Welch College is owned and operated by the National Association of Free Will Baptists and is governed by a board of trustees elected by that association. The college subscribes to the beliefs and practices set forth in the Free Will Baptist Treatise.
The National Association of Free Will Baptists founded the college as Free Will Baptist Bible College in 1942. The Board of Education of the National Association chose Nashville as an ideal site for the new college, centrally located among the major centers of the denominational population in the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest.
The Board of Education selected Georgia native Linton C. Johnson as the college’s first president, a post he held for 34 years. The ministry of Dr. Johnson and his wife Ruth was of singular influence in shaping the character of the college, its sponsoring denomination, and its theological expression in the twentieth century. Under his leadership, the college moved from a fledgling Bible school to a comprehensive, accredited Bible college with numerous new buildings and programs of study.
The college purchased one building on Richland Avenue in the historic Richland-West End neighborhood, which later became known as Davidson Hall. Eight students gathered there in 1942, comprising the original student body. The original faculty and staff numbered four, including such luminaries as Laura Belle Barnard, J. R. Davidson, and Henry Melvin. Originally a two-year institution, the college added a third year of study in 1949 and a fourth year in 1950, and awarded its first bachelor’s degrees to five seniors in 1951.
In 2012 the college changed its name to Welch College to signify its development into a more comprehensive Christian college. The college is named for John L Welch and his wife Mary. Welch was the leading figure in bringing together eastern and western Free Will Baptists to establish the National Association of Free Will Baptists in 1935, having served as the first moderator and secretary of education of that association.
In addition to Dr. L. C. Johnson, Welch College has been led by four presidents: L. R. Ennis (1944-1947), Dr. Charles A. Thigpen (1979-1990), Dr. C. Thomas Malone (1990-2002), and Dr. J. Matthew Pinson (2002-present). Today the College enrolls about 420 students annually from approximately 25 states and several international countries.