Wollongong was a small town with less than 500 residents when John Morgan came to the area in 1839 to start a Baptist Church. With the support of the Bathurst Street Church (the first in the colony) in Sydney, Morgan gathered a congregation which grew to about 60. This included Baptists, Free Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Before Nov 1840, the Bathurst Street Church appointed three members as trustees and secured land on the eastern side of Kembla Street between Market and Smith Streets. A small chapel was built. This was the second Baptist building in NSW and one of the very first churches in the Illawarra. In 1841 Morgan was replaced by Samuel Hewlett who served until 1846 when he left to minister the newly formed Baptist church in Hobart. By the mid 1850s’ the building was no longer needed as the Presbyterians and Congregational churches started their own buildings. The property was thus sold. Baptist work in the Illawarra came to an end.
In October 1931, Rev. R. Goodman visited Woonona Baptist to speak at that church’s anniversary service on behalf of the Baptist Union. He visited Wollongong and considered the possibility of planting a church, which he gained support for at his home church of Dulwich Hill. In 1932 the Band Hall in Keira Street was rented for services at 3pm and 7.15pm, with the first services being held on March 6. Thirteen people met on the first afternoon, and 26 that evening. A month later, on April 3, the services moved to the Friendly Societies’ Hall in Burelli Street. On April 10 1932, a Sunday School commenced at 2.30pm with 10 children. The meetings were held at 11am and 7.15pm with Sunday School in the afternoon. On April 24 1932, Wollongong Baptist Church (WBC) was officially formed with eleven foundation members, witnessed by a number of visiting friends from Woonona Baptist. The following year saw the membership increased from 11 to 33, some by visitation and the rest, transfers from other churches. From Nov 27 – Dec 12, Rev John Ridley held a campaign where 25 adults and seven children accepted the Lord.
Rev. Henry Clark was the first pastor appointed in January of 1935. Through his leadership, the land at 69 Smith Street was purchased for 620 pounds. Rev. Eric Marks commenced as the second pastor on March 13 1936, and during the first 18 months of his ministry a building was completed at Smith Street. Services commenced at this location on August 7, 1937.
WBC has always been a mission-oriented church, with a number of the pastors having previously been cross-cultural missionaries, including Rev. Ian Emmett (Pakistan), Rev. Fred Smith (China), and Rev. Sam Reeve (Pakistan). Apart from strong support of overseas mission work, WBC has also been concerned to support the establishment of others local churches to better reach Wollongong with the gospel. After Eric Marks had started monthly prayer meetings and then weekly services in Port Kembla in 1937, Port Kembla Baptist was officially formed in March 1939. During 1953 land was purchased at Corrimal East and a church established with 27 foundation members who transferred from WBC while Ian Emmett was pastor. Then in 1966 we supported the creation of Dapto Baptist while Rev. Reg Pope was the pastor, with a number of our members transferring to become foundation members there.
Work with non-English speaking communities started in 1978-79 with the commencement of a Spanish Fellowship, and the sponsorship of a number of Vietnamese refugees. The Vietnamese Evangelical Church was established in 1978 and moved its meetings to our church building in 1995. A Greek congregation was established in 1994 with support from Rev. Michael Glinatsis from Earlwood Baptist, which concluded services in 2013. This was followed by the establishment of a Mandarin fellowship in 1994 at the encouragement of Gordon and Mavis Smith, and our Chinese congregation in 1995. The Chinese service was initially Cantonese, and was founded by Pastor Paul Chan, who was called from Central Baptist Church in Sydney, but it has since become a bi-lingual service. Finally, Burmese and Karenni congregations were established in 2008 with an influx of refugees from Myanmar to the Illawarra.
We moved into a new building at 330 Keira Street in 2013, after finally settling on a new location in 2012 after over a decade of considering possible options. The property was a sixty year-old warehouse in the commercial district at the southern end of central Wollongong. After a seven-month renovation period, when the church continued to gather at the Smith Street building, the opening service took place on August 18th2013 at 9.30am.
Having had services at 8.30, 10.30 and 7pm at Smith Street, the decision was made to revert to one morning service as the new auditorium seated approximately 300 people, in comparison to the 170 that could be seated at Smith Street. It was felt that this would bring everyone together and produce a stronger sense of community in a period of change, with the understanding that this would likely be a temporary arrangement if the service grew. The morning service was then multiplied into two services again from September 4 2016, once the 9.30 service became over 80 percent full for a consistent period. The evening service at 7pm was moved to the earlier time of 6pm in 2015 to better serve the young adult workers who had become the majority group by this point.
Our commitment to teaching the bible and supporting mission has remained, but we have become an increasingly multi-cultural church, reflecting the growing diversity of cultures which form Wollongong today.