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DALLAS FRANKLIN BILLINGTON
1903 - 1972
DALLAS BILLINGTON was
born into the family of James Monroe and Margaret
Kelly Billington in a log house near Kirksey
in Western Kentucky on January 23, 1903. He
was the tenth child and seventh son in a family
of seven boys and five girls. An eighth son,
Charles, died at three months of age. When
Billington was six months old, the family
moved to a farm in Newburg, Kentucky, near
the Tennessee River. Billington lived there
until he left home at age 17.
Billingtons parents were devout believers.
His fathers family was from Wesleyan
Methodist stock and his mothers family
was Irish Presbyterian. At birth, Dallas was
dedicated to God in a simple service at their
home in which his father held his son toward
heaven and gave him back to God in prayer.
At the daily family altar time, Billington
as a child heard his father read the Bible
and talk about how a Christian should live.
They attended Russells Methodist Chapel,
where the elder Billington was a trustee.
They often attended area revivals held at
Russells Chapel, the Liberty Church
(Presbyterian) or the Ledbetter Baptist Church.
Billingtons parents were considered
strict. They didnt allow any recreation
on Sunday and the only amusement allowed in
their home was checkers.
Billington began his formal education at age
five and a half. He attended a one-room schoolhouse
where all eight grades met in the same classroom.
The school term was only six-months, from
July through December. At the age of 12, Billington
had completed the entire eight years of study
and was awarded his diploma. Because funds
were not available to send him or the other
children several miles away to the area high
school, Billington was not able to continue
his studies. Instead, he read whatever books
he could find, which included his Bible. For
the next five years, he worked on the Coleman
Farm, a large operation that at one time housed
a great number of slaves.
On February 8, 1920, Billington left home
to find his fortune in the city. He bid his
father and mother goodbye and made his way
to Paducah, Kentucky, where jobs were plentiful.
Billington was nicknamed Slim
because he was over six feet tall and weighed
a mere 140 pounds. He applied for a job at
a shoe factory. At first the foreman rejected
his application for lack of experience.
Young Billington shot back, Would you
be a foreman hiring people and telling them
what to do if no one ever gave you a job?
Startled by his boldness, the foreman gave
him the job. Billington was quickly promoted
because he stitched more shoes faster than
any other man on the line.
In 1924, he met a young lady named Nell Stokes
and asked her for a date. She refused and
told him she went to the Emmanuel Baptist
Church. Although he had seldom attended during
the past four years, the next Sunday morning
Billington was at the church looking for Nell
Stokes. In a short time, she invited him to
attend a large tent meeting conducted by former
newspaperman Howard S. Williams. After several
nights of the meeting, Billington struggled
under conviction that he was a sinner and
accepted Christ. Standing by his side was
the woman he loved, Nell Stokes. After a few
months, she consented to become his wife.
Two years later they were married on June
In February 1925, Billington moved to Akron,
Ohio, to seek a better job so he could have
funds for a wedding and new home. He had family
in Akron and was quickly hired at the Goodyear
Tire and Rubber Company. When he attended
church there, he didnt find any he liked
and even wrote Nell that they would have to
start a church of their own. Later he said
he knew even then that God was calling him
to preach. In the factory he looked for openings
to talk to people about Christ and was thrilled
to lead several to the Lord. During his free
time he read and studied a wide variety of
materials. He wanted to know why a person
became successful and gained the knowledge
needed to be able to talk to all people in
varied walks of life.
After moving his bride to Akron, they attended
the Arlington Street Baptist Church. His wife
Nell was saved, baptized and had joined a
Baptist Church at 16. Dallass strict
Methodist/Presbyterian upbringing held that
baptism was by sprinkling. Their Bible study
led them to the teaching of Romans 6 that
baptism is a burial. This convinced Dallas
that the Baptist way was the Bible way. During
this time they heard a young Baptist evangelist
named B. R. Lakin. He challenged every believer
to confess Christ and be baptized saying,
Dont tell me you love God when
you dont love him enough to get your
britches wet! Billington responded to
this appeal, was baptized and became a member
of the Arlington Street Baptist Church. This
experience began a lifelong friendship and
association with Lakin.
In 1927, Nell gave birth to a son, Charles
Franklin Billington, named after Dallass
brother who died in infancy. Four months before
his first birthday, the child became sick
with a glandular condition that required surgery.
