Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with close to 16 million members. Yet their numbers in Minnesota are on the small side. Thanks to Garrison Keillor, we all know Lutherans and Catholics dominate the church rolls here.

And that’s just the point behind a new initiative to study the prospect of changing the 166-year-old convention’s name. Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright says he believes the study will be helpful for two main reasons:

“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.”

Wright announced the task force during the opening session of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Wright said Jimmy Draper, retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former SBC president, has agreed to serve as chairman of the task force. Wright will serve as an ex officio member.

The Tuesday evening announcement led some Executive Committee members to express concern over the possibility of a name change and of the task force being asked to serve without convention approval. Some also said the issue could be divisive. Wright responded by saying any proposed name change must be approved by messengers.

Motions to study a name change have been presented to the convention on numerous occasions — for example, 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1998.

Wright said he believes Southern Baptists would benefit from another look at the question, noting, “I am going to ask this task force to consider 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?”

Like a number of Christian faiths, Southern Baptists have seen their membership numbers decline over the last several years and are searching for ways to beef up enrollment.

Could a name change be the answer to attracting more people to the conservative religion’s ranks?