Early History (1800s – early 1900s)
Gum Branch Baptist Church began as Gum Branch Primitive Baptist Church in 1833, and was organized out of Beards Creek Primitive Baptist Church. It had modest beginnings, with the congregation meeting in a brush arbor about half a mile from its present location. In 1838, a church building was erected on land donated by Fashau* Long Jr. and the church became the first church to be organized in the community.
Meetings and worship services were held once a month, but neither music nor Sunday school classes were allowed until much later. Church rules were strict, and deacons were responsible for investigating allegations of any “unchristian conduct”, which included non-attendance, profanity, and dancing. They also acted as mediators between members of the congregation, and were responsible for collecting church dues in the form of member subscription to cover purchases, repairs to the building, and the pastor’s salary.
By the early 1860s, the church had started Sunday school classes on Sunday afternoons in addition to their monthly meetings. More changes came in 1928, when they voted to meet twice a month instead of only once, and again on 27 February 1949, when they voted to have weekly Sunday services. On 28 September 1958, a full time program and ministry was adopted under the leadership of Reverend Thomas Barnard.
Despite its humble beginnings, the church was generous in assisting those in need, both locally and within the wider United States. Among other things, they helped local farmers, collected money to help those in the aftermath of disasters, and, during the Civil War, worked with the Soldiers’ Tract Association. Around 1908 the church also began a tradition of donating to the Baptist Orphan’s Home (now called the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home) – a tradition which still stands.
* In some documents, spelled Fashaw.
Challenges and Changes (early 1900s – )
Gum Branch Baptist Church continued to grow throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s. In 1925, however, it underwent a radical change when the congregation became divided over the church’s decision to affiliate itself with the Southern Baptist Convention.
This change was set in motion decades earlier when, in 1908, the church decided to become a member of the New Sunbury Association—an Association which was itself affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and held with the central selection of missionaries. Prior to this, the church had been a member of the Baptist Union Association—an Association which held that individual churches had the right to select which missionaries they would support, and which was not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention.
At first, this difference in opinion over how mission support should operate did not appear to be a completely dividing issue, and delegates attended meetings of both the New Sunbury Association and the Baptist Union Association for several years. However, when the majority of the congregation voted to become part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the minority members withdrew from the church.
This separation, and another one later in 1976, lead to the formation of two other churches in the area: Liberty Baptist Church, which grew out of the 1925 division and that is located across the road from Gum Branch Baptist Church; and Faith Baptist Church (renamed Crossroads in 2010), which was founded when thirty-five members decided to plant a new church on Airport Road.
In 1996, the Liberty County Historical Society declared the land on which the church stands to be an historical landmark, and the history of the church was recorded on a marker placed outside the building.
Growth and Expansion (late 1900’s – 2016)
The congregation that remained after 1976 has grown into the church we know today – one dedicated to sharing the Gospel locally, nationally, and internationally. In 1986, a forty passenger bus was purchased and used for the church’s first long distance mission trip to New York in 1987; and in 2004, the youth made the first of their annual mission trips to World Changers. As well as mission trips throughout North America, trips have also been made to Romania, Tanzania, Scotland, Haiti, Mexico, India and Greece.
In November 1997, the church started the MOPS program to reach out to “Mothers of Pre-Schoolers”, and the Awana program for children was offered from 1996 to 2014. In November 2008, a twenty-eight passenger bus was purchased to provide transport for both children and adults to various religious programs and events, both locally and nationally.
Growth within the church led to other internal changes. By 1993, the church building could no longer adequately house the larger congregation, and moved to have two morning services—a practice that continued until August 2008, when the church moved services into the fellowship hall while the new sanctuary was under construction.*
In the intervening time, another staff position was added in July 1994 (Minister of Evangelism/Education and Youth) and filled by Reverend Mike Tempkin, and Reverend Clint Brogdon was appointed as the first full-time Minister of Music and Youth in April 2001; two Sunday school classes were held each Sunday from April 1998 until November 2000 to accommodate the congregation growth; and the church’s first budget for FY 1999 was approved on 21 March 1999. In October 2008, the church moved into the sanctuary where services are now being held. Additional historical information can be found here.
God has blessed Gum Branch Baptist Church greatly over the years, and the result is a church that has grown—and continues to grow—both spiritually and physically. The church buildings in which we now worship are a far cry from the brush arbor of 1833, but they are also only an external marker of an internal change. They point us to the church’s observable history, but it is the church’s spiritual growth in Christ that is the most important part its story. We should never forget that the real Church is a body of followers of Christ, and it is God’s work in this spiritual body that has caused Gum Branch Baptist Church to grow and to thrive. We look back at our history to learn, but we look forward to Christ to grow. We invite you to grow with us.