing the name of the SBC won't do anything to solve that problem.


Baptist Theologue (Mike Morris) said...

Thanks for this logical presentation.

Matt Brady said...

"Moving from culture-at-large to church culture, a Cowboy Church movement has arisen largely because the standard Southern Baptist church culture has almost nothing Southern about it. The music is Rock, the marketing is Madison Avenue, the platform dress is Abercrombie & Fitch, and the A-V technology is Times Square. What's Southern about that?"

I'm glad you moved that line to your post. It was too good to be lost in a comment stream. I couldn't pass up quoting you on it in my bulletin article this week.

volfan007 said...

Gives everyone something to think about.


peter lumpkins said...


Thanks for fairly stating your ideas on name-change bled dry of, as you imply, bloated emotions. In my own musings on name-change recorded this past week, I consciously attempted to do similarly. Yet, I'll just leave whether I succeeded on any level with the readers who happened to have absorbed the series.

Specifically, however, from my perspective, there exists sufficient factual data to fully settle the issue, unfortunately for the name-change advocates, on the side of the present Southern Baptist Convention, and that for good. Hence, in all honesty, there is no real justification for those of us who see a possible name-change as a floating stick to argue emotionally. Why would we? The factual data seems insurmountable for name-change advocates to overcome.

If I am correct, the temptation will be great for advocates to "yell louder" to make a point for which facts remain conspicuously absent. Those of us who are convinced, given the current data, that name-change is a non-viable idea, must not presumptuously think that no equally seductive danger exists for us. While our danger may not be so much emotion--since the facts speak well enough without it--the danger of arrogance, snobbery, pride, and insensitivity should be far more than enough to keep us humbled before God and men.

Grace, Bart.

With that, I am...

Paul S said...

I am not against a name change, just not sure if it is THAT big a deal.

I pastor a First Baptist Church. We have had good times in the past and bad times. People sure remember the bad. If we changed our names to First Community Church, people would still know that this SBC church still meets in the same building, has the same people and the same past. A name won't change it. Would it help reach NEW people? Maybe, but I would think that the name change would cause more problems than it solves.

People are not interested in the church because it is Baptist, SBC, or whatever, they are disinterested by the way they have been treated. The problem therefore is not the denom name, but the people. What if we worked on changing them before the name?

Just my two cents. Good article, but longer than my attention span ;-)

selahV said...

Born and raised in Virginia. Raised in a So.Bpt. church. Moved to East Hartford, Connecitcut and couldn't find a church like I grew up in. Hubby didn't care anything about going to ANY church. After years of wandering, the Lord led us to a church that seemed alot like what I'd grown up with. Turned out to be a SBC church. FBCEast Hartford. Bob and I got saved, my son and daughter were saved. Hubby was called to preach, and served 23 years as a minister in KY till he retired here in OK. All said to say, if it weren't for the Southern Baptist mission call for ministers to go to New England, the pastor that led my husband to Christ wouldn't have been in New England.

Southern never was a problem in New England. Several ministers, and missionaries were called out of the New Eng church in East Hartford. thank God He decided to plant a Southern Baptist church in Connecicut. I might never have found a home. just saying...selahV

Bart Barber said...


You're welcome

Bart Barber said...

Me more quotable than you, Matt? Unlikely.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, volfan.

Bart Barber said...


Indeed, we will need to beware of those. And thanks to you for your historical treatments of the past name change initiatives. I think that it is very helpful in this conversation to have a full understanding of the many times that Southern Baptists have looked around for a better name without ever finding one. You've helped the discussion by making this information publicly accessible.

Bart Barber said...


You're entirely right—it isn't that big of a deal (the "Southern" part of the name, that is). The name change would amount to a big expense and a big hype for not a big deal.

Bart Barber said...


What a blessing! With you, I'm thankful for the way that God has used pioneer missions to impact your life.

Bob Cleveland said...

I like.

I'm not for a name change, either, as I think it'd be sort of like repainting your old car because it wasn't running worth a flip.

