Why Bryant Wright Will Succeed in Changing the SBC Brand

The following is a guest post by Nathan Creitz. Nathan is originally from the South but now lives with his wife and two children as a missionary in New England. Nathan makes disciples and teaches New England churches and ministries how to fulfill the Great Commission in their town. He blogs about making disciples in a post-Christian context at nathancreitz.net.

Bryant Wright is making a bold move in his second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. According to the Baptist Press, Wright announced yesterday that he has formed a task force to study a name change for the convention.

I’ve written about the need for a name change before, but I think the stars have finally aligned. Bryant Wright will succeed in re-branding the SBC where other SBC leaders have failed for half a century.

Why Bryant is Wright for the Task

After all, Wright was elected out of the momentum of the Great Commission Resurgence which was fueled by a lot of younger leaders who are ready for changes that will make the SBC more effective.

The momentum of the GCR has also propelled the North American Mission Board into a more strategic church planting emphasis. Kevin Ezell, the new president of NAMB, who has been a catalyst for much of these strategic changes is on the name change task force.

It’s also not lost on me that Jimmy Draper was the one asked to chair the task force. Draper led the Baptist Sunday School Board to change their name to Lifeway Christian Resources (which, if I remember correctly, is the only self-sustaining SBC entity that does not receive Cooperative Program dollars). This turned out to be an amazingly positive move for Lifeway.

The momentum of the GCR, the fresh commitment to church planting, the desire for a more effective convention, and the right people at the right time all mixed together gives Bryant Wright the capital to pull this off.

But Why Rebrand In the First Place?

Here are the reasons Wright gives:

First, the convention’s name is so regional,” he said. “With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”

Now, to be clear, Wright is only exploring a name change right now. He is asking the volunteer task force to answer four questions:

  1. Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change?
  2. If so, what would be a good name to suggest?
  3. What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change?
  4. What would be the potential financial implications?”

In answer to #1, here are five of my personal reasons to rebrand the SBC.

Reason to Rebrand #1 Half of all Southern Baptists live in 5 Southern states. That won’t change until ‘Southern’ is no longer part of our name. Our name cultivates an “us vs. them” mentality that immediately puts up walls in other areas.

Reason to Rebrand #2 Southern Baptists are often accused of focusing on what we are against rather than what we are for. Much like how we got our name in the first place. Could it be that a precedent was set on day one?

Reason to Rebrand #3 A lot of planters and pastors in other areas will not affiliate with the SBC because of the name. That won’t change until ‘Southern’ is removed. (Thought: Would Southern SBC pastors and planters be connected if our name was ‘Northeastern Baptist Convention’ or ‘Pacific Northwest Baptist Convention’?)

Reason to Rebrand #4 Our name needs to focus us on a mission, not on a section of the country (which represents less than 1% of the world’s population). Those of us in the North want to defend Christ and his Church, but we don’t want to have to defend our convention as well.

Reason to Rebrand #5 The name is just part of an overall visioneering process that needs to happen (and is happening). This change could help us streamline our communication and vision as a convention.

There’s no question that there are legal and financial considerations in changing a name, but in the long run, this is a change that must be made. There are plenty of reasons and the timing is right. I believe Bryant Wright is the man who is going to make it happen.

Let's connect!

tagged as , , , in Baptist,Culture,Southern Baptist

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wayne September 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Bryant seems to the more established Southern Baptists as being too cutting edge for them, precisely because of his interest in changing the name. I’ve had this conversation with pastors of SBC churches who’ve been around for years (say 50 years-old and above), and they are adamant about not changing the name. I’m not sure why. It is logical. Rationally speaking, it just is the right thing to do. I look forward to what the group will come up with and how this will turn out. God bless!

2 Nathan Creitz September 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Mark, thanks for the opportunity to guest post. I appreciate you hosting the conversation. As one who is from the South but has been serving outside the South for the past 7 years, this topic is one that sort of keeps coming up. After a half century of SBC leaders encouraging the hoi poloi to change the name, I think Wright just might do it.

