Metro Jacksonville shares a behind-the-scenes look inside Downtown Jacksonville's largest religious institution, First Baptist Church.
At 28,000 members, the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville is the third largest of the 43,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon the retirement of pastor Jerry Vines in January 2006, Dr. Mac Brunson relocated from the First Baptist Church of Dallas to become the church's new senior pastor.
First Baptist Church of Jacksonville was established in July 1838. At the close of the Civil War, an effort was made to separate the Colored and White members but an agreement could not be reached over possession of the property. The opposing factions went to court and the decision was in favor of the Colored members since they were the majority. They retained the name of the Bethel Baptist Church and were the rightful owners of the Church Street property. From the separation, the White members established the Tabernacle Baptist Church, located on the corner Hogan and Church Streets, which was later named First Baptist Church (Downtown). The church building was destroyed in what has been called the Great Fire of 1901. Dr. Hobson, the senior pastor at the time, went across the country collecting funds for a new sanctuary. The cornerstone for the new sanctuary was laid in February 1903 and was completed the following year. At the time, the sanctuary was State of the Art and could seat approximately 1,500 people. Dr. Hobson remained pastor until 1923. The building was renamed the Hobson Auditorium in his honor.
The church went through many pastors from 1923 to 1940 and accumulated a debt of $125,000, lost a seven-story educational building, and had no facilities to accommodate the growth.
A New Era
In 1940, Dr. Homer Lindsey, Sr. was called to be the new senior pastor of First Baptist Church and completely revitalized the church. By the end of 1943, the church became debt free and continues to be debt free to this day. In 1948, the church built its first educational building debt free. During this time, membership grew as well as contributions which was the main factor in the revitalization process. In 1969, Dr. Lindsey's son Homer Lindsey, Jr. came to First Baptist as Co-pastor. The two Lindseys would lead the church together until Dr' Lindsey, Sr.'s retirement in 1975. The membership of First Baptist grew so much that a new sanctuary was completed in 1976. This sanctuary, the Ruth Lindsey Auditorium, was also State of the Art and could seat 3,500 people. The Miracle of Downtown Jacksonville, as First Baptist has become known as, continued in 1982 when Dr. Jerry Vines became Co-pastor with Dr. Lindsey, Jr. Up until 1988, the church had expanded to nine buildings and membership went from 2,385 to 14,172. In the 1980s, the church created the Pastor's Conference which is a 5 day conference for pastors from across the United States. In 1993, First Baptist had grown so much that a new State of the Art sanctuary was completed that could seat nearly 10,000 people. Dr. Lindsey, Jr. died in 2000 and Dr. Vines continued leading the church forward. In 2002, the Children's Building and Welcome Center was completed which allowed First Baptist to encompass 11 square blocks of Downtown Jacksonville. Dr. Vines retired on February 7, 2006 after serving First Baptist for 23 years. On February 19, 2006 Dr. Mac Brunson was called to be the new pastor. Today, First Baptist Church has a membership of over 29,000 people and an annual budget of $14 million dollars.
In July 2006, ChurchReport.com ranked First Baptist Church of Jacksonville 19th of the 50 Most Influential Churches in the United States.