First Baptist Church of Jacksonville
|First Baptist Church of Jacksonville|
|Weekly attendance||7,500 (Sunday)|
|Division||Florida Baptist Convention|
|Senior pastor(s)||Mac Brunson|
The First Baptist Church of Jacksonville is a large Southern Baptist church in Downtown Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. As of 2011, First Baptist Church has 28,000 members and an average attendance of around 7,500 for Sunday services, making it the third largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention. The main Downtown Campus comprises nine square blocks of property connected by above-ground crosswalks. The campus includes several auditoriums for services, a Sunday school building, and facilities for First Baptist Academy, a private K-8 school.
First Baptist Church has its origins in the oldest Baptist congregation in Jacksonville, Bethel Baptist Church, established in 1838. The church experienced a period of considerable growth in the mid-20th century, and now encompasses eleven square blocks of downtown Jacksonville. Several former pastors, including Homer G. Lindsay, Jr. and Jerry Vines, were widely influential in the Southern Baptist Convention, leading it in both growth and a shift towards conservatism.
First Baptist Church traces its origins to Bethel Baptist Church (now Bethel Baptist Institutional Church), the earliest Baptist church to be founded in Jacksonville. Bethel Baptist was established under co-pastors James McDonald and Ryan Frier in July 1838 with only six charter members, four whites and two blacks, the latter of whom were slaves of white members.. Membership quickly grew, with most early congregants being black slaves who received day passes from their masters to attend. The first meetings were held at "Mother Sam's", a local plantation, and in 1861 a permanent meeting hall was erected in Downtown Jacksonville at Church and Julia Streets. The Bethel Baptist Church remained interracial until after the American Civil War, at which point the decision was made to segregate the congregation by race. White members attempted to force out the blacks, and took their case to court. However, the court found in favor of the blacks, who were in the majority, determining that they were the rightful owners of the Bethel Baptist name and property. As a result the whites left the congregation, forming Tabernacle Baptist Church, which was eventually renamed First Baptist Church. Bethel Baptist Institutional Church now numbers its congregation at approximately 10,000 members.
In 1866 Tabernacle Baptist Church purchased the Church Street property from Bethel Baptist Church, as was required by the court. The church went through a number of changes over the next years, and in 1892 it moved to its current location between Church and Hogan Streets, adopting the name First Baptist Church. The building was entirely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1901, which ravaged downtown Jacksonville. In 1903 the foundation was laid for a new building, which was completed within a year. This building, now known as Hobson Auditorium, still serves as part of the larger First Baptist complex.
The church did not fare well in the early 20th century. By 1940, First Baptist had accumulated a debt of $125,000 and saw its educational building repossessed by its creditors. That year, the church hired Homer Lindsay, Sr. as their senior pastor. Under his leadership the church reversed its fortunes, and within a few years it paid off its debt, acquired a new education building, and grew its congregation. In 1969 First Baptist hired Lindsay's son, Homer Lindsay, Jr., as co-pastor; he took over sole pastoral duties upon his father's retirement in 1975. Under Lindsay, Jr. the church experienced even faster growth, emerging as a megachurch with thousands of members and many new buildings, including a new 3,500-seat auditorium.
Jerry Vines joined Lindsay as co-pastor in 1982. First Baptist grew even further, becoming a major power in the Southern Baptist Convention and adding a 10,000-seat auditorium in 1993. Vines became a key leader in the growing Convention and was a major figure in its shift toward strict conservatism. Vines and First Baptist Church received national attention in June 2002 for Vines' controversial statements regarding Islam. Lindsay died in 2000 and Vines retired in 2006; Mac Brunson was hired as senior pastor that year. Recent developments include the establishment of First Baptist Academy and of a satellite campus of the church in neighboring St. Johns County.
First Baptist Church of Jacksonville has two satellite campuses. Their South Campus meets in the Ponte Vedra High School auditorium in St. Johns County. They recently purchased land in the Nocatee community and will build a full campus on the land. In 2013, the Ortega Campus was opened after FBC JAX acquired Ortega Baptist Church.
- Jeff Brumley (December 16, 2009). "Churches lead effort to keep downtown Jacksonville alive". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- Jeff Brumley (June 30, 2008). "Church size: It's all in the numbers". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- Bartley, pp. 13–14.
- Rosser, p. 20.
- "First Baptist Church: Our History". fbcjax.com. First Baptist Church Jacksonville. 2013. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- Jeff Brumley (May 8, 2005). "First Baptist in sunset of an era". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- Vines calls founder of Islam a 'demon-possessed pedophile' | Friday, June 14, 2002
- Bartley, Abel A. (2000). Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-1970. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-31035-1. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
- Rosser, John Leonidas (1949). A History of Florida Baptists. Broadman Press. ISBN 0-313-31035-1.
- First Baptist Church of Jacksonville official website
- Bethel Baptist Church official website
- 50 Most Influential Churches - FBC Jax #19