Discover the Rich History of First Baptist Church of Cowpens
The First Baptist Church of Cowpens began in 1878, two years before the town of Cowpens was chartered. On August 13, 1878, a group of 14 people met in the depot of the Atlanta and Charlotte Railroad. The group was led by Rev. J. H. Yarborough of Forest City, North Carolina. Rev. Yarborough was elected as the first pastor. Application was made for admission in the Broad River Association in the same month, and the church was accepted.
In the beginning, no building was available so the congregation met under brush arbors for a period of time. In 1879, Mrs. Elizabeth C. Wilkins donated the lot on which a one-room frame building was erected and was in use for 26 years.
Cowpens First Baptist Church was the home church of the late Miss Bertha Smith (1888-1988) who devoted her life to mission work. She spent forty years as a missionary to China and Taiwan and was instrumental in the Shantung Revival.
In 1892, the Rev. J. D. Bailey began a ten year pastorate. On September 7, 1902, he resigned amiably. Along with 33 members who followed his leadership, the Rev. Bailey organized the Central Baptist Church on January 4, 1903.
The church did not have a baptistery so baptisms were administered in the Cowpens Creek two miles away. A memorial marker indicates the site on Santee Street near the junction of Lake Street and Johnson Road.
On March 6, 1904, construction of a new church building was authorized. It was built with hand-pressed bricks fired in a kiln in Cowpens. New Sunday School rooms were added in March, 1939.
Because of increased attendance and growth of the town in the 1950s, the church voted to tear down the old structure and build a new sanctuary and educational building. Construction began in 1955 and was completed in 1956.
Our church has always been conscientious in the area of missions. In 1952, First Baptist agreed to sponsor the Oakdale Mission, located east of Cowpens. Eventually, this became Oakdale Baptist Church in 1973.
In 1972, a Spanish Outreach Ministry was begun for seasonal workers and resident Spanish speaking people in the area. The ministry was launched by the Rev. Ronell Owensby, a former missionary to Venezuela. The Broad River Baptist and the Spartanburg County Baptist Associations now sponsor this work known as the Hispanic Ministry of Cherokee and Spartanburg County.
Our church has sent volunteer missionaries domestically as well as to different countries for evangelism and construction of churches. These mission efforts include Brazil, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Venezuela and Estonia. Each summer, our youth are involved in some type of mission activity.
In 1973, the need for an additional educational annex was apparent. This building, which would include a fellowship hall, kitchen, and more Sunday School classrooms was completed in 1978.
On December 19, 1987, during the painting and repairs to the steeple, the church caught fire. The steeple, balcony and much of the sanctuary interior were severely damaged. It was decided to renovate and extend the sanctuary for increased capacity. The reconstructed building was dedicated on September 17, 1989. The sanctuary underwent another renovation in 2016.
After several years of fundraising and planning, a Family Life Center was completed in 2012. It is used for athletic, wedding, and group events.