Wayne B. Smith, 87, who helped start Southland Christian Church, Lexington, KY, in 1956 and served as her senior minister until 1995—growing the church from 152 to 3,700 weekly—died June 29, 2016. He remained faithful to the end, even encouraging a gathering of ministers in Jessamine County, KY, the day before his death.
Smith, a resident of Sayre Christian Village in Lexington, was once dubbed “the Bob Hope of the Ministry.” He joked that he remembered more jokes than Scriptures. His laugh was infectious. He was known to take buckets of KFC chicken to the needy, friends, and church visitors. At Smith’s funeral, flowers filled those chicken buckets.
“As funny as Wayne was, he was even more faithful,” said Jon Weece, Southland’s minister, speaking at Smith’s funeral. “He never shied away from taking a stand on what was right. He faithfully spoke the truth in love.”
Smith was born Jan. 21, 1929, in Pennsylvania but grew up in Cincinnati, OH. A 1952 graduate of Cincinnati Christian University, he began his ministry in Cynthiana, KY, pastoring Robinson Christian Church, Stringtown Christian Church, and Unity Christian Church before arriving in Lexington in 1956. He planted Southland under the sponsorship of her mother church, Broadway Christian Church.
His generosity was well-known. He officially retired in 1996, but continued to speak from coast to coast for banquets, revivals, conventions, business gatherings, and churches until the day he died.
“Wayne Smith was a gift from God, a rare gift that almost everyone who met him recognized,” said Bob Russell, retired minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY, and one of the speakers at Smith’s funeral, which was attended by thousands. “He was a good man, but we’re here today not just because Wayne Smith touched our life, but because of Jesus Christ, who has touched us all.”
“In the years I covered religion,” said Paul Prather, reporter for Lexington’s Herald-Star, “nobody from any church—or those outside the church—ever said a bad word to me about Wayne’s character or his sincerity. Never.”
He was the preacher’s preacher and he devotedly served the institutions that encouraged and discipled them. He was president of the North American Christian Convention in 1977; the NACC named him one of “God’s Honored Servants” in 1996. The Wayne B. Smith Oratorium at the CCU chapel is named in his honor (he served CCU as a trustee for 25 years). The Wayne B. Smith Center for Christian Leadership is at Kentucky Christian University, where he received The Lusby Award in 1996. He received honorary doctorates from Louisville Bible College (1970), Kentucky Christian College (1975), and Kerala Christian Bible College in India (1989).
He believed the church was to be the conscience of the community, so he took public stances and developed intentional relationships with leaders. Assurance for Life and Right to Life honored him in 2009 with the Power of One Award for his stand protecting life; the Salvation Army honored his community service in 2009; and the Lighthouse Ministry named its new dining facility for Smith and his wife of 63 years, Marge, in 2016.
Marge predeceased him in 2014.
Survivors include two daughters, Judy Speakes and Jana Thore; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
The funeral service was conducted July 6 at Southland Christian Church. Burial was at Lexington Cemetery. Among those participating at one or both of those services were Wally Rendel, Dr. John Borders, David Waits and the Messengers Quartet, Jana Thore and Judy Speakes, Buddy Mossbarger, Ben Merold, Brewster McCloud, Joe Wright, Chuck Lees, Rod Huron, and Kenny Speakes.
“The last time we were together,” Barry Cameron told the crowd at the funeral service, “he asked me what I thought of God. I said, ‘The voice is like Morgan Freeman, but he looks like Wayne Smith.’”
Memorial contributions may be made to Assurance, Bluegrass Christian Camp, or Sayre Christian Village, all located in Lexington.
(Special thanks to Rod Huron for contributing to this article.)