The operation was done on his birthday while
his parents sat in the waiting room praying
earnestly. Dallas had been struggling with
the call to preach and this event caused him
to surrender. Quietly he promised God that
if Chuckie could live, he would do his best
to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Shortly, the nurse came and declared the operation
a success. Almost immediately the child began
Billington was very grateful that God spared
his son and began to study hard so he could
preach the gospel. He could not afford to
attend a school, so he studied at home. His
books were the King James Version of the Bible,
Websters Dictionary, Crudens Concordance,
Bible dictionaries, histories of the Old and
New Testament, commentaries and biographies
of great preachers such as John Wesley, Charles
Spurgeon and others. He was especially interested
in the preachers study habits, prayer
life, personal ministry to people and preaching.
He didnt tell anyone, not even his wife,
that he was going to preach.
Although Billington taught a class of boys
in the Sunday school, he yearned to preach.
His first opportunity came while an usher
at the Furnace Street Mission. During the
first week of October, 1930, mission supervisor
Bill Denton became hoarse and asked Billington
to fill in. Although he was very nervous,
Dallas preached on the lost sheep, lost coin
and lost son from Luke 15. He felt Gods
peace upon his soul as he preached and was
thrilled to see three men accept Christ when
he gave the invitation. He soon sought opportunities
to preach. When he returned to West Kentucky
for a visit the following summer, two brothers-in-law
built a brush arbor and invited relatives
and friends to hear him preach. All were shocked
when over 500 showed up on the first night.
Before the end of the meeting the arbor had
to be enlarged and 75 people accepted Christ.
For the next two years in Akron his shifts
at the Goodyear plant were scheduled so he
could be available to preach anywhere within
a 50-mile radius. This he did without cost
to those who invited him. He also did much
witnessing, soul winning and house-to-house
visitation for his church.
In 1932, he began a weekly 15-minute radio
broadcast on station WJW financed from his
own salary. He dubbed the call letters Watch
Jesus Win. He enlisted a quartet of
fellow factory workers to sing. He told his
listeners that he worked in a factory, taught
Sunday school in a Baptist church and worked
in a rescue mission. He preached the gospel
and urged people to accept Christ. Listeners
responded with requests for visits and mailed
in gifts to help pay the fee of $7.50 per
week. When Billington lost his job during
the Depression, many times God sent funds
to pay for the broadcast through unusual means.
Before long he was rehired at Goodyear.
In 1934, a half-dozen families meeting in
the Rimer School on Manchester Road wanted
to start a church and needed a pastor. Billington
was invited to come and preach because these
families had heard him on the radio. On the
second Sunday of June, 14 came to Billingtons
first service and one lady accepted Christ.
After he announced the services on radio the
next week attendance increased to 39. In a
month the attendance was 81. In July he was
ordained at the Surgarcreek Baptist Church
of Murray, Kentucky. On Easter of 1935, the
Akron Baptist Temple was organized with 81
The church grew so rapidly that Billington
said they hardly knew what to do next. The
church grew to 1,184 in 1936. This growth
made facilities at the Rimer School inadequate
and Billington led his people in urgent prayer
for a new building. The Depression dried up
the possibility for a loan, but in August
1937 the church began constructing their new
1,600-seat facility anyway. In December the
105 x 89 foot building had a roof, but the
church was $5,000 short of funds and the work
had to cease. Billington called for an all-day
prayer meeting and requested urgent prayer
before his people and on the radio. The following
Monday, an elderly grandmother called him
to her home. She explained that she had heard
the broadcast and his prayer for $5,000. She
invited him to be seated while she went into
the kitchen. She returned and presented him
a shoebox with $5,500 inside, saying, Here
is the money and $500 more. This is not a
loan, but a gift. Other gifts brought
the total to $8,200. The building was completed
and dedicated on the next Easter Sunday with
over 2,000 in attendance. A year later a two-story
80 x 80 foot educational building was added
to provide for the 2,600 people who attended.
Of his strategy for building such a large
church, Billington said, It is the custom
of the Akron Baptist Temple to assemble all
of the adults or married couples into one
Bible class which the pastor teaches each
Sunday morning at ten oclock ... I teach
the Bible, book by book, and an invitation
is always given ... to accept Christ as their
own personal Savior. We like to think of it
as being like a Billy Sunday meeting.
One member said that Billington by himself
probably won more souls to Christ per year
than the sum total won by the average fundamental
Baptist church. His oft-repeated motto was,
I didnt write the Bible; I simply
read it, preach it and teach it. Annual
revival meetings were also conducted resulting
in hundreds of people accepting Christ. A
favorite evangelist was B. R. Lakin.
