Our History

When North Carolina Baptists established the Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute (later called Wake Forest College) in 1834, the nearest church was Wake Union, approximately two miles west of the campus. Faculty and students worshipped at the school - and, upon occasion, at Wake Union. Many of these early students came to Wake Forest from largely unchurched regions of the state and had only limited religious training. In the fall of 1834, the first of several unscheduled revivals broke out with some thirty-eight students making professions of faith. They were baptized into the membership of Wake Union Church.

On August 16, 1835, a group of 17 teen-age boys (all Institute students) passed a resolution to establish a church. Wake Forest Baptist Church was born in the wake of another revival on August 30, 1835. Reverend Samuel Wait, president of the Institute, was chosen as the first pastor. In 1846, toward the close of his pastorate, Dr. Wait had the satisfaction of seeing Matthew T. Yates (a recent graduate of the College) and his wife, Eliza Mooring Yates, become the first Baptist missionaries to China. The Yates served there for four decades. During the early years, the church was a student congregation and the first deacons were from this group. Until 1882, presidents of the College were also the pastors, and as a town grew around the College the community was welcomed. From its inception the Church met in several different places, primarily college buildings.

During the Civil War, while the campus was used as a hospital, the church met elsewhere, returning to Wait Hall administration building after the war. Sunday School was begun in 1859 and by 1886 a Women's Missionary Society was organized. In 1908, YWA, Sunbeams, GA, and RA youth programs were organized. In 1913, after 80 years of life, the church began construction of the current sanctuary which was completed in 1915. Built on a 130' X 140' parcel deeded by the College for a "house of worship", the Church served as a chapel and was used for special events by the College until Binkley Chapel was available in the 1940's. In 1924, the deacons voted to ask the Church to elect 12 deaconesses; thereby pioneering leadership for women.

Construction of a fellowship hall and an office area in 1952 was followed by the erection of an educational building around 1970. In 1956, Wake Forest College moved to Winston-Salem. Approximately 100 families departed, leaving behind a grieving and shaken Wake Forest Baptist Church. Fortunately, faculty and students from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (established on the College Campus in 1951) provided much needed stability to a struggling congregation. During the civil rights unrest (1963), "letters of dismissal" were granted to twenty members who wished to unite with Community Baptist Church. As this era passed, Wake Forest Baptist Church moved courageously forward and by 1972 adopted its first constitution. When a more conservative faction gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1970's, the Church experienced still another period of grief and transition. By the mid-1980's, many of the seminary faculty had moved on to other careers, few seminary students joined the Church, and for the first time Wake Forest Baptist Church was no longer a campus-oriented congregation. Fortunately, some seminary faculty elected to retire in Wake Forest and continued to fill vital leadership roles.

Beginning in the late 1980's, the Town of Wake Forest experienced unprecedented growth, and likewise did Wake Forest Baptist Church. Church staff was added and new ministries begun. To meet growing needs, a commitment to renovate the sanctuary was undertaken in 1987. The plan, proceeding in stages, was completed in 1994. The choir and organ were reinstated on the main level, along with improved lighting and sound, and a dark, damp basement was converted into a modern fellowship hall. Over the years, educational and music programs have played major roles in worship. A gift of hand bells, in memory of Ruth Trotter, given in 1992 continues to enrich worship services. Additional worship opportunities include Hanging of the Greens (begun in 1980), Christmas Eve Candlelight and Communion, Maundy Thursday, and Community Easter Sunrise Services. The Weekday Early Education program for preschool children has been available to the community since 1973. A history room, completed during the late 1990's, contains important Wake Forest Baptist Church memorabilia. The J. Glenn Blackburn Historical Collection includes old church minutes, photos of pastors, the Church's first communion set, and other items of public and historic interest. Additionally, in 2006, due to a generous donation from the Lee family, The Lee Prayer Room was established adjacent to our sanctuary. It is dedicated in memory of Helen Lee and in honor of Cameron Lee, long-time church members.

On September 26, 2000, Gordon and Peggy Welsh gave two acres across the street from the Church. On June 17, 2002, Wake Forest Baptist Church purchased the historic Swett house, adjacent to the Welsh property gift, and remodeled it for administrative offices. These properties offer golden opportunities for growth and service.

Wake Forest Baptist Church has sponsored several outreach partnerships. These include the Koinonia Foundation, Baptist AIDS Partnership of North Carolina, a deaf ministry, and Heritage Baptist Church. In 1990, the Koinonia Foundation was formed by a Sunday School class to help serve the community's needy. Today, supported by other area churches, its endowment is over $100,000. Baptist AIDS Partnership of North Carolina was incorporated in 1993 with the early backing of Wake Forest Baptist Church. In 1993, a partnership was formed with Friendship Chapel Baptist Church uniting an African-American congregation with Wake Forest Baptist Church for an annual weekend of social functions, worship, and renewal. Wake Forest Baptist Church's deaf ministry has grown steadily and dedicated volunteer interpreters, under the leadership of Neal & JoAnn Peyton, work many hours making worship meaningful for deaf attendees. Wake Forest Baptist Church formed Heritage Baptist Church, a mission church, in 2002.

In April 2004, upon his retirement and for his outstanding leadership, Dr. Thomas Jackson was honored as the first Pastor Emeritus. Under Dr. Jackson's leadership, Wake Forest Baptist Church hired its first full-time Youth & Missions Minister and a full-time Minister of Music creating, along with the existing Minister of Children & Education, a professional staff of four full-time ministers. Under the current leadership of Dr. Bill Slater, Wake Forest Baptist Church has experienced a strong increase in membership; and an ever increasing missions impact, both locally and globally  In 2010 it  dedicated a second campus on the Stephenson Property and in 2015, as the result of a gift of 1.8 acres of land by Southeastern Seminary, a new education building and fellowship hall was dedicated along with a state of the art youth center.

At its humble birth 175 years ago, Wake Forest Baptist Church was the child of an academic community. The paternity of Wake Forest College, and then Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, afforded stability, stimulation, and high standards from which a mature, diverse, and exciting community church has evolved. Due to its heritage, dynamic congregation and its location in an exploding area, Wake Forest Baptist Church envisions a unique future with unsurpassed opportunities.