It seems obvious the SBC has problems, but the name isn't one of'em. Kind of like my grandson's T-Shirt .. he's a big lad, and one of his shirts says "I've got lots of problems, but size isn't one of them".


From the Middle East said...

Brother Bart,

Perhaps "equate" was a strong word, but I did not misunderstand your comparison. Being a good redneck myself (and caring nothing for "cowboyish" stuff), I certainly understand the difference between "cowboy" and "southern." Apologies for equating the two. I think you gave an excellent example of what I was attempting to communicate when you said:

"Country & Western music is more Southern than is pop music. Cowboy churches frequently utilize somewhat-baptized Country & Western music in their worship services. In doing so, they provide worship services that are more compatible with Southern culture as a whole (although Southern culture as a whole is different from Cowboy culture) than are the Bono-clone worship services that have been the vogue in many SBC churches in the South."

This is a good example of my point. And since things like country and western music, trucks, etc are more Southern than Camrys and Bono, my proposal is we leave the SBC name the same. Then each cooperating local congregation may continue to publicly display their affiliation to the degree they deem appropriate. Those who prayerfully consider the word "Southern" as an inaccurate description of their local congregation could simply leave their affiliation with the SBC off public literature, websites, etc, but continue to be a part of the CP... some local congregations are already doing this.

Peace to you brother,
From the Middle East

peter lumpkins said...


Thanks Brother. I meant to say but pushed 'publish' too soon that your presentation offers excellent thoughts not found at sbc tomorrow.


With that, I am...

Warren said...

The only benefit that I can see coming from a name change is that (hopefully) people will not see the stereotype when they see a rebranded Southern Baptist. The real problem that I see with this is that most people will see through this rebranding and it will have no benefit at all.

How many years has it been since we changed from Home Missions and Foreign Missions to NAMB and IMB? I still hear people talk about the Home Mission Board and the Foreign Missions Board (I wasn't Southern Baptist before that name change, so I've had no problem there). If we change the name, we'll still see the line "formerly the Southern Baptist Convention" in every non-convention news story or reference for decades.

Factoring in all the expense to change letterheads, web sites, logos, etc., I just don't think changing the name makes much sense, especially when the Great Commission Task Force is wanting us to be more fiscally responsible.

Tom Parker said...

We definitely need a name change but it would not change the negative conotation it has for most non-Baptists as long as it has Baptist in it.

Lot of the negativity has resulted from would you guess 1979.

Bart Barber said...



Bart Barber said...


I agree.

Bart Barber said...


I agree that most people are intelligent enough to see through name changes. I also agree that a name change would cost a lot of money. Peter Lumpkins has also provided information suggesting that any name change could have legal consequences for the SBC.

Bart Barber said...


I do not know whether the Conservative Resurgence is received positively or negatively beyond our boundaries.

I suppose that we could test that theory empirically. We could examine the growth and evangelistic effectiveness of the CBF, BGCT, ABC, or Alliance of Baptists. These groups certainly are not connected with 1979. If they are enjoying robust growth, great PR, and incredible evangelistic effectiveness, then I suppose that your thesis would be well proven. But, of course, the data indicate nothing of the sort.

Tom Parker said...


Dave Miller must have sure struck a nerve with you, Peter Lumpkins, and Tim Rogers for you all to team up against him like you all have. But, I know you all are just funin.

I'm sure glad for Dave Miller that he is not on the wrong side of theology with friends like you all.
I can only imagine what you all would be doing to him.

Bart Barber said...


Bless your heart.

Within the last week, J. D. Greear has blogged about a name change. Danny Akin has mentioned the idea of a name change. As Peter mentioned at his blog, the concept of a name change has been broached repeatedly for the larger portion of a century within the SBC. I recall watching Jack Graham advocate this course of action at the microphone of the SBC Annual Meeting not long ago at all.

Dave Miller is one of the better bloggers in the Southern Baptist world. He has my great respect. Why you would connect this exclusively to him, as though he is the only person who has mentioned this idea, is beyond me.