In 1940, Billington was arrested for using
a loudspeaker to broadcast services to overflow
crowds outside the building. Billington defended
his and the churchs rights before a
jury. A crowd of several thousand cheered
when he was acquitted of the charge of disorderly
conduct. Even editorials in the Akron Beacon
Journal backed the embattled preacher. In
April of 1942, when informed that the local
bus company could not provide transportation
to and from his services, Billington protested
to the federal government. He argued that
if the 21 contracted buses were not permitted
to bring people to church, then beer trucks
should also be barred from the streets of
Akron. Within three weeks, bus service was
resumed and the story was carried throughout
the country by nearly 3,000 newspapers. In
another case, he won a similar appeal over
gas rationing that hindered him from ministry.
On June 12, 1941, Billington had his first
heart attack. At first, his doctor treated
him at home. Later he was moved to a hospital.
Several months passed without improvement.
Billing-ton became discouraged and felt his
death was near. His sons earnest pleading
led him to a night of fervent prayer which
resulted in a sweet, peaceful sleep.
The following morning he was greatly improved.
As he recovered, he experienced a new, enlarged
faith and purpose. He said, God caused
me to stop and think. My illness made me very
humble. I realized I could do nothing without
God. My sickness was over and I was
rich in Gods love and mercy.
The church continued to grow during the war
years. On Easter Sunday 1945, Akron Baptist
Temple had 10,123 attend with over 80 people
accepting Christ. On June 29, 1947, ground
was broken for a new five-story, air-conditioned
church facility that would seat 4,000 people.
It had 41,000 square feet of floor space and
included a main auditorium with balcony, classrooms,
three additional auditoriums, nursery, family
parlor and restrooms. Parking lots had space
for 1,500 cars. Total cost was one million
dollars, but the church mortgage was less
than $250,000 at completion. It was dedicated
the first Sunday of April 1949 with over 38,000
people present and over 100 people accepting
Christ. The event was reported in national
magazines and newspapers throughout the United
States. Another educational building was constructed
in 1957. In 1960 a Sunday school campaign
brought average attendance to over 6,000.
Over the years, Billington received many honors.
He was recognized far and wide as an effective
evangelist, church builder and leader. In
1955, Bob Jones University awarded him the
Doctor of Divin-ity degree. In 1969, Christian
Life magazine honored Billing-ton and Akron
Baptist Temple with the Worlds
Largest Sunday School award. At that
time the membership of the church was over
16,000 and average Sunday school attendance
was 5,762 each week. Billington said the churchs
growth was the result of godly jealousy, evangelism
and visitation, use of Sunday school buildings,
promotion, tithing, busing and separation
from worldly influence. At the churchs
beginning in 1935, Billington enlisted J.
Stanley Bond as his Sunday school superintendent
and told him, You stick with me, Stanley,
and together well build the biggest
Sunday school in the world.
In the 1930s, Billington began to associate
with the independent Baptist group led by
the Texas fundamentalist J. Frank Norris.
When the Baptist Bible Fellowship was established
in 1950, he aligned himself with the new movement,
although he didnt participate in the
events involved with its founding. His church
bought the first neon sign for Baptist Bible
College in Springfield, Missouri. Over the
years, young preachers called under his ministry
planted numbers of churches throughout the
country. Billington maintained an active revival
ministry as an evangelist. During his ministry,
Akron Baptist Temple contributed to the support
of over 200 missionaries in nearly 100 countries.
From the beginning the church had a radio
broadcast and later a television ministry.
It also owned Ohio Baptist Acres, a 178-acre
all-purpose camp. In 1962, Billington wrote
and distributed thousands of copies of his
autobiography titled, God is Real.
In the early evening on Saturday, August 26,
1972, after a full day of activities, Dallas
Billington began experiencing symptoms of
a heart attack. He was immediately taken to
the Akron Medical Center where he died at
11:20 p.m. Funeral services were conducted
by his longtime friend, Evangelist B. R. Lakin.
He described Billington as a rugged mans
man who had great faith, mighty devotion and
character. He explained that Billington had
millions of dollars pass through his hands
but they didnt stick; he used them for
the glory of God. Above all, he spoke of Billingtons
great love for souls. He loved and preached
and worked and toiled for souls, he said.
A crowd of more than 6,000 people
attended the services. His son, Charles F.
Billington, succeeded him as pastor.