When a group of ministers met in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845 to establish the Southern Baptist Convention, they simultaneously created two separate boards to oversee the domestic and foreign missionary work of the convention. The Board of Domestic Missions, headquartered in Marion, Alabama, had as its three main purposes sending missionaries to frontier settlements, strengthening churches in the South, and evangelizing slaves. Reflecting an additional emphasis, the convention changed the agency’s name in 1855 to the Domestic and Indian Mission Board.
Financial struggle and administrative turmoil characterized the board’s history from 1845 to 1874. The year 1874, however, marked a new era. The convention renamed the agency the Home Mission Board (HMB) and, in 1882, moved its headquarters to Atlanta. That same year, they appointed a new corresponding secretary (director), Isaac Taylor Tichenor (1825-1902), who succeeded in reversing the agency’s fortunes during his seventeen-year career. During that period, the board appointed a total of 2,692 missionaries, organized 2,290 churches, started 2,117 Sunday Schools, built 640 church buildings, and added 67,169 members to Southern Baptist churches. The state of Tennessee shared in all of those efforts, but Tichenor also inaugurated a particular program that would prove to be the board’s most significant investment in the state.
In 1885, addressing the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tichenor called for financial support for missionaries to the southern Appalachian mountains. A limited program supporting ministers and evangelists followed, concentrated primarily in East Tennessee and western North Carolina. By 1898 Tichenor had mustered sufficient support to begin a network of schools in the mountains, mostly in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.
For the most part, the HMB established elementary and secondary schools (Harrison-Chilhowee Institute, established in 1881 in Sevier County, for example), along with a few colleges that received support for their roles in training ministers and teachers for the mountain region. The schools received most of their support from local churches and associations and from tuition. The HMB administered the schools and provided part of the funds to purchase property and construct and equip buildings. They also supported some of the teachers. In addition, the board had on its staff a full-time supervisor for the mountain schools program whose responsibilities included recruiting teachers and seeking opportunities to establish schools with local cooperation. Financial pressures from school creditors, together with a disastrous embezzlement scandal at the HMB in 1928, prompted officials drastically to reduce funding for the mountain schools program. In 1931 the HMB transferred all responsibility for the schools to locally organized boards of trustees.
The mountain schools program reflected a model of cooperation between the HMB, state-level missions boards, and local Baptist associations that has continued to govern HMB programs, many of which have been carried out in Tennessee. In 1935 the board inaugurated a new program of evangelism and church-planting in the mountain region. That same year, defeating an effort by the Tennessee Valley Authority to prohibit missionary work among laborers building the Norris Dam, the HMB and the Tennessee Baptist Convention Board of Missions established a church in Norris. During World War II the national and state boards cooperated to establish churches and other ministries for communities that grew up around industrial defense plants and military camps. Beginning in 1945, the state board and Home Mission Board also cooperated with the National Baptist Convention to provide an African American missionary to work with the black student population in Nashville. Since the end of World War II, the Home Mission Board and the Tennessee Baptist Convention Board of Missions have cooperated in language missions, financial support for rural churches, church building loan programs, evangelism, military and prison chaplain programs, and urban social ministries.
A Heritage of Caring People: Home Mission Board, SBC (1995); Arthur B. Rutledge, Mission to America: A Century and a Quarter of Southern Baptist Home Missions (1969)