Fourteen member of Centennial Olivet Baptist Church (Louisville, Kentucky) founded St. Stephen Church in July 1926. The founding members, M. H. Montgomery; Peter Pincham; Robert Carter; Paris Roberts; Kiah Herston; Bertha Jackson; Irma Douglas; Garfield Whitney; Rev. John L. Woolfolk; Cordelia Whittenhill; Bettie Hayden; Delbert King; and Percy Baker; initially met in the basement of Antioch Baptist Church as they searched diligently for a pastor for their church. Finally, they found their pastor in the young Simmons University student, Rev. Benjamin James Miller, Sr. Rev. Miller immediately accepted the position and served as the pastor of St. Stephen Church for the next 44 years.
Rev. Miller was the first African-American to graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He was an outstanding preacher, teacher and leader and under his anointed direction, the church grew numerically and spiritually. In 1952 a new church building was constructed on Fifteenth Street behind the existing Kentucky Street structure, to meet the congregation’s growth needs. Eleven years later, the church outgrew its facility again and in January 1966 the B. J. Miller Education Building was erected on Kentucky Street. The new building was placed on the spot where the initial St. Stephen Baptist Church building stood.
Dr. Miller served as pastor of St. Stephen until his death in 1970, and was succeeded by Dr. Benjamin S. Baker, son of founding member, Percy Baker. Dr. Baker’s outstanding leadership continued to strengthen the church. The St. Stephen parsonage was constructed during Dr. Baker’s term. After five years of service; however, Rev. Baker left St. Stephen to pastor another church and was replaced by Rev. William T. Young. Rev. Young served as the pastor for two years.
In November of 1979, the pulpit duties were entrusted to a 20-year-old, Eastern Kentucky University student who would eventually take the church to an even greater level of growth and ministry. The student was Kevin Wayne Cosby, grandson of Rev. Dr. B. J. Miller.
Like his grandfather Rev. Dr. Kevin Wayne Cosby was a strong proponent of education, primarily Christian education. In the mid-1980’s Dr. Cosby put feet to his convictions and built a superior Sunday School Program that ignited explosive growth in the membership. By 1989, the church congregation grew beyond the initial 300 regular attendees who welcomed Rev. Cosby in 1979. Strong Sunday school classes, coupled with Cosby’s dynamic bible-based practical preaching and teaching, attracted such large crowds that hundreds of men established the “On the Wall Committee” so that women and children could be seated comfortably during Sunday morning worship service.
Deferring the need to build a larger worship facility, Dr. Cosby convinced the church to build a Family Life Center in order to pull at-risk neighborhood children off the streets. The St. Stephen Family Life Center became one of the first of its kind and a ministry model for many churches throughout the state.
By 1992 the congregation had grown to more than 2,000 members and the need to expand could no longer be ignored. A $1.4 million, 1,600 seat worship center was built on Fifteenth Street, adjacent to the existing worship facility. The doors were opened in September 1993. God continued to fill hearts and seats and soon the 1,600 seat worship center was too small. Attendance quickly reached 1,700 for Wednesday Night Bible Study and 7,000 every weekend, with four weekend worship services.
In 2001 Dr. Cosby and St. Stephen Church followed God’s leading to plant a church in southern Indiana. Through the generosity of Rev. Russell Lievers, and First Southern Baptist Church in Clarksville, Indiana and the Clark County Public School System, the congregation met for three and a half years at Clarksville High School for Sunday Service, and First Southern Baptist Church for Thursday night Bible study. In the fall of 2004, the new church family marched into a new $5 million, 1,000 seat church/prayer retreat center, on Veterans Parkway in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Current membership in Indiana is now in excess of 800 people.
The Family Life Center also underwent a $4.1 million expansion in 2001. The expansion included two basketball courts, a bookstore, a café, racquetball courts, saunas, a dance studio, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and classroom space that will accommodate 2,500 people.
Under Dr. Cosby’s outstanding leadership the church has made a significant impact on the condition of the surrounding community and its residents. Neighborhood liquor stores and nightclubs were purchased and demolished. In 1997, the property at 7th and Kentucky Street (formerly Simmons University) was purchased and converted into a multi-purpose life enrichment center. Also, the church erected Hotel California in 2005, which serves as a transitional house for recovering addicts.
It has been said that “Buildings don’t change lives, but what goes on inside does”, and this statement is true for St. Stephen Church. Since inception, St. Stephen Church has changed the lives of people and communities by utilizing the teachings of Jesus Christ and applying them to practical life. As a result of its dedication and obedience, St. Stephen Church current has 10,000 members and was recognized by Outreach Magazine as one of the top 100 largest churches in America in 2005.