History of FBC
Since 1864, church members have established rewarding new ministries, built five glorious places of worship plus additions, heard about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and served God’s children. The church has experienced wonderful growth and Jesus Christ has led the way.
As our church historian recently remarked, “The thread that runs through First Baptist Church’s history is prayer.” We invite you to follow that thread. Revisit our history and pray about the possibilities for the future.
Pioneers of the Baptist denomination in West Urbana (now Champaign) looked to God for guidance as they wondered if they should start a local congregation. Sensing that the Holy Spirit was leading them, they stepped out in faith which began the journey that has brought us to the present.
Nine men and fourteen women, after hearing the word of God preached, remained after the service on September 11, 1864 to discuss organizing a Baptist Church. After declaring their purpose, they adopted articles of faith and a Church Covenant, called a pastor, and selected a committee to invite other churches to a council to officially recognize them as a Baptist church.
The new church, which first met in Bailey’s Hall on University Avenue, immediately began to consider a permanent location, erecting a building, and raising funds for that purpose. Ladies of the church, together with the city, purchased two lots for a building site and gave them to the church. The lots were on the corner of Park and State streets, west of the Virginia Theater. But by the time the church was 18 months old, it had increased to 114 and had outgrown its new chapel. Plans were immediately made to rebuild.
A second church building was finished in 1869. It was located on 101 North Randolph in Champaign. Over the next thirty years the church advanced and grew. That building served the church until 1899, when a new building program was begun.
The new building was completed and dedicated in February 1900. In 1920, the church had again outgrown its quarters. Not feeling equal to a new building, they chose to excavate the basement which proved to be more expensive than anticipated. It was completed just prior to the economic depression. It would be many years before that debt was substantially reduced
In 1950, interim pastor, Rev. John W. Merrill, encouraged the congregation to think about improving and enlarging the building. In November 1954, a building committee was elected. The church was also encouraged by Rev. Goodwin to become “…more aware of steps that must be taken to meet the rapid changes of society…”
By 1958, the new building was in place. The church had authorized a loan secured by pledges and the Board of Trustees sponsored a second building fund campaign to carry on the next phase of improvements. In 1962 another building campaign was launched to finance renovation of the exterior of the building, complete the rebuilding of the organ, and remodel the kitchen.
In the late 1970’s First Baptist Church began to emphasize evangelist outreach. We held seminars on evangelism and growth. In 1979 the church employed Church Growth Services to study our needs and potential. They recommended moving the church to the southwest part of Champaign-Urbana.
Property became available in the Arbours subdivision in April, 1980, and our building was sold to the Bank of Illinois. In November, 1981, our present church was finished. In 1984, because worship and church school attendance exceeded predicted levels, we added an additional Christian Education building. Stewardship continues to be strong, allowing us to hire additional professional staff. This additional staff permits us to begin new popular programs such as KeenAgers, Parish Nursing, Angel Corp, a Preschool and many others.
Continuous challenges connected with a growing church and ministry (Sunday School growth, Choir growth, Worship Service growth leading us to two worship services) brought about the construction of a $2.7 million multi-purpose building addition which we call “The Crossing.”
Such is one part of the story of a congregation that set out to be faithful to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in this area. It is a remarkable story, a story of God’s call, God’s grace, and the faithfulness of God’s people known as the First Baptist Church at Savoy. Let us pray that those who come behind us will also find us faithful.