Why you would regard my advocating a different course of action than Dave's as somehow my attacking him is also bizarre. I can understand why Dave holds the opinion that he holds.

Bart Barber said...


What further surprises me about your comment was that I was expecting to see from you some statistics about the great evangelistic prowess of the non-CR Baptist groups in the United States—you know, to back up your previous hateful screed.

Anonymous said...

well Bart. here is a compromose.. how about
"The Predominately Southern Baptist Convention"

Bart Barber said...



I enjoyed that comment.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Looks like I missed all of the fun.

I am for a name change.

Will it make a big difference? No. But I believe that it will accurately reflect what the SBC is and desires to be.

The SBC started as a regional body, with an intentional emphasis on Southern. That meant geographically, but more importantly, culturally. I am not for constantly whipping ourselves over this, and I don't believe those issues motivate us now, but I say this to emphasize that the intention was regional in the beginning.

Since I have been in an SBC church (since 1977), I have always known that that the SBC seeks to plant churches all over the continent and around the world.

If we were starting today, there is no way we would intentionally select "Southern" in our name.

I appreciate the work that you have put into your statistical analysis.

The fact that most SBC churches (by a long shot) are in the South is not a surprise.

I also agree that the South is more open to evangelical churches of all stripes, PCA, E-Free etc.

I agree that changing a name is not an automatic answer to evangelistic efforts in the North or other areas.

The American Baptists have not been effective for a host of reasons.

But that really does not decide the issue for me.

If our denomination intentionally wants to be known and identified as a regional brand, so be it.

But I would be among those people who would argue that we should intentionally want our name to reflect not our location or interest in one region, but that we should have a name that reflects our aspirations nationally and globally.

That seems logical and appropriate, and I do not see anything wrong with that.

This post really is a statistical justification for keeping a regional name because it reflects our history and doing otherwise won't help us.

But the post nowhere effectively makes the case for intentional regionalism. And I do not believe that case can be made effectively.

It does not matter to me that changing our name will not bring millions of people in the door automatically, or that it will not mean that we will be successful in other areas of the country that are hard for any evangelical group.

Changing the name will keep our name up to date with we desire to be and how we want to be seen.

All of the arguments against it really appear to be excuses as to why we don't need to change the name. But no one has really shown any tremendous benefit to the name.

The only positive reason stated with force against changing the name is that it will cost money to order stationery etc. That is accurate, but that, in my opinion, is not a big deal because what is being accomplished (making the name consistent with objectives of the organization) is worth the small price to be paid by changing letterhead.

Finally, I'd like to see a show of hands. How many of you anti-name changers were against changing the Sunday School Board to LifeWay?

And how many of you think it has made no difference?

Before you answer too quickly, you might check with folks who plant new stores in different areas of the country.

But, again, even if the results for changing the name of the SBC are not as positive, it really doesn't matter. It would simply be appropriate to change the name at this point in history and get on with it.

Unless, of course, we are too wrapped up in history to be willing to change, or we think that there really is some benefit to being called "Southern" nowadays.

If there really is, will somebody please explain that to me.


bapticus hereticus said...

Media: Today, the Southern Baptist Convention changed its name to “The … Convention.”

Public: Chuckle. A rose by any other name.


Media: Today, the Southern Baptist Convention, while affirming its particular traditions and beliefs, decided to be a religious entity that would be less divisive among and more collaborative with other faith groups seeking to improve human existence.

Public: Now, that is change we can believe in.

Bart Barber said...


You make a good argument that fits in none of the categories that I had addressed before. To summarize, I had dealt in some fashion with three ideas:

1. The argument from identity: The SBC is not Southern.

2. The argument from pragmatism: Removing the "Southern" in the SBC's name would help our church planting and evangelism efforts beyond the South.

3. The argument from culturalism: Removing the word "Southern" from our name would change the way that Southern Baptists view ourselves, liberating us from our cultural captivity and thereby making us more effective in evangelism and church planting.

To these, you have added what I'll dub...

