The many reasons why First Baptist is often called “America’s church” and continues to be a spiritual and political force in the United States.
First Baptist Church of Dallas, pastored since 2007 by Dr. Robert Jeffress, turns 150 this month, and its impact — both past and present — on our country, culture and world has been profound. Founded three years after the end of the Civil War with 11 members, today 13,000 members call First Baptist Dallas home. The great evangelist Billy Graham was a member of the church for 54 years — even though he lived in North Carolina — because of the church’s worldwide influence and conservative beliefs.
As Evangelicalism grew and prospered in America, First Dallas led the way. Located in the heart of downtown Dallas and landlocked, First Dallas sustained its growth through an elaborate network of remote parking lots throughout the city, serviced by shuttle buses. Over time, the church was able to construct parking garages adjacent to the church to accommodate growth. Designed to be a go-to destination, First Baptist pioneered the inclusion of facilities like roller rinks, bowling alleys, and workout facilities as part of its campus. In a day when virtually every megachurch in the country has moved to the suburbs, First Dallas doubled down on the city, and undertook the largest Protestant church building campaign in modern history, renovating and expanding its facilities as part of a $135 million effort that has created a spiritual oasis in downtown Dallas.
People are drawn to First Dallas because it is built on the Bible. Its pastors Dr. George W. Truett, who served from 1987 to 1944, and W.A. Criswell, who served from 1944 to 2002, built First Baptist into the nation’s first megachurch by preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. Today, Dr. Robert Jeffress continues that tradition, relying on the Bible’s power over feel-good messages common in many mega-churches today.
First Dallas’s commitment to applying the Bible to life and facing tough issues head-on inevitably drew it into politics and advocating for truth in the public square. Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump have sought out First Dallas’ pastors for counsel. Acting in concert with other concerned Christians, First Baptist and W.A. Criswell instituted a movement to fight the forces of liberalism and relativism. The result was the founding of the Moral Majority and the endorsement of Ronald Reagan for president. That alliance between the religious and the political is now stronger and more consequential than ever before. Roe v. Wade is on the verge of collapse, Christians serve in key governmental positions, and the public square is no longer hostile to the faith of its Founding Fathers. Following in the tradition of Criswell, Jeffress is a fearless cultural warrior, repelling the liberal assault on Judeo-Christian values.
The church first broadcast its services on radio in 1922. Expanding into television in 1951, today First Dallas not only broadcasts on radio and television, it also publishes books, and its internet-based iCampus is the virtual church for tens of thousands of people across the country and around the world. The media ministry of First Dallas, Pathway to Victory, broadcast Dr. Jeffress’ messages daily on 1,000 radio stations and 16,000 television stations and cable systems in all 195 countries.
It’s no surprise that First Dallas is often referred to as “America’s church,” and considered “first among equals” in the Southern Baptist denomination. First Dallas is planning a massive celebration of its 150 years of ministry Sunday morning, July 29. Joining Pastor Jeffress and the congregation in the services will be Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Every family who attends will receive a free leather commemorative Bible and the book Tales of First Baptist Dallas, and every child will receive a copy of the church’s brand-new children’s book, The Promise.
To learn more about the 150th Anniversary, visit www.firstdallas150.org.
Dr. Robert Jeffress is a best-selling author of 24 books, a nationally and internationally syndicated TV and radio host and the senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, one of the largest and most influential churches in America. Pathway to Victory, Dr. Jeffress’ broadcast ministry, airs daily nationwide on more than 900 radio stations and is broadcast live to 195 countries. His latest book, “A Place Called Heaven: 10 Surprising Truths About Your Eternal Home,” is available in bookstores everywhere. He is an evangelical adviser to the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.