First Baptist Fridays – An Overview of the History of First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL

I am privileged to serve in a church that is 176 years old and counting, the First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, planted in 1838. In order to study out its history for myself and benefit any present or former members of my church as well, I am going to try to do a weekly post on our history each Friday. Today I’ll begin by simply posting an overview from our church website. I’m sure my lack of longevity at FBC will be exposed by informational gaps and unintentional misinterpretation of facts along the way. For any who are interested, please feel free to email me corrections or thoughts as you wish. I hope to eventually compile and edit these posts into a book for the benefit of our church.

From our history page:

On December 22, 1838, eighteen people met in the home of Dr. and Mrs. George Haskell to establish the First Baptist Society.  The eighteen consisted of the Reverend S. S. Whitman and Deacon Nathaniel Crosby of the First Baptist Church of Belvidere who helped the sixteen others organize as charter members of our church:Caleb Blood, Upper Alton, Illinois
Mowry and Lucy Brown, Upper Alton, Illinois
William B. Brainard, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
John and Susan Emerson, Machias Port, Maine
Dr. George and Eunice P. Haskell, Upper Alton, Illinois
James and Martha Jackson, Indianapolis, Indiana
Ransom and Laura Knapp, Upper Alton, Illinois
Isaiah Lyon, Upper Alton, Illinois
Abiram Morgan, Springfield, Massachusetts
Pierce and Evalina Wood, Conneaut, Ohio

Picture

Our church first met in a hall on the second floor of Dr. George Haskell’s store building which used to stand on the northwest corner of West State and North Main streets. In 1840, the church then built what was called “the frame meeting house,” a 30-by-40-foot balloon-frame building near Main Street facing east (a balloon-frame building pictured to the left).

Picture

In the winter of 1848–1849,  a nationally known evangelist named Elder Jacob Knapp preached for several weeks in the city court house, and the church grew to 160 members. As a result, the church built a new stone church building on the corner of Church and Mulberry streets (pictured right). Our church met there from 1850 until 1919, the same year the name of the church was changed from the First Baptist Society to the First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois.On July 29, 1920, the church celebrated its first service in a new building located on North Court Street (pictured left). Under the leadership of Reverend Bart E. Allen (served 1928–1952), the church at one point had a membership of over 800 people. He led the church through the Great Depression, and he also led the church to sever its connections with the increasingly liberal Northern Baptist Convention and its affiliated missionary societies.

After Pastor Allen retired, the church had several “chapels” that were organized into independent churches. These churches included Memorial Baptist Church (1955), Windsor Baptist Church (1957), and Faith Baptist Church in Beloit, Wisconsin (1958). Our church organized its Mexican Baptist Mission into an independent church in 1963. The church membership at this time was 886 members.

A number of factors led to a decrease in membership in the years to follow. Many left during a time of struggle after Pastor Allen’s retirement. The church was unable to reach its surrounding neighborhood that became increasingly plagued with crime. Rockford fell on hard times, and many moved away to find work. Many young people went to college but did not return to find work at home. The church investigated the idea of relocation, but the delay in relocating caused many to leave the church. Many of the church’s older members passed away.

Under the leadership of the previous pastor, Scott Williquette (served 1994–2013), the church relocated to its present location in 1996. He led the church in building a new auditorium and connected facilities (pictured right), started the Pillar Christian Bookstore, and he also led the church to host the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory, an annual conference that has blessed hundreds of pastors since 2003.

The highlights above make up what is only the briefest sketch of our 175-year history. At the present, we are a smaller church that extends a warm welcome to all who would be our guests and desire to join our church family. God has blessed us with 175 years of good providence, and we pray that He will continue to bless us until Christ comes again.