3 Don September 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Campus Crusade is in crisis. After lots of conversation, they have rebranded themselves as Cru and have rebranded themselves into crisis. Older supporters of Campus Crusade did not see the need for the rebrand and have voted with their wallets. I understand the issues that younger pastors are debating and their concerns. Yet while the debates rage, giving patterns are already tanking. (A recent issue of the Florida Baptist Witness testified that only 49% of Florida Baptist churches had given to International Missions through the LMCO). Rebrand the SBC, but be ready for older believers for whom the name is not only not pejorative, but precious, to vote with their wallet. Older pastors (and I guess that means me) already find ourselves wondering when many younger pastors will demonstrate financial commitments to that which they criticize. (And I’m not personalizing this toward Nathan who I know nor Mark who I don’t.) The excuse given is that they will give when the Convention more accurately reflects their point of view…which leads me to ask: when you’ve changed it so that it does not accurately reflect my point of view, why should I continue support?

4 Nathan Creitz September 21, 2011 at 11:01 am

Hey Don, I don’t recognize you from your tiny gravatar. Do we know each other IRL or online?

I appreciate your comment and your concerns. Let me see if I can take a stab at answering. First, I have no doubt that legacy SBC pastors will balk at such a move. In the example of Cru, they HAD to rebrand and probably should’ve done it decades ago. “Crusade” probably has led to undue persecution in some countries where Cru is working. In other words, people’s lives are in obvious danger, just simply by the word crusade. A percentage of donors dropping out of Cru is an acceptable loss in the long run. NO ONE in those sensitive areas was using “Campus Crusade for Christ”.

Now, did Cru do a good job with the rebrand? In my outside armchair opinion, no. Though “Cru” is already what they are known by, it means almost nothing. It’s a bad choice. They took the middle road. They knew they needed to rebrand but they knew they would lose some donors who were already familiar with “Cru”. So now they are still stuck with a name that isn’t objectionable in some contexts but it doesn’t communicate anything. Is it an acronym (C.R.U.)? Or is it just short for something. If so, what is it short for? Crusade? Ok, that problem didn’t get solved.

The same thing could happen if the SBC decides to rename the denomination something like Savior’s Baptist Convention just to retain the S. The current brand “SBC” is retained but it’s a stupid name. Better to jerk it off like a bandaid and choose something that is compelling and immediately has emotional capital when it is used.

In other words, to use Cru as a case study. They understood they had to do #1 (of Bryant Wright’s questions to his task force “is there value to a name change) but they bricked it on question #2 (what would be a good name to suggest).

For that reason, comparing what might happen with us to what did happen with Cru isn’t really legitimate. It has yet to be seen whether or not the task force will a) come up with enough compelling reasons to change the name and b) if they will find a dynamic name that appeals to a large swath of current SBC leaders.

But finally, let me just say that Cru’s lost in the short term, might be their success in the long term and that’s what I’m primarily forecasting. Think about it this way. If a full HALF of all Southern Baptists currently reside in just 5 states in the South, and we removed that barrier to church planters and pastors in other areas around the world, what might be the long term benefits? Would 1% of current SBC churches pull out of the convention over this issue? Would 5%? What would be their motivation in doing so? Perhaps if there are some churches in our denomination that are so passionate about the historical name of our convention to the point that they would withdraw fellowship then maybe it’s time to help them pack their bags. Is that too insensitive? Maybe, but I’m not interested in retaining a small percentage of churches who might divide over this issue if they can’t understand the benefits of such a decision and can’t get their heads around the idea that this is the right move, right now.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think there would be some churches that pull out over this issue? What would be their reasoning?

5 Mark September 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Wayne, thanks for the comment. It is interesting that many SBC entities have had name changes.

