Disciples Church was formed in 1889 as the first Baptist church of Bakersfield. The following is a brief insight into our rich history of gospel ministry in the central California valley.
The First Baptist Church
Following the discovery of gold in the southcentral California valley, the first pioneers began to settle in the valley in the mid 1800’s. In 1873, the city of Bakersfield was officially incorporated. By the 1880’s the town began to see growth, as the population went from the hundreds to the thousands.
It was in this time that the first Baptist worship services were organized in April of 1889 at George Wear’s Opera House, located at the southeast corner of Eye and Wall Streets, under the shepherding of Pastor J. Campbell Jordan of Fresno. Worship services soon moved to the Kern County Courthouse and remained there until 1890, when the church constructed a permanent building on the northwest corner of 22nd and Eye Streets.
In March of 1890, legal requirements were met to incorporate and officially become the “First Baptist Church of Bakersfield.” By May of that same year, a Sunday School was established, and about 50 people were enrolled by December of 1892.
Growing in Downtown Bakersfield
In the years to come, the booming Kern River oil fields were attracting workers to Bakersfield. The first few decades of the new century brought with it a great deal of spiritual growth but also many challenges. In December of 1924, Frank O. Belden, D.D. of San Diego, California was called to be the next pastor of First Baptist Church. His emphasis on youth activities during this season of ministry brought increasingly larger Sunday school enrollments and growth to the church.
The late 1920’s brought with it the Great Depression, which made for difficulties in shepherding the flock and for building a new church on a property located in the heart of downtown on Truxtun Avenue. However, God provided, and by November 1932, the new church was dedicated and with it, a new season of ministry began. This downtown building still stands today, is distinguished as one of the Bakersfield’s historic landmarks, and was the only religious structures of its era to survive the 1952 Kern County earthquake that destroyed much of downtown Bakersfield.
Over the next two decades as the church grew, so did the desire to plant churches in other areas of the city. The first group sent was the Edison-Fairfax Baptist Mission in 1948, followed by Chester Avenue Baptist Church in 1949, and then University Baptist Church in 1957.
In September of 1961, the church had about 1700 members and was blessed to see such a far and wide influence of the gospel in the southcentral California valley. It was in this season that John A. Lavender, D.D. of Chicago, Illinois became the next lead pastor of the First Baptist Church.
Expanding to Olive Drive
The congregation had been outgrowing the church facilities on Truxtun Avenue throughout the 1970’s, and a 32-acre property on the northern outskirts of the city on Olive Drive was acquired. A ground breaking ceremony for what would be known as the Bakersfield Christian Life Center, home of the First Baptist Church, took place in October of 1977. The campus was designed to house a school and had the privilege of seeing many years of Christian education in addition to church ministry on the large campus, including being home to Bakersfield Christian High School for the years just prior to their building their current campus on Stockdale Hwy. One of the highlights of the large campus was its 1100-seat worship center that would come to be known as Celebration Hall. It housed a famous 8,800-piece pipe organ, which was made up of pipes from the downtown Truxtun church and the Memorial Church at Harvard University. This season of ministry was marked by large music productions and a thriving youth ministry that ministered the Gospel of Jesus to 400 students throughout Kern County.
The 80’s, 90’s, and the new century brought many changes in leadership and philosophy of ministry, which equaled significant decline in attendance, especially by those who were longing for more traditional Baptist practice. In 1989, First Baptist Church celebrated its centennial anniversary. In the years to follow, many efforts were made to keep the large campus running.
In 2001, the church changed its name to Olive Drive Church. In 2008, in an effort to bring new life to the aging congregation, a new community within Olive Drive Church was launched with the goal of bringing the gospel to an emerging group of young adults and young families in Bakersfield.
A New Era of Making Disciples
On September 29, 2013, after a thorough and prayerful season of reviewing of over 100 candidates, the Pastoral Search Committee, Elders, and congregation of Olive Drive Church agreed that God prepared, qualified, and called Joshua Kirstine of Irvine, California to be the next Lead Pastor and to lead the congregation into a new era of ministry.
In 2014, the church leadership concluded a year long assessment of the deferred maintenance and demands of the large Olive Drive Campus, and a united conclusion was made that it was time to right-size the church facility and begin to look for a solution to better steward the resources God had entrusted to the congregation. In the summer of 2014, the leadership of Valley Baptist church and Olive Drive Church came to a kingdom-minded agreement for Valley Baptist to purchase the campus with the aim of continuing it for kingdom use and purpose. This gave Olive Drive Church the opportunity to begin prayerfully looking for where the sixth permanent church facility would be built for the future ministry God has in store.
In 2016, a new property was found and purchased at the corner of Allen Road and Hageman Road in northwest Bakersfield. The hope is to be moved in and gathering at the new campus by the Summer of 2018.
Since this historic church was to no longer meet on Olive Drive, it was time to embrace a new name that was simple and centered on God’s call for His people to make disciples. The newly named Disciples Church is meeting at an interim location on Allen Road and is enjoying a great season of seeing multiple generations of people connecting and maturing in their faith as they die to self and live to Christ. Under Pastor Joshua Kirstine’s leadership, the church has faithfully embraced a season of reformation and return to the longstanding historic Baptist roots of theology and practice. The conviction to boldly preach God’s word and to focus on making disciples who make disciples locally and world wide is driving this historic congregation into a bright future of ministry. The overall aim is to fulfill the Lord’s Great Commission, which is reflected in Disciples Church’s mission statement: to glorify God through lives transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.