who we are
At First Baptist Van Buren, truth is our foundation for living and our legacy runs deep. Each year thousands of people see their lives changed through the transforming power of Christ's mercy and love because of the ministries of First Baptist Church. We believe we are living in serious times and we are looking for people who are serious about impacting the world with the gospel of Christ. First Baptist Church exists to win people to a life-changing, growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
First Baptist Church's pioneering legacy began in October of 1885 when three men, J. C. Clark, P.A. Bolton, and N.L. Moore, decided to organize a Baptist Church in Van Buren. They invited Reverend J. B. Wise, pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Smith, to lead. Worship services were first held in the homes of members until June 1, 1887, when property was purchased on the corner of Webster and South 6th Streets for $1,500; baptisms took place in the Arkansas River. By 1888, a Sunday School had been started and the Ladies Mission and Aid Society (later called Woman's Missionary Society) was formed. Gifts were made that year to mission causes, including local relief for the poor. The building was later renovated with a choir platform, baptistry, dressing rooms, classrooms and a Pastor's study having been added.
In keeping with First Baptist's innovating spirit, a building program was begun in August of 1906. The new sanctuary, completed in 1909 at the corner of North 11th and East Main Streets, remains a part of the present campus of First Baptist Church, Van Buren. The church continued to grow in both membership and attendance. During the 1920s, two stories of classroom space, offices, and a basement were added to the north of the worship center. Once or twice each year, major additions to the church were experienced through the work of the Holy Spirit, prayers of faithful members, and the preaching of visiting evangelists. Since the church's earliest days, many young people have gone into ministry, in the pastorate, education, music, youth work, and the chaplaincy.
As the world entered the throes of the Second World War, First Baptist Church was continuing to expand. The church purchased additional property for expansion as Sunday School enrollment topped 200. Under the leadership of pastor, Dr. T. Hurley Jordan, the congregation voted to construct a modern auditorium and additional classroom facilities. With many hours of volunteer labor, great personal sacrifice and individual members even taking out personal loans, the facility was completed on November 1, 1953. The Gothic design of the building continues to serve as a Van Buren city landmark.
First Baptist has helped sponsor numerous additional churches throughout the years including the First Baptist Chapel, Second Baptist Church, Eastern Heights Baptist Church, and North Park Baptist Church.
During the next four decades, the church purchased additional lots adjacent to its existing campus. By the early 1970s, church membership went over 1,000. The J.J. Izard Fellowship Hall, children and youth facilities, and new church offices were completed in 1974.
In 1989, First Baptist Church called Dr. Bryan E. Smith, from Pensacola, Florida, as pastor. Under his ministry, the church grew more than four times in Sunday School and worship attendance. A new Family Life Center, 17,000 square feet in size, was constructed in 1994. Both Women's and Men's Ministry programs were begun during the 1990s.
As the year 2000 drew near, the congregation elected a long-range building and church growth study committee. This plan called "Vision 2000 and Beyond" led the church to acquire additional property and remain in the downtown area of Van Buren. A building committee was elected and charged with the responsibility of planning and executing construction to support the future growth of the church. "Bridge to the Future" building program was an outgrowth of this study.
On Sunday, November 6, 2005, the First Baptist Family of Faith celebrated by beginning worship services in our new facility, a 32,000 square feet Worship Center, designed to seat nearly 1,600 people in one service.
Dr. Scott Maze came to be our pastor First Baptist Church in 2007 through May of 2012. The church continued to expand by acquiring additional property while paying off existing debt. In 2008, the church remodeled existing classroom space, refurbished the chapel, and extended our missions outreach.
First Baptist Church began a three-year financial campaign in March 2008 to start an additional church, expand our food ministry by also serving the community's medical needs, and reduce existing debt from the construction of the worship center. The church continues to acquire adjacent properties in keeping with the Vision 2000 and Beyond vision.
God has demonstrated His mercy and grace to our church for over 125 years. Yet, God reserved some of His greatest blessings for us in the future.
On July 21, 2014, First Baptist called Chris Johnson to be our next pastor. Bro. Chris grew up in Northwest Arkansas and was serving as a pastor in West Texas. Bro. Chris brings a fresh new start for First Baptist. We are excited to see how God is using his leadership to help us accomplish our mission to win people to a life-changing, growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
For more information about that history of our church, please call the church office and make an appointment to visit the Heritage Room.