History and Affiliations

HeritageHallwayPulpit 2History of First Baptist Greenville

First Baptist Church of Greenville traces its beginnings to 1822 when Reverend William Bullein Johnson, a Baptist minister, moved to Greenville to become principal of the Greenville Female Academy. Since there was no Baptist church in the village, Johnson began holding preaching services in the courthouse. In 1825 he began a subscription to build a Baptist meetinghouse. Vardy McBee donated a lot on E. McBee and the building was completed in 1826. After Johnson left Greenville, the Greenville Baptist Church was organized on November 2, 1831 in the building that Johnson provided.

There were ten charter members, nine women and one man, but by the end of 1832 there were 45 members. In the 1850s several significant events occurred that impacted the life of the church and laid the foundation for the progressive spirit characteristic of First Baptist. In 1851 Furman University relocated to Greenville on nearby property across the Reedy River. Three years later the Greenville Baptist Female College, later known as Greenville Womans College, opened a few blocks from the church. By this time the brick meetinghouse was crowded, and the congregation erected a new building on West McBee Avenue. Dedication service for the new building was held in February of 1858. The following year, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was established and the vacated meetinghouse became its first home. The opening of the seminary brought some of the best minds in Southern Baptist life to Greenville and into the life of the church.

The missions outreach began in the 1850s when a mission Sunday School was established. Interest in missions increased in 1872 when Lula Whilden, a member of the congregation was appointed a missionary to China. As the city expanded, a missions committee was appointed. Greenville Baptist Church established three mission churches in new communities and assisted with others. As a result, the name of the church was changed to First Baptist Church in 1890.

The first half of the twentieth century saw the expansion of Christian education with graded Sunday School classes and multiple organizations for all age groups. Also a graded choir program began, and the outstanding music ministry had its beginnings in the 1930s.

The church grew steadily and by the early 1960s, the landlocked facilities on W. McBee Avenue were crowded. Needing more space, First Baptist constructed a new building and moved to Cleveland Street in 1974. The present sanctuary was completed and other additions and renovations were made in 1984 and 1993. A new Activities and Youth Ministry Center was completed and dedicated in the summer of 2009.

Women have had a significant role in the life of First Baptist since the beginning. By the 1840s “The Ladies Working Society” was raising money to help the church with expenses and for missions and the poor. Women began serving as deacons in 1975 and now are found in all leadership roles. Ordained women have been part of the pastoral staff since 1989, and the first woman was ordained to the ministry in 1991.

The fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention which began in 1979 caused First Baptist to re-examine its contributions to the Cooperative Program. In 1987 the church sent a resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention protesting the stance taken by the convention of opposing the ordination of women, the de-funding of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, and the recent events at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. When the Alliance of Baptists was formed in 1988, First Baptist was a participant and provided leadership. Realizing the fundamentalists had gained complete control of the SBC in 1990, moderate Baptists organized the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as an alternative. Again, First Baptist Greenville was a part of the vanguard of this effort. In 1998 the Baptist Faith and Message was revised by the SBC to include the statement that “a wife is to submit herself graciously” to her husband. In response to this action, First Baptist Greenville voted in 1999 to disaffiliate itself from the Southern Baptist Convention.

First Baptist’s commitment to missions and involvement in the community began early in its history and continues today in the form of financial support to local and international efforts. Recent and current “hands on” missions include: Haynie -Sirrine neighborhood partnership, adult and youth mission trips, Habitat for Humanity, “Operation Inasmuch”, Cuban partnership, Gandhi School in Hungary, Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network (GAIHN), Annie’s House, and Operation Backpack.

In an effort to be open and welcoming to all people, a Task Force was charged by the Diaconate in February, 2014 to determine the church’s relationship to the LGBT community. At the conclusion of a yearlong process of study and conversations, the LGBT Discernment Team, with the approval of the Diaconate, issued the following statement:

“In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The congregation affirmed the consensus statement during the worship service on May 10, 2015.

First Baptist Church Greenville today is a community of approximately 2,100 with a budget of $2,500,000. The membership includes many of the professional, business, educational and civic leaders from the Greenville community. The worship services are traditional/liturgical with a wide variety of musical offerings.

First Baptist Church’s uniqueness is due in part to the outstanding men and women who have served as ministers through the years as well as gifted lay leaders. The congregation is grounded in the historic Baptist principles of the authority of the Bible, freedom of the individual led by God’s spirit, freedom of the local church, religious liberty and the priesthood of every believer. On the basis of these principles, the church seeks to live out its faith in the world as a “Community of Believers, Each Member a Minister.”


Glen Clayton
Church Historian
October 2016

Missions Partners

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