Our History

South Main Baptist Church has been a part of the fabric of the Houston community for more than 110 years. Located between downtown and the Texas Medical Center, South Main has a history that intertwines closely with the growth and development of Midtown. The church’s congregation has been active in missions and ministries both locally and abroad throughout its history and is known for its progressive mindset toward issues such as civil rights and women in ministry.



Houston in 1903 (Image from the Harris County Archives)

South Main’s journey began in 1903, when the Texas Baptist Convention invited Dr. Livingston T. Mays, a young and charismatic preacher, to visit Houston for a series of “tent revivals.” Dr. Mays' preaching took the city by storm, and in the midst of the services he was called to become the pastor of a yet-to-be founded church on the south edge of town. On November 15, 1903, the Tuam Avenue Baptist Church was founded with 32 charter members. 

Serving and meeting the needs of our community is built into our DNA as a church. Early on, Dr. Mays and the Tuam Avenue congregation were instrumental in helping another local Baptist leader, Rev. Dennis R. Peveto, purchase and establish an 18-bed Baptist Sanatorium in downtown Houston. This facility became Houston's Memorial Hospital, eventually evolving into today's Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. 



From the Houston Post, March 30, 1906

By the time Dr. Mays left Houston in 1906, the congregation had grown to 139. For the next decade, it continued to grow under a succession of young, energetic pastors: Dr. Charles T. Alexander (1906-07), Dr. John Wheeler Loving (1908-11), and Dr. Amos Dempsey Sparkman (1911-17). 

In 1918, Dr. Montrose Wolf became the pastor, serving for 19 years. A few years into his pastorate, the congregation began to outgrow its building on the corner of Fannin and Tuam. The church acquired property along Main Street and In 1924 contracted leading Houston architects Sanguinet, Staats, Hedrick, and Gottlieb to design a new home. In 1930, the Sanctuary building—where we continue to worship today—was finished. The church moved to its current location at 4100 Main Street and changed its name to South Main Baptist Church.

In its new location, the church maintained its tradition of meeting the needs of the community. From 1935 to 1939, it served as the campus of the University of Houston, until the University's current campus on Cullen Boulevard was completed.

The South Main Sanctuary, designed by Sanguinet, Staats, Hedrick, and Gottlieb in 1924 and completed in 1930.

In 1938, Dr. Wolf was succeeded by Dr. E. Hermond Westmoreland, who served as pastor for 33 years. During this period, South Main's strong community focus continued. The church sponsored seven mission congregations around the greater Houston area, which eventually grew into independent churches in Almeda, Algoa, Addicks, Willow Meadows, Sugar Creek, and Stafford. At home, several important ongoing ministries were inaugurated, including the South Main International Learning Experience (SMILE), a ministry for internationals living in Houston, and Sojourn House, which provides apartments to patients being treated in the Texas Medical Center. When Dr. Westmoreland retired in 1971, the church's membership had swelled to over 6,000 members.

Dr. Kenneth Chafin came to South Main as pastor in 1972. During his eventful 12-year tenure, South Main was named “Church of the Year” by Guideposts Magazine, in recognition of its growth and its innovative new Singles ministry, which served those who were divorced as well as those who had never married. During Dr. Chafin’s time at South Main, the church called a full-time Pastor to Internationals and ordained its first women deacons. The church was part of the effort that established the Main Street Coalition of Churches, which then founded the Emergency Aid Coalition to serve Houston's most vulnerable residents. Dr. Chafin left South Main as pastor in 1984 and returned in 1992 as a member and Pastor Emeritus, a position he held until he passed away in 2001.

Dr. William L. Turner of Lexington, Kentucky, became pastor in 1985. He led South Main through transitional years, as the area immediately around the campus changed drastically. As many neighboring churches moved away from downtown to the suburbs, South Main's congregation made a commitment to remain close to downtown. A multimillion dollar “Touch The Future” capital campaign in 1989 led to the renovation of existing buildings and the addition of a new Welcome Center facing Main Street. The church also expanded its missions engagements with the community and the world, including forging a vital partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship after discontinuing its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001. Dr. Turner retired in 2002.

Our current pastor, Dr. Steve Wells, became South Main’s ninth pastor in 2003. Under his energetic leadership, South Mainers have continued to embrace a heritage of diversity and a passion for service. In the past decade, the church built a new Youth Center, renovated classroom buildings, and improved its children’s facilities. Most recently, we completed an $11 million comprehensive renovation of our 1930 Sanctuary building, including the Fellowship Hall immediately below the Sanctuary, and installed a new, state of the art organ. South Main has also launched vibrant and enduring mission partnerships in China, Peru, and Kenya; closer to home, we inaugurated an outdoor chapel service, called “Manna”, to worship with and engage our neighbors who are homeless.

As we move into the future, South Main's legacy of service and tradition of innovation continue, as our Family and Adult Ministries form the cornerstone of ongoing plans to make South Main an ideal place to grow, learn, and cultivate the spiritual gifts of all those who come to the church. Our congregation is teeming with a sense of vitality for the things God has set out just ahead for us. We hope that you will consider being a part of all that is happening at 4100 Main Street.