ATLANTA (BP) – The task force appointed to study the possibility of changing the Southern Baptist Convention’s name has reached a decision that they believe “will please the Father and greatly strengthen our ability to reach more people with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The 20-member group appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright gathered for its second meeting Dec. 7 in Atlanta.
“Every member was represented in this important meeting,” task force chairman Jimmy Draper said in a statement to Baptist Press following the meeting. “Again, I was impressed with the seriousness of the group as we discussed vital issues related to this issue and the openness to discuss every aspect of the assignment given to us. There was a unanimity both in the discussions and in the decisions we made.”
The task force, Draper said, has been asked by Wright to present recommendations “with full explanation and rationale” during the president’s report to the Executive Committee meeting Feb. 20 “so all Southern Baptists can understand how we arrived at our conclusions.”
“We are excited to make these recommendations believing that we have come to decisions that will please the Father and greatly strengthen our ability to reach more people with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Draper said. “From the beginning we have desired only to discern God’s will in this matter.”
Draper, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources, expressed gratitude for prayers on behalf of the task force during the process.
“We wrapped our meeting in prayer and could feel the prayers of Southern Baptists for us in this endeavor,” he said.
The task force meeting came on the same day a study was released by LifeWay Research saying the majority of Americans have a favorable impression of Southern Baptists but 40 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the denomination. More than a third strongly assumed an SBC church was not for them, and the negativity was higher among the unchurched, the study found.
In comments to Baptist Press Dec. 8, Draper said the task force had the study results in hand when they met in Atlanta.
“I had them send me a copy of it the night before, and we shared copies with the committee but we didn’t discuss it in detail,” Draper said. “It pretty well confirmed things that we expected, and I don’t think it was necessarily a surprise.
“When you’ve got a culture where 35 to 40 percent of the people have repeatedly said they would not even consider an evangelical church, it’s not surprising that 44 percent of the people said the Southern Baptist name would impact them negatively,” Draper said. “We’re not sure how significant that is, but it was good to know.”
The flip side, Draper said, was positive in that more than half of the people surveyed had a favorable impression of Southern Baptists.
“It was helpful to reinforce things that we had felt and that we had discussed,” Draper said, adding that LifeWay Research conducted the study at the request of the name change task force.
Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee, expressed appreciation for the task force members “who seriously and prayerfully wish to advance the work of God’s Kingdom.” Page told Baptist Press that although he is not a part of the group, he “knows the heart of those in the group and looks forward to hearing their report in the days ahead.”
Wright announced the formation of the task force during the Executive Committee meeting in September, prompting a lively debate across the convention.
The task force first met Oct. 26 in Fort Worth, Texas, and Draper said then they spent “a great deal of time in prayer,” believing they needed God’s guidance and divine wisdom. The committee’s work, he said at the time, centers on whether the Southern Baptist mission would be advanced by a name change.
“We are driven by only one great question – how can Southern Baptists be most faithful in reaching people for Jesus. Our concern is not public relations, politics, positioning or personal agendas,” Draper said in October. “We must ask ourselves constantly if there is anything that would help us to reach more people, plant more churches, and penetrate lostness here in the United States and around the world as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.”
Draper also said the task force understands its charge is limited to reporting back to Wright and that no one believed the word “Baptist” should be removed from the convention’s name.
The full text of Draper’s statement follows:
The Task Force appointed by President Bryant Wright to study the possibility of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention met on Dec. 7th in Atlanta, GA. Every member was represented in this important meeting. Again, I was impressed with the seriousness of the group as we discussed vital issues related to this issue and the openness to discuss every aspect of the assignment given to us. There was a unanimity both in the discussions and in the decisions we made.
We will have recommendations with full explanation and rationale at the Executive Committee [meeting] in February so all Southern Baptists can understand how we arrived at our conclusions. Several of the Task Force members will share in the presentation at the request of President Wright during his time to speak to the Executive Committee on Monday night, Feb. 20th. We are excited to make these recommendations believing that we have come to decisions that will please the Father and greatly strengthen our ability to reach more people with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning we have desired only to discern God’s will in this matter.
Thank you for your prayers for us during this journey. We wrapped our meeting in prayer and could feel the prayers of Southern Baptists for us in this endeavor.
LifeWay Christian Resources
Task Force members, in addition to Draper as chairman, are:
– Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago;
– Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.;
– David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.;
– Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board;
– Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board;
– Ken Fentress, pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md.;
– Micah Fries, pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo.;
– Aaron Harvie, pastor of Riverside Community Church in Horsham, Penn.;
– Susie Hawkins, speaker, Bible study teacher and missions volunteer from Dallas;
– Fred Hewett, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention;
– Cathy Horner, Bible teacher and pastor’s wife from Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.;
– Benny Jo, pastor of HANA Korean Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nev.;
– Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.;
– Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas;
– Bobby Sena, church development specialist with the Church Starting Network;
– Roger Spradlin, co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee;
– John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention;
– Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)