Ever welcome to this house of God are strangers and the poor.

A sign bearing these words hung outside of the 1,500-seat Illinois Street Church back in 1864—the seed from which The Moody Church grew. Today, 150 years and four locations later, a sign bearing those same words still hangs on the building that bears its founder’s name.

Click here to return to the main 150th Anniversary page.

D.L Moody, A Man for Our Times

When Dwight Lyman Moody came to Chicago in 1856, he was only 19 years old. He was determined to be a businessman and make $100,000. While working as a businessman, he also rented pews in a local church (a common custom of the time) and brought children from the darkest, poorest parts of the city to fill them. However, the kids didn’t feel welcome, and the congregation didn’t like the disturbances caused by the rowdy children. So after failed attempts to work with already-established churches, Moody started his own Sunday School.

Four years after he arrived in Chicago, big changes were in store for the eager young man. In 1860 his Sunday School had outgrown its space. Moody went to the Mayor of Chicago and received permission to use the hall over the city’s North Market. It was that same year that the Lord impressed upon Moody’s heart the need to give up business and go into full-time ministry.

By the end of 1860, the fame of the North Market Hall Mission was so great that the recently elected President wanted to visit the school. Abraham Lincoln came to the school and was even prompted to say a few words (though he had told John Farwell, the superintendent of the school, that he did not want to be asked to speak).

Lincoln’s visit marked a change in how people viewed Moody. Prior to the visit by the President-elect, Moody was often referred to as “Crazy Moody.” But afterwards, he was known as “Brother Moody” and was seen as more respectable. None of this, of course, mattered to Moody. His concern, his passion, was for souls, and that passion was caught by those who knew him.

As Moody’s North Market Mission School continued to grow, he saw the need for a real church (and building). On December 30, 1864, the Illinois Street Church was formally dedicated. Moody served as one of the deacons, and in 1866 the church called its first Senior Pastor: J.H. Harwood.

How Firm a Foundation (1864-1913)

Lyle W. Dorsett states in A Passion for Souls, his biography of D.L. Moody, that “although the church adopted a congregational government, from the start it stood as an independent evangelical church with the most aggressive evangelism program in Chicago.” Today, The Moody Church is still an independent evangelical Protestant church, and our evangelism program is still reaching out to the people of Chicago, and to the people of the world.

Pastor Harwood resigned in 1869, and for nearly six years the church was without a Senior Pastor. Despite this, the church continued to thrive. it was during this time, on October 8, 1871, that the great Chicago fire destroyed the Illinois Street Church, but God’s faithfulness was still clearly evident. Within eleven weeks, the North Side Tabernacle was erected and served not just as a temporary church but as a relief center for the victims of the fire, where thousands were fed and clothed, Moody himself moved into the building and spent his mornings looking for refugees that needed assistance.

In the spring of 1873, the church paid just over $22,000 for a piece of land at the corner of Chicago Avenue and LaSalle Street. Construction began on the new building just as Moody and Ira Sankey, his newly-recruited soloist, left for their campaign in the United Kingdom.

While in the U.K., the Moody and Sankey Hymnbook was published. The royalties, which neither man accepted, were sent back to Chicago to finish construction on the Chicago Avenue Church. The building was completed and dedicated in June of 1876, and the church finally found a new Senior Pastor: Rev. William J. Erdman.

In 1878, the church took a step which started a tradition still held today. Fredrik Franson, a member of the church, was commissioned as the church’s first missionary. Franson had such zeal and fire for the Lord that he was nicknamed the “gunpowder preacher.” He preached from America to Russia to Sweden to Australia, kindling revivals wherever he went.

That same year, Pastor Erdman resigned and passed the mantle onto Charles M. Morton, who pastored for a year, followed by George C. Needham for two years. Both Morton and Needham had been part of the Illinois Street Church and kept evangelism at the forefront of their ministries.

