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Poll: Pastors want to keep SBC name, are split on 'Great Commission Baptists' descriptor
Posted on Jun 8, 2012 | by Russ Rankin

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- More than half of the pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention do not intend to use the name "Great Commission Baptists" in communication about their church, although 40 percent say they have not discussed the issue or decided, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

The survey also reveals more than 70 percent of pastors agree the name "Southern Baptist Convention" should continue to be used.

LifeWay Research conducted a random survey of more than 1,000 SBC pastors in light of the task force appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright to study a possible name change for the 167-year-old convention. The report of the task force, delivered in February during the president's report to the SBC Executive Committee, recommended the convention maintain its legal name but adopt "Great Commission Baptists" as an informal, non-legal name for churches and entities that want to use it. The Executive Committee approved the president's recommendation, and SBC messengers will consider the recommendation during the annual meeting in New Orleans June 19-20. The LifeWay data was released June 8.

LifeWay Research asked the question: "Do you agree that the Southern Baptist Convention should continue to be the name for this convention?" and found 72 percent of pastors agree (strongly or somewhat) the name should continue to be used. Twenty-three percent disagree and 5 percent "don't know."

The percentage of pastors who agree with the statement increases with age. Sixty-one percent of pastors under 45 years agree, while 82 percent of pastors over 65 years agree.

Pastors of smaller churches (under 50 in attendance) are most likely to "strongly agree" (64 percent) with the retention of the name Southern Baptist Convention.

And, pastors in the West (45 percent) are less likely to "strongly agree" than pastors in the South (57 percent).

Jimmy Draper, chairman of the task force that made the recommendation, told Baptist Press the "survey is about what I expected." (See Draper's full statement at the end of this story.)

"The vast majority of Southern Baptists prefer to keep the Southern Baptist name," Draper told Baptist Press. "In our study we concluded that there were many reasons why we should keep the Southern Baptist name. That is why we recommended keeping that name. Approximately 90 percent of those who attend the convention annually are from the south. For most of us, we see the value of the name as a brand worthy of maintaining."

Draper, though, said the task force made the "Great Commission Baptists" recommendation to benefit those outside the South, as well as ethnic groups.

"It is important for all of us to remember that we are now ministering as Southern Baptist in all 50 states," Draper said. "For many of them the name 'Southern' is an impediment to gaining opportunities to seek to bring others to faith in Christ. For many of our African American church leaders in the SBC their involvement with the name 'Southern' has been a point of contention and conflict with their peers. We should believe in the Great Commission enough to be willing to remove every possible impediment to evangelistic outreach for those for whom it would be helpful."

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said that "while more than one in five pastors indicate they are ready for a change in the name of the convention, across all subgroups measured the majority of pastors agree the current name should continue to be used."

When pastors were asked if they agree "that a non-legal name like 'Great Commission Baptists' would be acceptable for use by those who would find it beneficial?" an equal number of pastors agree and disagree (46 percent) with the statement.

Responses to this question also vary by church size and pastor age. Only 36 percent of pastors of churches with less than 50 in attendance agree the non-legal name would be acceptable compared to 61 percent of pastors of churches with attendance over 250.

There is also a split in responses between younger and older pastors about the new name. The majority of pastors age 18-44 agree (59 percent), while the majority of pastors age 65-plus disagree (60 percent).

Pastors also were asked if their church intends to use the tagline "Great Commission Baptists" in some or all of their communication about the church.

More than half (54 percent) say they will not use the non-legal moniker although more than a third (35 percent) have not discussed it and five percent have not decided. Four percent responded they will use both Southern Baptist Convention and Great Commission Baptists in their descriptors, and two percent indicated they will use Great Commission Baptists exclusively in their church identification.

Pastors in the West are more likely than those in the South to select "Yes, we will use it exclusively." Eight percent of those in the West compared to 1 percent of those in the South gave this response.

Draper said the percentage of churches possibly open to the descriptor is about what he envisioned.

"We should be willing to remove every obstacle that would discourage their efforts to reach others for Christ," Draper said, referencing churches who would use the descriptor. "The point has never been to satisfy the majority of Southern Baptists. The point from the beginning was to seek to remove any barrier to the presentation of the Gospel where it would be helpful. Southern Baptists are Great Commission Baptists! I encourage the messengers of the convention meeting in New Orleans to wholeheartedly approve this recommendation."

Said McConnell, "Of course, churches have complete control over the name of their own church, but messengers to the SBC annual meeting will decide whether to grant cooperating churches the latitude of using an alternative descriptor when they refer to the convention itself. Pastors in this polling sample who have an opinion are much more comfortable with the current Southern Baptist Convention name than proposing a non-legal name for churches that would benefit from it."

Wright, the SBC president, said he hopes the descriptor of Great Commission Baptists will be seen as a "way of describing who we are and what our mission is as Southern Baptists."

"No church has to use it, but a church or a church plant inside or outside the South might feel it would be helpful in reaching people for Christ," Wright told Baptist Press.

The questions were asked as part of a mail survey of SBC pastors April 1-May 11, 2012. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all SBC churches. Surveys were mailed to the senior pastor with the option of completing online. The 1,066 completed surveys were weighted to match the actual geographic distribution and worship attendance of SBC churches.
--30--
Russ Rankin is LifeWay's manager of editorial services. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).


Read Baptist Press' previous stories on the task force's report:

Task force: Keep legal SBC name, but adopt informal name, 'Great Commission Baptists'

Fentress & Patterson: Descriptor would benefit African Americans, ethnic groups, non-Southerners

TASK FORCE'S REPORT: Transcript

Past opponent applauds 'brilliant' compromise

Following is Jimmy Draper's full statement:

"The survey is about what I expected. The vast majority of Southern Baptists prefer to keep the Southern Baptist name. In our study we concluded that there were many reasons why we should keep the Southern Baptist name. That is why we recommended keeping that name. Approximately 90 percent of those who attend the convention annually are from the south. For most of us, we see the value of the name as a brand worthy of maintaining.

"It is important for all of us to remember that we are now ministering as Southern Baptist in all 50 states. For many of them the name "Southern" is an impediment to gaining opportunities to seek to bring others to faith in Christ. For many of our African American church leaders in the SBC their involvement with the name 'Southern' has been a point of contention and conflict with their peers. We should believe in the Great Commission enough to be willing to remove every possible impediment to evangelistic outreach for those for who it would be helpful. The survey showed that 46 percent of those polled agreed that the Great Commission Baptists descriptor should be acceptable for use by those who believed they needed to use it.

"The third question about the use of the descriptor by their churches shows that 11 percent either said yes or were undecided. That is about the percentage of folks who fit that description. We should be willing to remove every obstacle that would discourage their efforts to reach others for Christ. The point has never been to satisfy the majority of Southern Baptists. The point from the beginning was to seek to remove any barrier to the presentation of the Gospel where it would be helpful. Southern Baptists are Great Commission Baptists! I encourage the messengers of the convention meeting in New Orleans to wholeheartedly approve this recommendation."
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