DALLAS — in 1868, the village of Dallas, population 2,000, hadn’t been kind to many churches. As settlers poured into Dallas, many of them weren’t known for their religious or law-abiding ways. It was in that wild west context that 11 people banded together to form the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Their first services were in a Masonic lodge. As the city grew, the church grew even more, completing its historic sanctuary in downtown Dallas in 1890.
Any church in a major downtown area faces daunting challenges to growth: the scarcity of land, the price of real estate, accommodating those who come from outlying areas and their cars — to name but a few. These are among the reasons why virtually every megachurch in America was either founded in the suburbs or relocated from downtown to the suburbs. But the advantages of a thriving church in a downtown area are compelling: the ability to be in the center of the action where multitudes come for work and for play every day of the week, the ability to serve those living and working downtown every day, and the ability to be a spiritual oasis in the very heart of the city.
It is because of those advantages that First Dallas has called downtown its home since 1868, and why First Dallas has been compelled to exercise bold imagination for its buildings and use of space in order to both become one of the nation’s first megachurches and continue to have facilities for growth. Through its history, 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. But as time progressed, even more boldness was required.
When Dr. Robert Jeffress became pastor of First Dallas in 2007, the church soon set upon the largest Protestant church building campaign in modern history to accommodate growth. In 2013, the church imploded its original buildings (and event covered live on national television) and constructed a new campus covering six square blocks at the cost of $135 million. The result: a thriving spiritual oasis in downtown Dallas, well able to accommodate the 13,000 members that call First Dallas home and serve the 7.1 million people of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and the world.
It’s no surprise then that First Dallas, with its legacy of faithful, thriving downtown ministry, is often referred to as “America’s church.” 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.
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