The church was once again without a Senior Pastor between 1881 and 1885. Charles F. Goss served in the position from 1885 to 1890, followed by Charles A. Blanchard from 1891 to 1893 (while he was also serving as President of Wheaton College). During this time, Moody founded what would become the Moody Bible Institute, a formal educational institution separate from the church. In 1894, Dr. Reuben A. Torrey was called to not only be the Senior Pastor of the church, but the Superintendent of the school. The church also hired its first Assistant Pastor, W.S. Jacoby. Torrey held both of his positions for twelve years, stepping down when his own evangelistic campaigns took more of his time.

In the middle of Torrey’s tenure, D.L. Moody died. It was a blow to the church, the city, and even the world. Still, God’s faithfulness continued to be seen at the church. As Torrey prepared to leave, A.C. Dixon from Boston’s Ruggles Street Church was called to fill the pastorate, with E.Y. Woolley becoming the Assistant Pastor. Both men had been prepared by God to face the challenge of the 1907-1908 financial crisis. They led the church in giving out over 40,000 meals in just two months, and Dixon also held occasional meetings in Chicago’s Loop that were attended by thousands.

Towards the end of Dixon’s tenure, The Moody Church invited a well-known Scottish evangelist to lead a series of prayer meetings. John Harper’s messages were received well and sparked a revival and continuous daily services. In 1911, Dixon resigned his pastorate to become the Senior Pastor at the historic Metropolitan Tabernacle in London—the church made famous by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. While The Moody Church searched for a new Senior Pastor, John Harper was inivted to return for a number of months. But on his return trip to the United States, his ship—the Titanic—hit an iceberg and sank. Harper’s six-year-old daughter and her aunt survived the Titanic disaster, but John Harper did not; however, he spent his last moments on this earth sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

E.Y. Woolley stepped up to serve as acting pastor from 1911 to 1915, then resumed his role as Assistant Pastor under the leadership of new Senior Pastor Paul Rader. By the time Rader came on board, World War I was already underway, and the church had once again outgrown its facilities—proving again that God was still blessing the church even in difficult circumstances.

His Truth is Marching On (1914-1929)

The church decided to relocate one mile north to the corner of North Avenue and LaSalle Street. The “Big Tabernacle” accommodated 5,000 people, and crowds of that size were a common sight even with its sawdust-strewn floors and billboard-laden fences. This temporary structure saw evangelistic meetings held nearly every night, and by 1917 the church had added over 1,200 new members.

On January 18, 1920, a young Russian immigrant came to the Tabernacle. He’d been told that he could hear “eloquent English” there, and expected to find a small auditorium and a handful of old people. What he found was four thousand people of all ages sitting on wooden benches. And as Paul Rader preached, pointing at the crowd, repeating “You need to be saved,” Peter Deyneka, that young man who came to hear “eloquent English,” was converted. He went on to found the Slavic Gospel Mission, which God uses to this day to evangelize thousands of people in Russia and beyond.

Another convert from this time was a young woman named Avis Burgeson. She loved poetry and had been writing since the age of ten. In 1917 she married Ernest Christiansen, who was president of the church’s Christian Companionship Club. Avis’s poems became an essential part of church services, and her words were often put to music, including the hymns “Precious Hiding Place” and “Love Found a Way.”

While the church was seeing record numbers in Chicago, its heart for missions was also beating strongly. In 1916, in the middle of World War I, there were 37 individuals and couples serving as missionaries around the world from Morocco to Beijing, and from São Paulo to Tokyo. The church also helped to fund the Petrograd (Saint Petersbug) Tabernacle, as well as send handmade clothing (by the Junior Christian Endeavor class) to a Belgian orphanage.

In 1921, Paul Rader announced his resignation; the “Big Tabernacle” was in need of repair; and in Canada, P.W. Philpott—one of the country’s foremost preachers—was about to receive an invitation to become the church’s next Senior Pastor.

Philpott had long admired The Moody Church and even organized his own work along the same lines as The Moody Church’s constitution. His strong Bible ministry was formed after attending one of D.L. Moody’s meetings in Toronto. God had already prepared him for the church, and he accepted the Senior Pastor position in 1922.