4. The argument from vision: Although the name "Southern Baptist Convention" reflects who we have been and who we are, it does not reflect who we wish to be.

Now I'll need to interact with that fourth argument.

Dave Miller said...

I would just like to state something, since my name was mentioned here.

I read Bart's post and found it very informative. As usual, he presented his case very well, and made some points that I think have to be considered by anyone like myself who is advocating change.

I did not respond because I have been involved with two deaths/funerals and I did not have the time respond thoughtfully. I'm not sure I had anything much new to say on the subject that I didn't say previously at IMPACT.

Just to clear the air.

Dave Miller said...

I should have had Louis write my post for me.

Bart Barber said...

OK, Louis, here goes...

First, I would differentiate between Southern Baptist efforts to preach the gospel and plant churches in the non-Southern regions of the United States versus our efforts to preach the gospel and plant churches around the world. We hope to plant churches around the world, but we have no intention of those churches becoming member congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Second, I agree that the Southern Baptist Convention has ambitions to become a genuinely national convention—to see spiritual awakening nationwide resulting in (caused by?) an explosion of the number of cooperating churches throughout the land.

Third, I agree with you that our name is regional while our ambitions are national. I agree that this is a phenomenon of some conflict.

Fourth, I disagree that any time existed in our past when this conflict was not present. I agree with McBeth's observation that the SBC was from the very beginning a body with a regional name but with ambitions far beyond that region. From 1845 forward, we were always open to the inclusion of any church who agreed with us and was located within the United States of America. We demonstrated this truth by never refusing to affiliate with churches from anywhere within the country. This is the reason why, as Peter has documented elsewhere, the idea of a name change has popped up repeatedly throughout our history.

Thus, I disagree with your statement: "Changing the name will keep our name up to date with we desire to be and how we want to be seen." This is not an "up to date" sort of issue, because the geographical extent of our ambitions has not really changed at all during either of our lifetimes or even during the entire history of our convention.

Fifth, although I may not have quantified any powerfully compelling benefit for keeping the name the same, neither have you provided any powerfully compelling benefit for changing it, other than "what we desire to be and who we want to be seen." That language, although it is certainly lengthier and more eloquent, seems to me to be the equivalent of...

..."Because I would like another name better than this one."

And you're entitled to your likes and dislikes, as am I and all the rest. It's just that your personal likes or dislikes hardly constitute "any tremendous benefit to the name [change]" any more than my likes or dislikes would.

I'm going to set the world on its ear by agreeing (somewhat) with Bapticus Hereticus. The Southern Baptist Convention is a brand. It exemplifies what BH dislikes about us. I like that about it. I think that is a very positive association for the name. It has come to stand for something.

With regard to Lifeway and Guidestone, I'll be glad to opine.

I occasionally make fun of the name Guidestone because it is so...I don't know...made up. But humor aside, the changing of the name to Guidestone from The Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't offend me or anything. Guidestone changed its name because it wanted to be able to sell to non-Baptists.

For Lifeway, the jury is still out to some degree. Lifeway changed names for precisely the same reason—to market to evangelicals at large rather than just to Baptists. I'm fine with taking evangelical money, so long as Lifeway can continue to provide to Southern Baptists the distinctively Southern Baptist services that we need. Will Lifeway be able to do so over the long term? We'll see.

However, although I am open to these two entities marketing their wares beyond the Southern Baptist family, I would be in strong objection to the SBC doing the same thing. If your position, Louis, is that the SBC should have the same goals as these two entities, then I am in opposition to that idea.

Bart Barber said...


I forgot one thing to add. You mention "The American Baptists have not been effective for a host of reasons." With that statement, you brush aside this segment of my post.

But I think that you may have missed the point.

Yes, the American Baptists have not been effective. But my point is that they are more effective in one region and less effective in other regions, and this in spite of their national-sounding name.