Don, I understand your point about Cru, but I see that as an equivocation. Each organization is different. SBC entities have gone through name changes without it resulting in failure. Anyway, I don’t want to get into debating Cru’s name change. 🙂

As I understand it, SBC giving has declined in recent years. It was even declining prior to the GCR passing. Baptists on both sides are going to vote with their wallets which is probably not a good thing. I wish we’d have a good theological discussion about wallet voting instead of using it as a form of threats and promises. (Not that you’re doing that.) We’ve got to come to a point where the “that’s how we’ve always done it” mentality gets serious reconsideration.

Nathan, thanks for the thoughtful post.

6 threegirldad September 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I came to the SBC just a few years ago, so there’s a real sense in which I’m detached from the emotional ties that many people have to the name. And I wasn’t going to comment, since, as the saying goes, I don’t got a dog in this fight (in the emotional sense, I mean).

Reason No. 1 has me raising my eyebrows in all kinds of way. Maybe I’m just living in a parallel universe or something. All I know is that I’ve never reacted to the name “Southern Baptist Convention” in the way described. And when I joined my church a few years ago, I guarantee you–hyperbolic and coy as it may sound–that the lettering on the side of the building could have said “Mars Baptist Convention” and it wouldn’t have mattered one bit.

I think you should drop Reason No. 1 like a hot potato. People who respond in this way are every bit as guilty of the rank provincialism that the “brand” is being accused of. There’s no legitimate reason to give an attitude like that aid and comfort. Think about it: A church planter who has no fundamental theological disagreement with the SBC as-is won’t affiliate because “we’re up here in Ohio, after all, not in the South.” Well, ok…but color me thoroughly unimpressed.

On the other hand, reacting to “Southern” because of its historic ties to slavery in the American South is a different matter entirely. That dog will hunt.

7 Don September 21, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Nathan, many moons ago in a land far away, a group from U of Mobile descended on the sleepy little town of Tsumeb….and that’s where we got to know one another.
Wow. So many things to cover. If I really thought the name was a barrier, I’d be first in line to change it. Here’s the problem. I think the barrier is not so much our name as our identity. We are very conservative morally and rightly so; we are rarely hesitant about expressing our views via resolution. We can rebrand…but once those who hold negative attitudes because of who we are recognize that we are the same folks with a new name the barrier will quickly re-emerge, imho.

The SBC has been built on brand loyalty. Traditional Southern Baptist churches have built on CP standards ranging from 5-15 per cent as normative. In recent years, superchurch pastors have been elected to leadership whose giving percentage have been laughable and whose defense has been that the small percentage that their churches give is justifiable because of its quantity. Without debating the arrogance of that position, the impact is that many of the newer churches have followed suit in their support (dare I say “lack of”) of CP. Our structures are still supported to a large degree by the traditional churches. My point in my original post is that many pastors of these traditional churches may begin to feel that lots of stuff is being rammed down their throats by “younger pastors” whose support levels are minimal. Their response may simply be to accept the standard created by our recent leaders and their progeny and say, “Hey, we’ll send 2% and use the rest for missions programs of our choice”. The brand changes; the loyalty changes. Younger pastors may feel greater loyalty to the new organization but at the expense of loyalty felt by older leaders…and up to now, younger leaders have not demonstrated that they will bring increased giving to the table. Many younger leaders have remonstrated that their support is minimal because they don’t agree with the name, focus, fill in the blank. If the organization is changed to the place that older leaders no longer agree with the name, focus, fill in the blank…how could younger pastors disagree with their strategic withdrawal financially…since that philosophy has guided their relationship to the Convention up to this point.

Mark, as to your comment about successful name changes, there is that NAMB thing that is an elephant in the room….

Thanks for the reverse provincialism thought, threegirldad.

8 Nate September 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Nathan, just curious. Are you more concerned with the word “southern” or “baptist”? I say that because as I checked out your ministry, it appears that the name of your church plant doesn’t contain the name “baptist” in it. I may be wrong (if I went to the wrong spot), but that is my issue with many who want a name change. They seem to speak about the word “southern” yet, in reality, they are afraid (perhaps ashamed) of the word “Baptist”. Not saying you are.

