Baptist associations are the oldest cooperative organizations in the Baptist denomination. The first Baptist association was organized in 1707 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Baptist state and national conventions were organized later. Although local associations, state conventions, and national conventions collaborate in ministry, they are separate entities.
Dallas Baptist Association began in 1903 with 16 cooperating churches in Dallas County. It was originally named the Missionary Baptist Association of Dallas County, and Dr. George W. Truett, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, called the first meeting to order. R.C. Buckner, the founder of what was then called Buckner Orphans’ Home, was elected the moderator. The mission of the new association was “missionary, educational and benevolent, the promotion of harmony of feeling and concern of action among Baptists, and a system of cooperative measure for the promotion of the interests of the Redeemer’s Kingdom at home and abroad.”
As the city of Dallas grew in the early twentieth century, the membership of the association grew along with it. By 1923, DBA churches in Dallas claimed about 150,000 members. In 1945, at the encouragement of WMU leaders Gladys Moore and Mrs. C.L. Doughty, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Patton donated 512 wooded acres in Cedar Hill for a summer camp for children and teens. Now known as Mt. Lebanon, the camp provides year-round recreation and camping for all ages.
The growth of Dallas’ suburbs in the years after World War II broadened the influence of DBA to county-wide. During the mid-twentieth century, church “program” meetings were the most visible expression of the association’s ministry. Sunday School leaders attended associational training events. The first training clinic for Vacation Bible School was in 1952, and more than 1200 people attended.
By 1960, 203 churches were members of DBA, and the association began to move toward a more comprehensive ministry approach. Church planting became a priority, and new churches began to multiply in Dallas as existing churches sponsored new congregations in housing subdivisions being built across the growing county. A director of Christian social ministries was added to the staff in 1960.
By 1989, 409 churches were members of the association. Desiring to follow where God was at work in Dallas and Rockwall counties, the ministry of the association was characterized by a strong emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity and strengthening inner city churches. In 1997, DBA reported 487 member congregations worshiping in 40 different languages.
Today, DBA continues its mission to assist its member churches in their mandate to “go and make disciples.” Its teams– evangelism, church planting, church strengthening, and Mt. Lebanon camp, provide encouragement, consultation, and resources to its diverse churches serving the international city that Dallas has become.