Our History

John Newton Prestridge, editor of The Baptist Argus, at Louisville, Kentucky, in his publication in 1904, called for a world gathering of Baptists. John Howard Shakespeare, editor of The Baptist Times and Freeman, London, endorsed the proposal. In October 1904, the Baptist Union of Great Britain passed a resolution to invite a Congress to meet with them in July 1905. At the Congress, a committee was formed, which proposed a Constitution for a World Alliance. A Constitution was adopted, containing the following preamble:

“Whereas, in the providence of God, the time has come when it seems fitting more fully to manifest the essential oneness in the Lord Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour of the Churches of the Baptist order and faith throughout the world, and to promote the spirit of fellowship, service and co-operation among them, while recognizing the independence of each particular church and not assuming the functions of any existing organization, it is agreed to form a Baptist World Alliance, extending over every part of the world.”

Membership was opened to “Any general Union, Convention or Association of Baptist Churches…” and it was decided that the Alliance would “…meet in general assembly ordinarily once in five years, unless otherwise determined by the Executive Committee…” Three leading personalities involved in the organisation included Prestridge, Shakespeare and Alexander MacLaren (who served as provisional President).

The Inaugural Meeting of the first Baptist World Congress was held at Exeter Hall on Tuesday, July 11, 1905. His Honour Judge Willis, K.C., President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, occupied the chair, and the hall was crowded with the delegates, numbering nearly 3,000.

The meeting opened with the hymn
“From distance climes, from every land,
Behold us, Lord, before Thee stand.” 

The quinquennial global gatherings of the Alliance have continued for more than a century. World conflicts made it impossible to hold to a strict five-year plan, but BWA has held 21 Congresses: London,1905; Philadelphia, 1911; Stockholm, 1923; Toronto, 1928; Berlin, 1934; Atlanta, 1939; Copenhagen, 1947; Cleveland, 1950; London, 1955; Rio de Janeiro, 1960; Miami Beach, 1965; Tokyo, 1970; Stockholm, 1975; Toronto, 1980; Los Angeles, 1985; Seoul, 1990; Buenos Aires, 1995; Melbourne, 2000; Birmingham, England, 2005; Honolulu, 2010; Durban, 2015. 

For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief, and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development.

A fellowship of 241 conventions and unions in 126 countries and territories comprised of 47 million baptized believers in 169,000 churches, the BWA is a ministry with a storied history and a strategic future.

Exeter Hall in London – site of the first Baptist World Congress in 1905.

At the inaugural Congress held in London, England, the pictured leadership was appointed to frame the BWA Constitution.

At the 1990 Baptist World Congress in Seoul, South Korea, the BWA adopted the Seoul Covenant, which reaffirmed a commitment to evanglism and launched a decade of intentional evangelistic efforts with the goal for all people to hear about Christ in their own language.

In the 1970s, the BWA continued to see rapid growth. This growth was largely due to a strong Baptist commitment to evangelism, in part demonstrated by Billy Graham pictured preaching at an open-air rally to a crowd of 30,000 – a powerful conclusion to the 1975 Baptist World Congress in Stockholm, Sweden.

More than 14,000 Baptists gathered in Birmingham, England, for the Centenary Congress in 2005.