I would appear to me (as a pastor) that people who join a church would have to want a pretty detailed insight into the declarations, statement of faith, and constitution before they would find out that the church is connected to the “southern” baptists. Herein lies the problem with the name change for me. I don’t have issues with having discussions about removing “southern” from the denomination’s name, but if we are also wanting to remove “baptist” then, I believe, we are abandoning our heritage.

I’m not saying you are doing that, and while the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important thing we are about, we should not forget our baptist heritage. And, has Don noted, it appears that many (not all) of the younger generation want the name change, but they and their churches don’t want to support the CP nearly as much as the predecessors. They are in danger of forgetting the foundation that others have laid and they have the privilege of benefiting from.

9 Jeff Jones September 27, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I agree with the need to see if a name change is warranted. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, my heritage goes from Georgia, to North Carolina (since before the Revolution), and finally back to the Pilgrims. I spent some years in the Methodist church, five of those as a local pastor, many more as a lay speaker. I have been back in the Southern Baptist church since 1996.

The first and foremost purpose of our local churches and their associations is to glorify God and do His will. The primary authority for living is the written Word. Denominations serve a useful purpose in helping like-minded Christians who share some common traits fellowship and serve God together. But denominational attributes should never be allowed to get in the way of fulfilling personal and corporate obedience to God’s Word, and our personal fellowship with Him.

As Christians, we are citizens of the Father’s Kingdom first. As Christians who live in the US, we are blessed to have the nation we have. As Christians who live in the Southern US, we are doubly blessed. 🙂 But where we live pales in comparison to our 1st and final home, and we must never forget that. We are here but for a short time, as sojourners, to do His will. If my allegiance is more to the South (which I dearly love) than to my Lord, then I am in active rebellion against Him. If my allegiance is more to the US (which I also dearly love) than to my Lord, then I am in active rebellion against Him. 100, 1,000, 1,000,000 years from now, you and I as believers will be neither Southern nor American, and it will not matter to us one whit in that eternity.

If the name “Southern” offends the lost or a weaker brother or sister who believes the stereotypes and myths associated with being Southern, then apply the same principle that Scripture gives on eating meat offered to idols in front of a weaker brother who would be offended. If the SBC changes its name, I am no less Southern, no less American, and certainly no less Christian. It is no loss to dispense with those things that are not critical to our faith and our relationship with Christ, in order to reach the lost and edify the saints as we are commissioned to do. I am appreciative of Bryant being a pioneer on this, and “taking the arrows”.

In our local church, we offer Christ. Those traits of the Baptist tradition that are not in conflict with Scripture help enrich our worship and our fellowship. As Bryant often points out, we should have everchanging methodologies and an unchanging message. So long as the message is that of Christ, so long as the written Word is still the authority (and especially above man’s traditions), so long as our first focus is on Christ and doing His will – the name of our group within the Church Militant is of lesser importance.

10 Ron Hale September 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm


Just curious … are you writing as a current SBC Pastor or planter? Is your church in the SBC? Thanks.

11 jan October 5, 2011 at 9:13 pm

It’s interesting to me that the SBC wants to change its name to reach more people, and, at the same time, is closing its training center that serves the needs of all Southern Baptists west of the Mississippi River. How do you plan to reach more people and also decide that current Baptists don’t need training, fellowship, and renewal at Glorieta Baptist Conference Center?

12 David Thompson February 8, 2012 at 11:26 am

Thank you for allowing me to the opportunity to share my thoughts. I’m somewhat confused by the whole conversation, why a name change is even being considered. The last time I looked (5 minutes ago), the last news release from our convention president was posted on his home page in 2010 concerning a mission offering. We have significant issues facing people of faith today like “0bama’s” health care plan which should violate the conscience of every believer and our convention president is completely silent! Due to a lack of a national voice on important issues facing people of faith, most folks are forgetting about the SBC. Why don’t our convention president spend more time speaking out for the SBC, rather than thinking about changing our name.


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