The Baptist faith reached this portion of the Michigan Territory in 1826 when a missionary preached to the Potawatomie living in this area. In 1836, a year before Michigan became a state, fourteen settlers met in a frontier home to organize the First Baptist Church.
1836 also marked the launching of Kalamazoo College. With help from the newly formed church, the college constructed its first building and began holding classes. The church’s second Pastor, Dr. James H.B. Stone, was an early President of the college and many of his successors in that office have been active in the congregation.
The current church building was erected in 1853, and modified in 1871 with a gabled roof and a balcony to keep the walls from bowing out. This unique solution has worked for nearly 150 years and the sanctuary remains a place of beauty for worship and concerts. In 1931 a four-story facility with a basement was added to accommodate the growing children’s program.
Like many older, downtown churches, First Baptist has struggled in recent decades. In fact, declining attendance and growing operating deficits brought the church to the brink of closing in January 2015. The church, however, voted to spend its accumulated funds to do something new and different. This led to the hiring of Rev. Dr. David L. Nichols and the approval of a Mission Intern Program to impact the Kalamazoo community. In the following months, some amazing things have happened.