Early Moody Church History

Throughout The Moody Church’s history, our passion has been sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in Chicago and around the world. For over 150 years, we have been celebrating the joy of changed lives in our community.


Our story began with a man who wanted to share the joy of the gospel with the needy and humble. D.L. Moody started his ministry in Chicago in 1856. A shoe salesman by trade, he found the call of the God to be deafening in comparison to the riches of the world. Leaving behind a life of luxury, Moody established a Sunday school for poor children in an area of Chicago known as “Little Hell.” Filling the small space with more than 500 people each Sunday, his ministry quickly outgrew its facilities as more and more children and their families flocked to hear Moody’s powerful preaching. In 1864, Moody and his congregation opened the Illinois Street Church. When this church burned down during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, this original congregation re-built what would eventually be called The Moody Church today. The Sanctuary that you see today, modeled in part after the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, was dedicated in November of 1925. In commemoration of the building, then-Pastor P.W. Philpott announced,


This building shall ever stand as a testimony to the power of the gospel of God’s grace…We ask the question, “What mean these stones?” They mean that 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 us all. They mean also that this church is to be a base from which heralds of the cross will be sent forth in great numbers to the ends of the earth to tell the story of redeeming grace. 

The Moody Church through the Ages: Celebrating the Joy of Changed Lives

D.L. Moody once wrote, “Cities are centers of influence. Water runs downhill and the highest hills in America are the great cities. If we can stir them up, we can stir the whole country.” Moody spoke more truly than he knew. In his day, only 10% of the world’s population lived in cities; today it’s over 50%, and the urbanization rate continues to increase. Cities no longer shape only their surrounding areas, they shape the world.


In 1959, former Pastor Alan Redpath said of The Moody Church’s plans to engage an evolving American culture, “We’ll be located right in the heart of one of the finest [neighborhoods] of any city of America. The Moody Church, known all over the world as a fundamental stronghold, will become one of the most strategically placed churches in the country.” The Chicago skyline has changed around it since then, but The Moody Church has remained steadfast in its mission of sharing the gospel in the city and around the world.


Each age has rekindled D.L. Moody’s original vision, and we have never grown weary of telling a dying world that we have Good News: God has done something wonderful on our behalf; we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him if we come in faith to receive the free gift of eternal life offered through Jesus Christ.


For over 150 years, many have taken up the mantle of D.L. Moody and led this great congregation in the furtherance of the gospel. Godly men such as A.C. Dixon, P.W. Philpott, Harry A. Ironside, and Erwin W. Lutzer (among others) have helped establish a legacy of service at The Moody Church. Under their visionary leadership, the congregation has grown, ministries have expanded, hearts and lives have been changed, and God has been glorified.


Today, we are still a church with a passion for the gospel. Our purpose is to evangelize, edify, and equip people to be true worshipers and effective representatives of Christ “so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Toward this end we have been celebrating the joy of changed lives since 1864.

The Real Moody Church: Celebrating 150 Years of God's Faithfulness

The video below, made for our 150th anniversary celebration in 2014, is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to this church over many years, and the legacy we are striving to leave for the future.