First Baptist Church of Nashville’s history is long, and its roots in the city, deep.
The church struggled through a number of theological –isms in the mid-1800s, according to its website: Campbellism, which opposed many Baptist practices and viewed baptism as essential to salvation; antimissionism, which opposed organized missions, Sunday school, education ministry and conventions; and Landmarkism, which viewed Baptist churches as the only true churches.
The Sunday School Publishing Board and the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home grew out of the church.
Its members fought in the Civil War and two World Wars – nearly 400 in World War II alone.
That’s a history that stretches back 195 years in the city.
And that’s the difference between a jet ski and an aircraft carrier, Senior Pastor Frank Lewis joked. Lewis came to the church nearly two decades ago from the jet ski, a church he’d started in Las Vegas.
“You have to respect a lot of tradition and history,” he said he’s learned at the historic Nashville church.
“But the sweetest thing about our congregation is our senior members want nothing more than for their grandchildren to know Christ.”
As the times have changed and the city of Nashville along with it, First Baptist Church of Nashville also has adapted to meet its needs.
The population of the Nashville area now is estimated to grow by more than 1 million people in the next 25 years, according to reports. Downtown, Lewis said, it seems like there’s a building being torn down on every corner and a skyscraper going up in its place.
The congregation has decided a number of times throughout its history to stay downtown and recently reconfirmed that decision, the senior pastor said. It joined the Nashville Downtown Partnership, he said, and it also is discussing making improvements to its building so “when people walk into our building it communicates this is a warm and safe and friendly place.”
“That’s a part of our call in the community – to open our doors as wide as we can and be a welcoming presence for the sake of the gospel,” Lewis said.
Meeting the community
The church also has added two more Sunday morning services to embrace the different worship styles of the 700 or so people who attend every week and “broaden the church’s ability to meet the community,” the senior pastor said.
In addition to the robed choir and “mother of all pipe organs” of its traditional Sanctuary Service, it also offers quiet contemplation at its liturgical Service of Word and Table. That’s something he admitted didn’t feel very “Baptist” when it started as a once-a-month event about three years ago, but it was something that resonated with him, and it quickly grew to a weekly service. It also started The Fellowship on Broadway over a year ago based on feedback from visitors who said they loved the church’s sermons and the people there were friendly, but they were looking for more contemporary music.
And in a city known as “Music City, U.S.A.,” having music that connects with worshippers is important.
That’s also important to a church that lists worship among its core values, that notes that whatever style it adopts, whatever changes it makes to its building or its ministries, whatever is happening in the city around it, that simple act brings it all together.
“When we gather in this place – it doesn’t matter which of the three services it is – there’s a sense in which we all come here with different struggles. Often you’re banged and bruised from different things that happen to us during that week. To put that in the right context, we sing about who God is,” Lewis said.
“Something mystical happens, something transforms as we lift high the name of Christ.”