One of his first tasks was the erecting of a new church building. The wooden tabernacle was six years old, and it had been built with the expectation of only being used for six months. Philpott and the church mobilized their forces for the huge task. As Robert G. Flood says in The Story of Moody Church, “The proposed memorial structure in tribute to Dwight L. Moody that eventually unfolded on the drawing boards seemed almost breathtaking, especially for a congregation that had lived for six years in a wooden structure with sawdust floors and surrounded by a fence of billboards.”

On the morning of Sunday November 8, 1925, the congregation moved into The Moody Church’s new building. Every seat was filled and hundreds stood in the ambulatory through the entire service. In his dedicatory sermon, Philpott told the congregation that the new building was to stand “as a memorial to one of Chicago’s greatest citizens…there is a great Protestant church in the city of Chicago where rich and poor alike are ever welcome and where in spirit and in truth they can worship the God who is the maker of all of us.”

Later that month, Dr. Reuben Torrey returned to the church for an evangelistic campaign, and a month later, Billy Sunday took the pulpit. G. Campbell Morgan and Gipsy Smith also preached from the new pulpit during Philpott’s tenure. And while theological liberalism continued to erode the greater Protestant church, The Moody Church stood firmly on God’s Word.

As with many of the former Senior Pastors, the call to evangelism outside of the church pulled Philpott away. He announced his resignation in the spring of 1929 to be effective June 30. Under his leadership, the church had built a million-dollar home, regular attendance was the largest in the church’s history, and they were supporting 88 missionaries around the world.

As with Torrey’s departure and Dixon’s arrival in 1906 just prior to the financial crisis, Philpott would be handing over the keys on the eve of the Great Depression and another World War. As always, God had already fitted the right man for the right time: Dr. Harry A. Ironside.

Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still (1930-1952)

Ironside was a man on the go. When not in the pulpit on Sundays, he was often preaching or leading meetings in other churches throughout the week. He spoke, on average, upwards of 450 times a year, and was a prolific writer of Bible commentaries and apologetic works. Despite his heavy schedule, he kept the church on course with a clear witness for Christ, and refused to let it be drawn into the despair and fear of the times.

The Moody Church’s radio ministry grew in importance. Sunday services were broadcast over the airwaves, and in 1938, Charles E. Fuller’s Old Fashioned Revival Hour was broadcast live from the church to an estimated audience of five million people.

God’s Word continued to go forth from the church, through its services, radio ministry, outreach to the city, and global missions. In 1935 alone there were nearly 4,000 reported conversions connected with the church’s evangelism efforts.

During World War II, The Moody Church had over 200 members serving in the armed forces. Even in the midst of uncertain times, the church provided for the spiritual and physical needs of others. New Testaments, Ironside’s books, and other apologetic works were given to servicemen and women in training far from home. Offerings were taken to support the Red Cross and the Gideons, and the Christian Companionship Club sent Christmas packages to church members in the military.

Missionaries abroad wrote of the trials and triumphs in their ministries in war-torn areas. Through it all, God’s Word and the hope that could be found in Christ were proclaimed here in the U.S. and around the world.

Since 1933, the church had been involved with the city-wide Easter sunrise services held at Soldier Field—by 1944, more than 400,000 people had attended.

A milestone event took place right in the heart of the war: church members had not only given sacrificially to help those in need during the war, they also gave above and beyond to pay off the church’s debt from the construction of the new building. On December 31, 1943, at the stroke of midnight, the church burned its mortgage. Ironside presided over the event, and Dr. Philpott, under whose ministry the building was erected, returned to burn the final debt note.

In 1948, after eighteen years as Senior Pastor (the longest-serving up to that point), Dr. Ironside tendered his resignation so that he could spend more time with his ailing wife. Sadly, she went home to be with the Lord before his resignation took effect. He let his resignation stand and went on to preach at conferences around the world.

H.A. Hermansen served as acting pastor until Dr. S. Franklin Logsdon came on staff as Senior Pastor in 1951. It was during Logsdon’s installation ceremony that word was received of Ironside’s death.

Just weeks after Logsdon took the pulpit, a young Billy Graham, who had once been the voice of Songs in the Night, spoke to over 10,000 people at two services during Moody Bible Institute’s annual Founder’s Week Bible Conference.