In other words, I'm betting that the "host of reasons" you might provide for American Baptists being ineffective would be factors that should make them just as ineffective in Pennsylvania as in Texas. Yet they are not. Why is this? Once upon a time, American Baptists surmised that it was because they were named the Northern Baptist Convention. They were wrong.

That's my point. However weak or strong they might be, we should have seen them become more consistently weak or strong across the nation once they shed themselves of their regional name. That didn't materialize.

Here's my analysis: All denominations tend to be strong today precisely where they were strong in 1875. Denominational maps only change (historically) in the wake of major population migrations or earth-shattering spiritual awakenings.

I'm praying for the latter.

Steve Young said...

While serving in Wyoming I chaired a credentials that recommended church for inclusion in our Association. This church had a long history in the ABC. Because of a leftward move by their convention, they sought a new affiliation. They studied options for one year. I'll never forget one of their leaders holding up a BFM and saying, "I want to be a part of something that takes a stand." They did not choose Southern Baptists because of "southern" in the name, but neither did they reject it.
I am personally not too excited either way about a name change. If it could be done easily and cheaply, I wouldn't mind, it will not change my doctrine/evangelism/mission view, and that is the point. Sort of like I notice that many NBA teams who historically struggle change uniform colors and designs, while others remain the same - like the LA "Lakers" - surely that regional name has kept them from being a successful franchise.
Steve in Montana

Bart Barber said...


The "LA Lakers" bit was priceless! :-)

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for stopping by. It's great to interact with you.

Anonymous said...

Bart: as always, thanks for the respectful response.

However, summarizing this issue as a "I like potato you like potato" is not helpful without emphasizing the "why".

I like the name change because of the consistent vision issue that I articulated. it is logical. it becomes more logical over time as our nation gets smaller due to increased travel and living patterns.

you and others like Southern but apparently for no other reason than history and tradition.

So I think the "why" we prefer the different perspectives is significant.

Also, I do not think that saying neither side has made a "compelling" argument is legit. who made that the test? there is no presumption of correctness that has to overcome here.

Finally, I think that your LifeWay analysis, or lack of it, is way off. I suggest that you check with Dr. Draper and the bookstore people and see what thye tell you. I have. the name change has been a benefit.

It's not that doing that with the convention name would have the same benefit. it's just that I have found most people who don't like name changes in on place don't like them at all.

Plus, measuring the peiple you may not be reaxhing is a hard thing to quantify.

"The Baptist Convention of the United States." Has a nice ring to it!


Bart Barber said...


I'm not communicating very well today. My apologies for not getting across clearly what I was trying to say. Let me try again.


I didn't think that I was arguing against the Lifeway name change, nor did I think that I was disputing that it might have helped sales. My (obviously poorly worded) point was that I think it could prove difficult in the future to market to evangelicals while continuing to provide distinctively Southern Baptist materials for the SBC.

I'm 100% with you on the fact that changing the name to Lifeway made it more likely that we would be able to get non-Baptists into the stores. However, and I think this is VERY IMPORTANT, Lifeway changed MORE than just the name on the sign. Lifeway took specific and deliberate steps to market the brand to non-Baptists. I'm opposed to us doing that with regard to the membership of the convention.

My point is simply that, although I'm as excited as the next guy about getting non-Baptists into our stores, it is not my objective to get non-Baptists into our convention.


History and tradition are not the only reasons why I am opposed to changing the name. As I stated above, the Southern Baptist Convention has accumulated a certain brand value. Although our history and tradition have been involved in the formation of this brand, the effect of the brand has to do with the present and the future as much as it has to do with the past.

To do away with "The Southern Baptist Convention" is to lose the positive effectiveness of the brand. There are people who, when they move, look for an SBC church to attend. There are people who have been helped by SBC Disaster Relief. There are people who, as Steve Young just mentioned, associate the Southern Baptist Convention with people who are willing to stand for something.

In business, such things are accounted for under the category of "goodwill" and they often actually place monetary value upon such a thing as brand loyalty.

To acknowledge that brand loyalty has declined is one thing, but it is a different thing altogether to conclude that it is gone altogether (see my New Coke post for one illustration of this principle). It is a dangerous thing to abandon the brand. Why? Because...

