Gillingham Baptist Church came into being in as a result of a church planting initiative from Zion Baptist Church, Chatham. On Sunday 24th November 1878 the first services were held at No.34 High Street, Gillingham.
On that Sunday morning people passed through the business part of the premises, continued on through another room and up a few steps into the Workmen’s Hall. This was a long dark room with skylights in the roof and underneath a stable and a store.
Three services were held that day, a student from Spurgeon’s College officiating morning and evening and the Rev James Smith from Zion Baptist Church in the afternoon.
The cause was well served by Spurgeon’s College, London with two students, Messrs Blackaby and Blocksidge sharing the services for the first couple of years. In 1881 Mr Blocksidge was invited to take up the pastorate and he stayed for over forty years!
Soon the hall became too small for the numbers that came. A building fund was started almost immediately and a piece of land was purchased in Green Street (96ft x 56ft) for £84. This land formed part of “Braggs Field” which was part of Westcourt Farm.
A schoolroom (56ft x 20ft) was erected at a cost of £700 on the ground now occupied by the rear of the church (Tabernacle).
The church continued to raise money for a larger building, and stones were laid in July 1888 for a large Tabernacle capable of seating some 600 people. The building was officially opened on the 30th January 1889. See picture below.
By 14th June 1896 all the necessary funds to clear the debt on the Tabernacle had been raised. The total receipts into the Building Fund being £4,703 16s 9d. (The average annual wage in 1888 was £660.)
Congregations began to grow appreciably and the membership increased as well. The Sunday school also prospered and in 1900 it was decided that a major extension was needed to make more room for the children’s work. The extension was constructed at the rear of the property.
Church membership peaked at 450 in 1904 thereafter there was a slow decline. After Mr Blocksidge’s retirement in 1925 there was a succession of good and faithful ministries.
In the 1930s another extension was added, this time to the side of the building. This was called the Institute and allowed for a range of social and youth activities.
By 1964 the church had reached quite a low ebb with membership half what it had been fifty years earlier. But the ministry of Rev Tom Rogers saw an amazing revival in the church over the next twenty years.
Through the Evangelism Explosion strategy and various other initiatives the membership again reached 454 in 1984.
A brand new extension was completed in 1975 to replace the old Institute and the church prospered in a whole variety of ways. See picture below.
Sadly with the closure of Chatham Dockyard a number of families from the church had to move away, and the impetus that had driven the church growth disappeared.
Over the last thirty years the church has been involved in a wide range of mission initiatives. Camden Road Baptist Church (now ‘The Bridge’) was established.
The church also supported a family who are currently (2019) serving with MAF in Liberia and a couple who were formerly serving in South Sudan.
A Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Debt Centre was opened in 2013 and continues to reach out to those in financial need and struggling with problems relating to debt.
It was decided that if we wanted to continue to serve our local community into the future years, the current layout of the building did not suit its current users or the future needs.
We set about finding a solution. On the 13th March 2018 a new frontage began to be constructed. This was finished in March 2019. It incorporated a new Welcome Desk, Church Office, new toilets (on the first floor) plus a new 8 person lift that can reach all levels except the worship space balcony.
The Worship Space on the first floor was also completely renovated. This included new flooring, heating, lighting & audio/visual system. The room has also been completely redecorated. New chairs have been provided, replacing the former pews. See picture below.
In 2014 our minister the Rev Stephen Greasley published a History of Gillingham Baptist Church called 'The Tab'.
Please contact the church office for availability and cost.