In August of 1952, Logsdon resigned the pastorate. A congregation that had been used to Ironside’s many years of steady leadership was dealt a blow with Logsdon’s exit. However, in January 1953, during an evangelistic campaign held at the church and led by Dr. Alan Redpath, the congregation unknowingly saw and heard their new Senior Pastor.

Born of His Spirit, Washed in His Blood (1953-1965)

Redpath had been the Pastor of the Duke Street Baptist Church of London. Under his leadership, the church went from being an obscure little church to one of the most thriving churches in England. When he came to pastor The Moody Church, both the church and the city of Chicago were undergoing major changes.

The church’s neighborhood was now home to a constantly changing population that had less familiarity with the Word of God. This mobility meant that the church had a very small window of opportunity for evangelism. What had once been a close-knit community of church members in the neighborhood was now fragmented.

Redpath’s solution was obvious: the church needed to sink its roots deep into God. He reiterated that there should be no gap between a person’s profession of faith and how they live it out day to day: there needed to be lifestyle evangelism. Home evangelism, small groups, and door-to-door evangelism were just some of the initiatives given new life under Redpath’s leadership. He rented the Men’s Grill at Carson Pirie Scott & Co. and invited Christian businessmen to bring non-Christian friends. The camping ministry and Vacation Bible School continued to be popular outreaches to the community. And nearly a century after its founding, The Moody Church was supporting over 150 missionaries around the world.

In 1962, nine years after taking the helm at The Moody Church, Redpath resigned in order to take the pastorate at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland. But before he left, he helped lead a Billy Graham Crusade in the city and one more Mid-America Keswick Convention, which was one of the first innovations he brought to the church from his native England.

It would be four years before a new Senior Pastor was found to fill the pulpit; during that time, attendance dropped. In 1966, Dr. George Sweeting came on board and turned the ship around. His warm, friendly personality and enthusiasm were contagious, and little by little, the church began to grow again.

With Cords that Cannot Be Broken (1966-1979)

During his tenure, Sweeting not only brought the Songs in the Night radio program from the Village Church of Western Spring to The Moody Church, he expanded the radio ministry. Soon Songs in the Night was being sent out over 100 stations.

Sweeting also began a Saturday night evangelistic rally with the church’s youth at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center on Lake Michigan’s North Shore, where it was not unusual to see a thousand sailors in attendance—with an average of ten percent responding to the Gospel invitation.

Back at the church, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, joined Sweeting’s efforts and formed a Lay Institute for Evangelism at the church; a Day Care Center was opened; and in 1969, the church’s first citywide Easter sunrise service was held in more than a decade.

One of the biggest outreaches to children during Sweeting’s pastorate was “Dial-A-Story,” where children called in to hear a three-minute Gospel message. With hopes to get a few dozen calls per day, they were happily surprised when, in the first week, 1,100 calls were received.

In five short years, Sweeting helped revive The Moody Church amid the turmoil of the inner city in the late 1960s. He resigned as Senior Pastor in 1971 to become the President of Moody Bible Institute, and Dr. Warren Wiersbe was called to take over the reins of The Moody Church. When he did so in the middle of 1971, he hit the ground running.

Wiersbe, as the other Senior Pastors, came to the church at just the right time. The Radio Ministry had been slowly expanding, and Wiersbe already had radio experience. While Sweeting brought Songs in the Night to The Moody Church and expanded it to over 100 stations, Wiersbe took it a step further.

In 1972, Songs in the Night received the Citation of Honor from the National Religious Broadcasters, and it wasn’t long before the program was aired on over 250 stations. Then in 1974, Moody Church Hour, a delayed broadcast of the Sunday morning service, was added to the program list.

With two radio programs reaching out to the Chicago area (and beyond), the music ministry also picked up steam. The annual Christmas Festival had always filled the auditorium, but now more guest artists were brought in to perform and the choir recorded a number of albums. In 1976, The Moody Church’s “Festival Americana” was one of the official American Revolution Bicentennial events in Chicago.