1. Doing so might not actually attract very many new people at all, because their objections probably run far deeper than a dislike for the name.

2. Doing so runs the substantial risk of offending those who have been perfectly happy with the brand up to that point.

It seems to me that the difference is between those who see it as a brand worth keeping and those who wish to distance themselves from it. I have no desire to distance myself from it.

And that's sort of what I was getting at before. You can't really presume that we're all in agreement as to "what we desire to be and who we want to be seen." The things that I want us to be and the way that I want us to be seen—those things are conjured up (I believe) in most people's minds when they hear the words "Southern Baptist Convention." I'm sure that, eventually, we could get people to have the same associations in their minds when they hear "The Baptist Convention of the United States," but why would we go to the trouble?

David R. Brumbelow said...

I was and am for the change from Baptist Book Store and Sunday School Board to LifeWay. I think Jimmy Draper did an exceptional job during his time at LifeWay.

On the other hand, I’m against changing the name of the SBC. “Southern Baptist Convention” has become a brand name. SBC does not sum up some outdated southern culture. It sums up a theology and a people committed to the inerrant Bible and evangelizing the nation and the world. Both friends and enemies know who we are. Change our name and it will take about six weeks for our enemies to begin condemning and mocking us and our new name.

As Peter Lumpkins has pointed out at his blog, something like Baptist Convention of the United States may sound good to us. Internationally it could sound like USA imperialism. It would be detrimental especially in anti-American countries. “Southern” Baptist Convention is innocuous to those outside the USA. It does not make us sound like we are an arm of the USA government.

The many who have become a part of the SBC in the west and north, including Alaska and Hawaii, have not seemed to find it a significant hindrance. Many in those areas have admired and desired to be a part of a convention that stands for something. I even think it is impressive to many outside the south that a once regional convention now has churches and ministry in all 50 states.

Whether in the north, west, or south, no SBC church is required to have SBC (whether spelled out or initials) in their name or church sign.

The SBC is known by what we believe and our ministries. Change our name and for the next 100 years people will have to identify us by saying, “You know, they are the old Southern Baptist Convention. That is still done to distinguish the American Baptist Churches from all the other Baptist groups - “You know, they are the old Northern Baptist Convention.
David R. Brumbelow

Anonymous said...

Bart and David:

Thanks for your thoughts and an interesting discussion.

I am familiar with branding and the concept of goodwill.

You both have now touched upon really the only reason to keep a name. If by changing the name you lose something that is central to the organization, its connection to people etc.

In my opinion, that question is a judgment call without any hard data. some fear the loss of a positive brand. Others fear the loss of opportunity to bring in new people if the name is not changed.

How one views that is often influenced by lots of factors - age, whether a person is more of a traditionalist, where one ministers geographically, whether one is in a urban suburban or rural context, friends, hobbies etc.

I have tried to reduce the question to matching the mission and vision with the name and cannot see any benefit or match to the Southern part in 2010.

But I realize that these other judgments are out ther.

Thanks for sharing your thought so succinctly and passionately.

I hope that the Convention will take this up officially and that the messengers might be heard on it.

I doubt it will pass but I'll be fine either way. if it did pass however, I hope you guys and others would not be too upset either.

take care.


Warren said...

"As I stated above, the Southern Baptist Convention has accumulated a certain brand value. Although our history and tradition have been involved in the formation of this brand, the effect of the brand has to do with the present and the future as much as it has to do with the past.

To do away with "The Southern Baptist Convention" is to lose the positive effectiveness of the brand."

I'm going to speak to this as a recovering marketing weasel. Brand names and brand identities build a certain value over the years. Regardless of the negative aspects of a brand's reputation, the value accumulated by the brand has worth to the entity. That worth is lost in a drastic name change.

