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Sunday School Board trustees affirm need for name change

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Executives and trustees of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention agree — the name of the 106-year-old Southern Baptist agency needs to be changed to better reflect its vision and the diversity of its ministries. The question now is: “To what?”

That’s exactly what a 19-member employee naming committee will continue to explore in the coming months.

BSSB trustees affirmed Feb. 11 a recommendation from the board’s executive management group that the name should be changed. Trustees had authorized exploration of a possible name change in September 1996. The employee committee then was formed and a consulting firm also was employed to assist with the process.

As part of the exploration process, Southern Baptists were invited to submit names. More than 200 names were suggested. Interviews were conducted in October and November 1996 with a wide range of church and denominational leaders. In meetings in December and January, the committee narrowed their choices to two short lists of about 20 names. Also in January, focus groups were conducted in three cities along with telephone interviews. Preliminary legal research was conducted of name possibilities.

With the decision that a new name is needed, the special committee will continue to explore possible names. A recommendation will be presented to BSSB trustees at their next scheduled meeting, Sept. 15-17, in Glorieta, N.M. If approved by trustees, the new name would then be presented in the form of a charter amendment to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in February 1998 and then to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention for consideration in June 1998.

Why change the name of an organization that has had one name since 1891? There are several reasons, according to Mike Arrington, executive director for corporate affairs who is leading the name selection process.

“We were established 106 years ago with one assignment — publishing Sunday school literature. Now we need a name that better reflects the significant changes in the organization’s strategic direction and our diversity of resources and services,” he said.

In addition to Sunday school literature, the board in 1997 provides resources for a broad range of church ministries in addition to publishing trade books, music, videos and church supplies. The board also operates 63 bookstores and two national conference centers.

Arrington said there was widespread agreement among focus group participants the board’s current name does not match its vision statement adopted in 1992: “We will assist local churches and believers to evangelize the world to Christ, develop believers and grow churches by being the best worldwide provider of relevant, high-quality, high-value Christian products and services.”

While there was no consensus on what the name should be, he said focus group participants identified several words as descriptive of the board’s ministries. These included: resources, ministry, church and international.

The board already distributes literature in more than 120 countries, but BSSB President James T. Draper Jr. said he dreams of a day “when we will be offering more of the diverse ministries of this board on a worldwide basis. I think this will happen fairly quickly.”

Arrington and Draper emphasized any name would continue to include its ties to the Southern Baptist Convention.

“In no way will we divorce ourselves from the Southern Baptist Convention,” Draper said. “Whatever we become will include the words, ‘of the Southern Baptist Convention.’

“My generation doesn’t need a new name, but my grandchildren do,” Draper said. “More important, we need the mind of Christ in this.”

Although he agrees wholeheartedly with the need for a name change, Draper assured trustees the agency has no plans to abandon its strong emphasis on Sunday school and Bible study. Sunday school, he said, will continue to be “at the heart” of everything the board does.

Trustee Lynda Barfield, a teacher from Hattiesburg, Miss., said: “I think it’s possible the average Southern Baptist has no idea what all the Sunday School Board does. I do think a new name that reflects what we do will enable clearer communication. At the same time, there is a historic, tenderhearted connection with the term ‘Sunday School Board.’ It’s hard to let go of that.

“The timing of this seems right,” Barfield continued. “The names of other agencies are changing. Dr. Draper will be here several more years. These factors make me think it (a name change) is God’s will.”

Trustee chairman Nick Garland, pastor of First Baptist Church, Broken Arrow, Okla., said the names of other denominational entities are more descriptive of their ministries. For example, he said the name ‘North American Mission Board’ is an apt description of the new agency being formed from the current Home Mission Board, Brotherhood Commission and Radio and Television Commission under the SBC restructuring to be completed at the June annual meeting of the convention.

“The time has come for the Sunday School Board to consider a name to describe the largest and most diverse of our entities,” Garland said.

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  • Chip Alford & Linda Lawson