The church undertook the establishment of new ministries that included an outreach to the ever-growing single population in the city. Cassette tapes of Wiersbe’s messages were made available and 13,000 were distributed in one year alone.

The church also came alongside 350 other local churches for a massive telephone evangelism campaign to reach as many Chicagoans as possible.

In 1975, the church celebrated the anniversary of the building that was erected under Philpott’s leadership fifty years prior.

May of 1978 saw Wiersbe submit his resignation in order to spend more time, as did many former Senior Pastors, writing and preaching/teaching at Bible conferences. But just a year earlier, God had prepared a remarkable encounter between Wiersbe and the man who would become the next Senior Pastor of The Moody Church.

Let Courage Rise with Danger (1980-Present)

On April 3, 1977, the Sunday after Erwin Lutzer’s resignation from Edgewater Baptist Church on Chicago’s far north side, the Lutzer family had no church home to attend. His wife, Rebecca, suggested going to hear their friend Warren Wiersbe at The Moody Church.

Lutzer dropped off his family outside of the church, then went looking for a parking space. At that moment, a man pulled out of a space directly across from the door, and Lutzer gratefully pulled in. Finding his family in the lobby, he was surprised to see Wiersbe headed for the door wearing his coat just ten minutes before the service. Lutzer asked where he was going, and Wiersbe answered, “Erwin, I’m sick. I’m on my way home. Will you preach for me this morning?” If Lutzer had arrived a few moments earlier, or a few moments later, the two would have never met in the lobby. Lutzer was quickly introduced to the staff, scribbled an outline of one of his recent sermons on the back of an envelope, and preached his first sermon at The Moody Church at literally a moment’s notice. Looking over the congregation, he said in his heart, “Lord, if they ever call me to this church, I’ll say yes.” He never dreamed that this was exactly the Lord’s plan.

A year later, when Wiersbe resigned, the church asked Lutzer to fill in whenever they had no pastoral candidate in the pulpit. Although everyone could plainly see God’s hand at work in his arrival, it didn’t seem likely that he would be called to the senior pastorate because of his youth. For a year and a half, both the Lutzers and the church prayed for the Lord’s guidance. Finally, in November 1979, Lutzer was called by a unanimous vote and began his official pastorate on January 1, 1980, at the age of 38.

Like Wiersbe, and Sweeting before him, Lutzer understood that the key to being effective in a city like Chicago was to personalize the church. He began by focusing on creating ministries to disciple each believer and train every church member in personal evangelism.

Operation Nehemiah,” which would refurbish the historic building to help facilitate effective ministry, was implemented in 1983; but just three years later, in January of 1986, an arsonist set a fire in the sanctuary. The grand piano, the 1929 organ console, and the pulpit were reduced to ashes. The damage totaled around $500,000. But despite the scaffolding, the drop cloths over many of the seats, and the clearly visible aftermath, D.L. Moody’s pulpit was brought out of retirement, and services continued unabated—just as they have done every Sunday for 150 years.

The church continued in the tradition that D.L. Moody set of compassion for the less fortunate. Partnering with various urban ministries in the city, the church and ministries addressed the unique problems of the inner-city from teen pregnancy and gang violence to drug addiction and homelessness.

In 1993, Songs in the Night celebrated its 50th anniversary, Moody Church Hour was still going strong, and two years later, a third program was added to the mix: Running to Win.

Being an early adopter of technology, The Moody Church embraced the ministry potential of the internet and launched its first website in 1998. A facelift was given to the site in 2003 when live streaming of the Sunday morning service was added to the site. In 2011, an entirely new website was built from the ground up to provide each ministry with tools to reach their groups and others outside of the church who would be interested.

The need was also seen for an online resource center that could provide materials at no cost to those who couldn’t otherwise afford them, and to those in third world countries or countries where the spreading the Gospel is dangerous. With that in mind, Moody Church Media (formerly known as the Radio Ministry) split its website from the church’s and launched its own. The new site houses not only the radio program broadcasts, but sermons, articles, and other biblical and apologetic resources.

