Legacy Churches in the Southern Baptist Convention

Sam Rainer

May 21, 2017


This week I defend my dissertation. Finally. Assuming all goes well, I’ll earn a Ph.D. in leadership. I look forward to playing with my children and sleeping once again. I’m grateful to Dallas Baptist University and Dr. Adam Wright, my committee chair—incredible influences shaping me into a better leader. If you’re considering a school, then DBU should be on your list.

My topic and dissertation title is “Legacy Church Leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention.” At some point in the future, I’ll post some of the findings. For this post, I’ll simply reveal the seven legacy churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and explain how I determined them.

I started the study with the idea that some SBC churches are notable because of their size, particularly megachurches—those averaging more than 2,000 people in weekly attendance. I also made the assumption that other SBC churches are prominent because of their age and history, especially those older than the median age of a church in the United States—73 years. If legacy is—at least in part—determined by size and age, then these churches would have a unique legacy.

To determine how many legacy churches exist in the Southern Baptist Convention, I applied some filters.

  • First, there are approximately 181 megachurches in the SBC.
  • Second, of these 181 megachurches, 68 of them are older than the 73-year median age of a church.
  • Third, of these 68 established megachurches, only seven of them have been megachurches for multiple generations, being among the first wave of megachurches and staying that size.

Only seven! I was surprised by the small number of established, longstanding megachurches in the SBC. Who are these churches?

  • FBC Jacksonville, FL – founded 1838
  • FBC Houston, TX – founded 1841
  • FBC Atlanta, GA – founded 1848
  • FBC Dallas, TX – founded 1868
  • FBC Orlando, FL – founded 1871
  • Bellevue Baptist Church Cordova, TN – founded 1903
  • Second Baptist Church Houston, TX – founded 1927

The focus of my dissertation was on four of them. Given their prominence, I called them “legacy churches.” The term “legacy” is used in a variety of ways, so I clarified the definition in my dissertation. Whatever the term, most of my readers likely recognize the above churches. Why you recognize them is what my study is about.

Pray I pass my defense. Once I recuperate from the years I’ve put into this beast, I’ll share a little more about the results.


23 comments on “Legacy Churches in the Southern Baptist Convention”

  1. Chris Bonts says:

    Can’t wait to hear your results. Proud of you my friend. Congrats!!!

  2. Thom S. Rainer says:

    Praying for you. Proud of you.

  3. Wayne Bray says:

    I look forward to reading more about this subject Sam. Charge on!

  4. Ken Coley says:

    Having participated in my fair share of dissertation defenses, I’d simply like to add a word of encouragement. From the above abstract I would say you have a valuable topic, a sound research design, and you very appropriately define ‘legacy’. You got this. Rest easy.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thank you, Ken! Much appreciated.

  5. Timbo Fowler says:

    Way to persevere in beast mode for so long. You and your Dad will be a pair o’ docs in your family soon. I believe in you!

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thanks Timbo! I need some beast mode right now…

  6. Donald Davis says:

    Look forward to hearing more! My wife and I were baptized in the new Auditorium at First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FL. Miss the days of Dr Lindsay and Dr. Vines. Best of luck.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Dr. Vines was a big help with the dissertation. Thanks Donald!

  7. I don’t know you, Sam, but my daughter used to be the Director of Student Activities at DBU and also earned her undergrad and graduate degrees there before taking a similar position at Belmont University in Nashville. So, I not only appreciate your feelings about the university, I am really interested in the subject of your dissertation and am praying for you as you defend it! I am the Media Director of Right From The Heart, the media ministry of Bryant Wright. God bless you!

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Mary – Bryant is one of my mentoring pastors! Love that guy! Thanks for your prayer.

  8. Chris says:

    What a fascinating and enriching study. Can’t wait to hear more from your hard work. Congrats!

  9. Phil Rice says:

    I am encouraged to hear there are others who still believe in building up the established churches. I look forward to seeing your findings after some much needed time with your family. Praying for you and your family as you push through the finish line together this week.

  10. Edward Lane says:

    Can’t wait to hear a report from you in more detail on this fascinating subject! Would you mind if I did an article about you and your great project for Hubpages.com? If you don’t recall I mentioned you in some articles I wrote for Examiner.com. My father was a Southern Baptist pastor for more than 40 years, and I attended Southern Baptist conventions with him many years. I mentioned your father Thom in several articles also. I am looking for ways to spread the Great Commission. I believe some of your family follow me on Twitter.

  11. Ed Johnson says:

    Hope your defense went well. Proud of all you have accomplished. Now enjoy time with Erin and those three special kids!

  12. Sarah says:

    I grew up under Dr. Adrian Rogers at Bellevue, and while I’m aware of its history, I didn’t know Bellevue was among the seven churches you pointed out. Thanks for the post, and look forward to reading more.

    1. Edward Lane says:

      I heard Adrian Rogers speak at a southern baptist convention, and he was remarkable! You are fortunate to have him.

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