Look at Kentucky Fried Chicken. They wanted to get away from their regional name, but there was too much value tied up in their name. So they decide to call themselves KFC, which people had been calling them for years anyway. Same with British Petroleum (BP). No, these folks are not religious organizations, but they are entities that wanted to do exactly what folks want the SBC to do in changing our name -- appeal to a broader "customer base" than the regional name brand would theoretically allow.

I'm not sure that it really mattered in either case. I went to a pretty popular Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Canada one year on a missions trip. It was crowded, it was good, and it was called Kentucky Fried Chicken -- even though the cashier that waited on us didn't have a clue where Kentucky actually was. And how many people actually knew that BP was short for British Petroleum? That sounds like something Alex Trebek would ask on a Daily Double or something under the "Corporate Initials" category.

Maybe we can just go by our initials, like KFC has done. Or maybe we follow Radio Shack's example (since they wanted to show that they sold more than radios), and just call ourselves The Convention. Personally, I think the time for changing names has come and gone - maybe we could have changed it to the Conservative Baptist Convention back in the 80s and gotten away with the rebranding, but there's too much value tied into the Southern Baptist Convention brand to mess with it now.

peter lumpkins said...

"You both have now touched upon really the only reason to keep a name. If by changing the name you lose something that is central to the organization, its connection to people etc. In my opinion, that question is a judgment call without any hard data. some fear the loss of a positive brand. Others fear the loss of opportunity to bring in new people if the name is not changed."

Hardly, Louis. Hard data definitively tips the balances in favor of those who've argued through the years that changing the name of the SBC finally serves Southern Baptists poorly. The capstone came circa Y2K when we learned, given the Southern Baptist Convention's "grandfathered" status as a "chartered corporation" into Georgia non-profit corporation law, we therefore were exempt from regulation by the state, whereas if we amended the charter, we'd, gamble the farm at best and forfeit the farm at worst.

With such high stakes on the table, I personally do not think it unreasonable to propose the existence of "hard data" which effectively kills the notion of a name-change for the SBC.

With that, I am...

Steve Young said...

Interesting topic and interesting debate. Let me take a stab at branding from a different angle. How about Mountain Dew? Have you seen the any of the "throw back" bottles lately? How many remember the old hillbilly shouting "yahoo, Mountain Dew" in his best Dogpatch voice? But Mountain Dew did change, not the name, but the identity. Now it is the hip, "X game" boarder, cliff diver, young, cutting edge person who drinks Mountain Dew."

Perceptions can change without name change. I do believe that the SBC needs to make some changes, but real substantive change is what is needed, not just a name change. And I am okay with a new name, as long as that is not seen as what we really need.

Steve in Montana

Anonymous said...

I had to come back to this for a moment, not knowing if any of you would read this.

But for every example of a bad attempt at a corporate name change, there are probably more that were successful. When you have the time, take a look at corporate name changes in the U.S. It may surprise you.

Peter, I am licensed to practice law in Georgia. I am not a corporate law expert, and have not researched the issue that you bring up. I do not know the advantages and disadvantages of having an 1945 (is that the right date?) charter filed in Georgia vs. the disadvantages of amending the charter to change the name. I would be surprised if it would make a big difference but I am open to that concept, if it's accurate.

Companyies, however, can always adopt a d/b/a or a trade name that they go by. So, it might not require a legal name change. I believe that I am right about that. The charter would just be left in place, and the SBC would just adopt a name that could be used publicly, but not change the charter.


Anonymous said...


You are right. Name changes alone do nothing.

I am more positive about the SBC because I look at it along a continuim. There are many advantages to the SBC and good things that we take for granted.

The things that need improvement, however, are often matters that do not relate to corporate, governance and structure.

The SBC is really only a big pot of money, with a structure for deciding who gets to make recommendations for dividing up the pot, and provisions for appointing trustees for the insitutions that receive money from the pot.

Making changes to any of this, like a name change, will not often get to the issues that many people are concerned about.

A name change or any corporate change is not a panacea.

We do have a doctrinal confession, but I am not for changing that.

