The First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, was chartered on November 26, 1800, and soon thereafter the first meeting house was built on Franklin Square. The cornerstone of the present church on Chippewa Square was laid on February 2, 1831, and the building was completed in 1833. This Greek Revival structure is Savannah’s oldest standing house of worship. The sanctuary was enlarged in 1839, improved from time to time, and completely renovated in 1921. The most recent renovations were in 1966, 1989-1990, and 1998-1999.
The church was granted a perpetual charter on December 19, 1801, by Governor Josiah Tattnall, Jr., to “the Deacons of the Baptist Church in Savannah.” The name has been the First Baptist Church since February 4, 1847. The Sunday School was organized on April 29, 1827. Henry Holcombe, first pastor of the church, edited The Analytical Repository, said to have been the earliest religious magazine in the South and the first Baptist missionary magazine in the nation. William Bullein Johnson, second pastor, became the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, after retiring as president of the Triennial Convention.
In 1828, Josiah Penfield, a deacon in the church, left a legacy of $2,500 to the Georgia Baptist Convention, which became the first money given toward the establishment of Mercer University, principal Baptist college of Georgia. In 1844, Joseph Binney left the pastorate of this church to go to Burma to become associated with Adoniram Judson, leader of the first Baptist missionary group to go out from the United States. This church was one of the very few Southern coastal churches that did not close during the Civil War. Pastor Sylvanus Landrum preached on Sunday to a congregation made up largely of Confederate soldiers, and the next Sunday he preached to one largely of Union soldiers, Savannah having surrendered during the week.
Three pastors of this church have become outstanding leaders in Baptist denominational life. W.L. Pickard became president of Mercer University, Norman W. Cox became executive secretary of the Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Arthur Jackson became the first secretary of the Georgia Baptist Foundation. Recent pastors have included Leroy Cleverdon (1942-1961), W. Forrest Lanier (1962-1969), Thomas D. Austin (1970-1988), Fred W. Andrea (1989-1993), and John M. Finley (1994-present).
First Baptist Church is a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, and the Baptist World Alliance. While proud of our Baptist heritage, we link hands and hearts with our brothers and sisters who are called by names other than Baptist and work together in efforts of mutual interest and concern. Social ministries and ecumenical ventures are among our vital emphases.
Our membership consists of “sinners saved by grace.” As we commit ourselves to God and the church, we are strengthened for living. We seek to know God through prayer and study of the Holy Bible, to minister in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to worship in the fellowship of the church, and to advance and promote the Christian faith among all people.
Significant in our church program is a balanced ministry to all age and interest groups. Our members and participants come from all parts of Chatham County and surrounding areas. This congregation has its missionary emphasis extended to the ends of the earth and at the same time has the freedom and space to grow here at home. This is God’s Church where one can grow in mind, spirit, and love unto the fullness of the stature of our Lord.
This is a church with a vision of an even more illustrious tomorrow. Located in the heart of a great city and with a unique ministry to all Savannah, First Baptist Church, while proud of its heritage, is a church of the future.
Need is the basic criterion for each of the programs offered by the church. The congregation, through each of its organizations, is constantly evaluating itself by this criterion. One of the guiding thoughts is that the First Baptist Church be teaching and reaching individuals and not being active just for activity’s sake. For that reason, our programs are designed specifically to meet real life needs.
With the hymn writer we affirm that “new occasions teach new duties.” While the objectives of this congregation remain constant through the years, we must ever be alert to new needs, new opportunities, and new methods for meeting these objectives.