In 1999, the church purchased a parcel of property on the north side of the building. This property, adjacent to land purchased in 1994, allowed the first opportunity since the 1940s to develop an addition to the building. In January 2000 a stewardship campaign called “Reaching Toward Tomorrow” was launched, designed to cover the costs associated with land purchases, construction of a new addition, and much-needed renovations to the existing church building, such as replacing the 80-year-old air handling system. The Christian Life Center, raised to accommodate the growing community within The Moody Church and to equip believers to represent Christ, was dedicated on May 20, 2007.

The year 2001 saw the seedling of a new ministry that reflected the heart of D.L. Moody. With sixteen kids from the heart of the notorious Cabrini-Green projects, Kids’ Club was started in a room in the church. Today this ministry is known as By The Hand Club For Kids. Those children most likely to drop out of school are invited to join the program. During the time of day when most crimes are committed by or against youth, these children are tutored, given a healthy meal, play games, practice music, receive counseling, and learn about the full and abundant life Christ has for them. By The Hand’s comprehensive care also includes vision and dental checkups, field trips, and practical aid for families. The care lasts from childhood into adulthood.

In 2005, By The Hand became an independent ministry, and by 2013, this ministry that started with just sixteen kids in a single room in The Moody Church serves 895 students in four of Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods.

In 2006, the church’s three radio programs—Moody Church Hour, Running to Win, and Songs in the Night—were being heard on a total of 900 outlets around the world. That same year, the church became part of a joint project with Radio Vocea Evangheliei in Romania to broadcast translations of Lutzer’s sermons on Alege astazi (Choose Today). In 2008, Running to Win was expanded in many markets from a 15-minute to a 25-minute program. Today, the four programs combined are heard on over 1,700 outlets.

While the church has numerous outreach events and partners throughout the world, Lutzer has emphasized that in order to meet the needs of the community, strong believers are needed. To prepare the church to reach outside of the walls, there needs to be much happening within the church walls. TMC (The Moody Church) Communities were formed—taking the larger church body and breaking it down into “communities” (adult Sunday school classes) that have a small-church feel.

Then in 2007, the church’s Equipping Ministry was launched. Designed for those seeking more tools to help them in their walk with the Lord, the semester-long classes, set up much like college courses, help believers build a Gospel-centered, Kingdom-oriented worldview. The many courses offered include classes on core biblical doctrine, how to study the Bible, sharing your faith with others, world religions and cults, and a variety of other subjects.

A Light to the City, A Heart for the World—A Vision for Tomorrow

As of the end of 2013, at 33 years (and counting), Dr. Lutzer is the longest-serving Senior Pastor of The Moody Church. As challenges continue to mount and threaten Christianity, Lutzer and The Moody Church will stand strong against the incoming tide—thanks to the faithfulness, grace and mercy of God.

Throughout our long history, programs have been implemented with the express purpose of sharing the Good News of the Gospel with as many people as possible. We believe this message that changed so many lives during Moody’s era is the one message people need today, and it will be the one message needed for the next generation. The verse in our sanctuary says it all: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever.” We dare not become distracted by lesser things.

Each age has had to rekindle D.L. Moody’s original vision. We must never weary of telling a world inundated with bad news that we have Good News: God has done something wonderful on our behalf, and thanks to Christ, we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him if we come in faith to receive the free gift of eternal life.

This deeply-held conviction that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation has given us a heart for the world. From our home base in Chicago we have sought to send our representatives—our missionaries—to many nations. After all, we keenly feel the weight of the biblical teaching that every human being will be consciously and eternally alive somewhere, either in bliss or indescribable agony; and their destiny is determined by their relationship to Jesus Christ. We rejoice in the salvation of all peoples, no matter where they are found. Our motto, Celebrating the Joy of Changes Lives, spans the globe.

—Dr. Erwin Lutzer

Celebrating the Joy of Changed Lives

For more information on the history of The Moody Church, purchase our limited-edition commemorative book, Celebrating the Joy of Changed Lives. Filled with previously unpublished photos, stories, and correspondence, this beautiful 128-page book takes readers on an unforgettable journey through The Moody Church’s storied history.

The book is available for an introductory price of $25 via the Moody Church Media website or at The Moody Church’s media center.