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Church History

First Baptist Church was organized in Wilmington in 1808. It was originally established as Front Street Baptist Church as the meeting house was located on South Front Street near the corner of Ann Street. After starting several other Baptist churches in the city, the name was changed to First Baptist.

The congregation began construction of the current sanctuary at the corner of Market Street and Fifth Avenue in 1860. The Civil War and its residual effects delayed completion of the building for ten years. The sanctuary was dedicated to the glory of God in May of 1870.

The architecture of the building is early English Gothic with large arches and two spires. The 197 foot spire toppled onto Market Street during Hurricane Fran in 1996 but was restored to its original height with a more significant foundation. The interior of the sanctuary has a balcony on three sides and seats approximately 700 worshippers in the original handcrafted pews with sectioned dividers and numbered as they were rented annually to members of the congregation in order to pay the debt on the original structure. The Shantz pipe organ has four keyboards, nearly 3,000 pipes and is one of the finest instruments in North Carolina.

The Education Building was added in 1922 and has been renovated several times. The church also owns a historic house behind the Education Building that is used as classrooms for Sunday school. Additionally, the church purchased a building beside the sanctuary in 1997 that serves as the administrative offices, provides additional classrooms and houses the Chapel.

Our Mission

First Baptist Church has had a missional impact on the residents of Wilmington since its earliest days. In addition to sponsoring the start of twelve churches across the region, the church embodies its mission statement of “…becoming and helping others become fully devoted followers of Jesus” by providing food for hungry neighbors, hospitality and shelter for people that are lonely and homeless, support for those who struggle financially, and clothing for people in need. Wilmingtonians know they can count on First Baptist Church to render generous help where needs exist. Whether in partnering with area churches, local ministry organizations, NC Baptists on Mission, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist World Alliance, or traveling to cities across the country or around the world, First Baptist continues in its DNA of “Love Does.”

The church placed a large missional footprint in our city by purchasing the former New Hanover County Law Enforcement Center in 2005 and creating the Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center, a humanitarian services campus of sixteen nonprofit organizations that offer life-changing hope, opportunity, and empowerment for marginalized persons of all ages. The Harrelson Center is a nonprofit organization that stands on its own with members of First Baptist serving as part of its Board of Directors.

Our Vision

The church expanded its ministry to the city by building an Activities Center in Wilmington’s midtown in 1976. The two-story building contains a gym, game room, large kitchen, meeting rooms, showers, and houses the First Baptist Church Christian Preschool. The property also contains a softball field, outdoor meeting space and a playground for young children.

In 2005, our church took a bold step for an historic downtown church. We added a modern worship service at 8:50 a.m. in addition to our traditional service which continues to meet at 11:00 a.m. Led by a band and vocal team, our modern worship would feel both exotic and informal to the people who first gathered for worship more than two centuries ago, but we believe it is in keeping with our church’s historic commitment to serve our community in ways that are contextual and relevant, just as those who first worshiped two centuries ago were doing.

Our church has a history of partnership with other churches. First Baptist was instrumental in organizing nine other churches in the greater Wilmington area. Additionally, we have been a significant partner and charter member in a variety of Baptist bodies over the centuries including the Southern Baptist Convention, North Carolina Baptist Convention, and Wilmington Baptist Association in an earlier era. More recently our church has partnered with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

Our Heritage & Hope

We are proud of our heritage as a congregation.  We believe we stand on the shoulders of those who contributed mightily to our community and to our world. We also believe that the best way to celebrate our heritage is to meet the needs of our community and our world today in ways that are creative and relevant and that point others to the love and hope found in a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. That is the legacy of mission and ministry that we have received from previous generations and the one we hope to pass on to future generations.