About the only change I would recommend to the SBC (that can be changed by action at the SBC meetings) is that any contribution to Executive Committee would be counted as cooperative program giving, since it is given to the CP budget in Nashville, regardless of the fact that it did not go through the state convention. I also would like to see churches get as much credit for Lottie Moon, or Annie Armstrong, and other special offerings as they do CP giving, even though that would not be given to the SBC's budget.

I also do not oppose the individual agencies asking for money if they want to tour around and show churches their ministries. But I am less strong on that.


Anonymous said...

The only problem with the name 'Southern Baptist Convention' is when 'Southern' culture is inappropriately propagated in a context that is not 'southern'.

I live in a suburban county of St. Louis that at one time was more rural, but now is more of a poorer suburban extension of the metro area. Twenty years ago the local FBC planted another church in the area. This FBC would kindly be called a medium sized church. The plant would be called a micro church.

I know the pastor there, have worked with him on VBS projects. He loves the Lord and loves people. I know several of his church folk and they are the sweetest people you would ever meet.

That said, this church does not understand its context. The sweet pastor and the majority of the key leaders in this church did not grow up in this area. They were originally from the rural south. They continue to say they desire an 'old timey country church'. That is not the type of community they are in.

In the pastor's defense, he is working at creating inroads into the community with a food pantry and other outward focused ministries. Yet, they continue in their belief that they are in a rural southern community, and steer their worship and preaching in that direction.

Can God overcome this culture barrier? Yes. Without a doubt. But why would you want to put up a barrier?

That's just one anecdote. For the majority of the other local SBC churches, your analysis rings true. If there was not a sign on the door you would not know the difference between their church and my similar statement of faith non-denom church.

Anonymous said...


Interesting. But if the person joins the church I am sure that they are told at some point they are joining a "Southern" Baptist Church.

How would folks around there react to that? They could say, "So what", "Great, I always liked General Lee", or I am not Southern, we are not in the South, why is this thing "Southern."

Folks who are "Southern" think they will like it, just as people like "Kentucky Fried Chicken." (see above).


Bart Barber said...

Because our polity is local, the Southernness or lack thereof of any particular local congregation is just not going to be affected very much by even the policies of the SBC, let alone the name.

Some church starts are going to adapt to their circumstances, and some are not. Some church plants will fail, and others will succeed. I believe that the secret to successful evangelism and church planting is simply volume. Most attempts to share the gospel with someone are not going to result in a profession of faith. Keep sharing.

If we get daring about planting churches, most church plants are not going to make it. Plant them anyway. We could learn something from the fact that most small businesses started don't make it big, and most people who succeed at starting a business have failed previously at starting a business.

I think that spiritual awakenings and major population migrations succeed at changing the map because of volume. In the spiritual awakenings, enough excitement about the Lord is in the air that a lot of people are sharing the gospel. In population migrations, lots of people move and increase the volume with which churches of a particular type are being established in an area.

Maybe instead of planting individual churches, we ought to plant entire associations at one time? Send in an entire troop of evangelists and church planters? Coordinated efforts? Then they have community and support and encouragement.

[There, my friends, is a good example of comment drift within a single comment!]

Anonymous said...


I like that thought.

I do a lot of work in the area of public utilities (water/sewer).

A first principle there is quality. If the water doesn't meet quality standards, then it doesn't matter how much you can produce.

So, we should be concerned with quality.

But being overly concerned with "success" can cause one to be too cautious. That concept is imbedded but unstated in your last comment.

But the thing I really like about what you said is that it is optimistic and active.

One reason I don't enjoy conversations that focus on the negative and the failures in SBC life is not because I don't want to see those discussed and addressed. It's just that so many of those discussions begin and end with criticism.

People who are enthused and active (provided, again, that what they are doing has good quality) are going to have a greater impact than all the problem diagnosers in the world.

I agree. Plant churches. Lots of them. Let each one have its own flavor. (Not sure about planing associations. Do we need to plant those things?).

And for those with a flavor or style that is not Southern at all, we just won't tell them what the name is. We'll just talk about the "Convention."