The First Baptist Church of Dallas was organized on July 30, 1868. Its founding marked the fourth attempt at organized Baptist work in the city. The first two churches had disbanded by 1860, while the third moved out of Dallas and changed its name to Pleasant View Baptist Church. First Baptist was organized with eleven charter members on the first floor of the Masonic Hall, on Lamar Street near the intersection of Ross Avenue. Some believe that it was actually a split from the Pleasant View church; however, there is no evidence to support this belief. W. W. Harris was called as pastor in 1868 and served until 1870. Other pastors have included George W. Truett and W. A. Criswell.
Under Truett the church increased its membership from 797 to 7,804. The growth continued under Criswell, and in 1991, with a membership of more than 28,000, First Baptist was the largest church in the United States. Many well-known figures of American Christianity have been members of First Baptist, including Billy Graham.
In 1897, under the leadership of Truett, First Baptist established the first known training class for Sunday school teachers. During the late 1800s the church was involved in numerous controversies with one of its members, Samuel A. Hayden. The ultimate resolution to these controversies came after Hayden left the church and, in 1900, helped form a new Baptist denomination known as the Baptist Missionary Association.
Throughout its history First Baptist has pioneered ministries in Dallas. In 1919 it began one of the earliest ministries to the deaf in Texas. The services of First Baptist were broadcast on radio in 1921, and by 1926 three radio stations were broadcasting its programs. Its first televised service occurred on January 7, 1951. In 1970 First Baptist established a biblical institute named for Criswell, which in 1985 became Criswell College. During the controversy that occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s, many saw First Baptist as a leader in the conservative resurgence because of Criswell's commitment to the inerrancy of scripture and conservative theology.
First Baptist has remained in downtown Dallas throughout its history. In 1991 the physical plant of the church comprised twelve buildings covering five city blocks. In 1990 the church collected over $13 million to help support its work, including thirty-seven inner-city missions.