Southern Baptist, after their organization in 1845, considered California as part of their 'domestic missions' responsibility. In 1851, a pastor from Alabama organized the First Baptist Church of Santa Clara and in 1853, a pastor from Arkansas organized the El Monte Baptist Church. Southern Baptists labored effectively in California from these early days until the Civil War, when depletion of funds and personnel caused them to retreat to areas closer to the South. Not much happened in Baptist life for several decades until Southern Baptist work in California began new on May 10, 1936 when 16 members constituted the First Baptist Church in Shafter. The San Joaquin Valley became the center of Southern Baptist work in the early days of development.
The Southern Baptist General Convention of California began on September 13, 1940 (the name was changed in 1988 to California Southern Baptist Convention). Thirteen churches came together in the town of Shafter to organize and begin the convention. The first Southern Baptist church in Los Angeles County was the First Southern Baptist Church of Bell Gardens (organized, November 14, 1937). Today Bell Gardens is one of more than 1400 Southern Baptist churches, with close to 400 missions, in California.
The First Ten Years
1943 - 1952
The Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association (LASBA) was organized on September 5, 1943 at Prairie Avenue Baptist Church in Hawthorne California. Rev. W.W. Brister was responsible for calling the meeting and acted as the moderator during the organization. There were representatives from five churches present; Bell Gardens, Bethel, Long Beach, West Los Angeles, and Prairie Avenue. Monthly meetings began at Bell Gardens on October 3, 1943. By the end of the first year the Association had grown to nine churches. The first nine LASBA churches were BELL GARDENS, SAWTELLE (West Los Angeles), LONG BEACH, BETHEL (East Los Angeles), and PASADENA. The Bell Gardens church, also that first year, organized three missions that became churches, EL MONTE, LOMITA, and BURBANK. The Hawthorne Missionary Baptist Church was organized on 6/11/44. The first Superintendent of City Missions was Rev. JOHN W. WILLIAMS. After one year the first annual meeting of LASBA was held at the First Southern Baptist Church of Pasadena on September 12 and 13, 1944.
GREENLEAF AVENUE Baptist Church in Whittier also joined LASBA in 1944 (after the first annual meeting) followed by First Southern Baptist of COMPTON, Gage Avenue Baptist in Bell Gardens, TRUETT MEMORIAL of Long Beach, and BROADMAN Baptist of Huntington Park in 1945. C.A. BUTLER served as Superintendent of City Missions from 1945 to 1947 followed by MILTON E. CUNNINGHAM from 1947 to 1951. In 1949 LASBA opened the BAPTIST BOOK STORE at 6606 Rita Avenue in Huntington Park. That location would also become the first LASBA office in 1955. LASBA churches participated in the first BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE in downtown Los Angels in 1949 also the HOLLYWOOD CRUSADE in 1951. CALIFORNIA BAPTIST COLLEGE was founded and began on September 14, 1950 at the First Southern Baptist El Monte site. By 1951 the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association included 51 CHURCHES including it first Spanish church, PRIMERA IGLESIA BAUTISTA DE SUR in East Los Angeles (1950).
C.A. BUTLER returned as the associational Superintendent from 1952 to 1954. He was joined by a co-director of missions ED HARNESS, who served the Association from 1952 to 1956. Ethnically the Association continued to grow with the addition of FIRST CHINESE of Los Angeles, SLAVIC BAPTIST in Hollywood, and the second Spanish church, BETHEL SPANISH in 1952. That year, five churches withdrew to help start the ORANGE COUNTY ASSOCIATION.
The Second Decade
1953 - 1962
LASBA helped start another Association in 1953 when nine churches withdrew to start the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY ASSOCIATION. In 1954, CALIFORNIA BAPTIST COLLEGE was accepted as a state institution and the first senior class was graduated with eight students receiving their Bachelor of Arts degrees. Southern Baptist churches participated that year in the evangelistic campaign, "A MILLION MORE IN 54". In 1955, nine churches withdrew to start the SAN GABRIEL VALLEY ASSOCIATION and eight churches to begin the LONG BEACH HARBOR ASSOCIATION. The first LASBA office was on RITA AVENUE in Huntington Park. In 1956, HARRY M. LIECHTY became the Director of Missions and the Association had 46 churches with 13,194 members. In 1959, 16 churches and 5 missions started the CRESCENT BAY ASSOCIATION. The Southern Baptist CREDIT UNION was started in 1960 and W.A. BURKEY became the Director of Missions in 1961. That year the LASBA office was moved to CALIFORNIA AVENUE in South Gate.
The Third Decade
In 1963, LASBA churches participated in their fourth local BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE. By 1964, LASBA had helped to start five other Associations and included 37 CHURCHES. The SAN GABRIEL VALLEY ASSOCIATION disbanded in 1965 and rejoined LASBA adding 32 MORE CHURCHES. the LASBA office was relocated to WILSHIRE BLVD. in Los Angeles in 1965. In 1967, the SOUTH CENTRAL L.A. PROJECTS provided 48 different VBS programs to the community. LASBA churches were very effective in SOCIAL MINISTRIES serving the greater Los Angeles area throughout the decade. The LASBA office moved again in 1970, this time TELEGRAPH ROAD in Pico Rivera. By 1971 there were 81 CHURCHES in the association.
The Fourth Decade
1973 - 1982
1974 saw LASBA churches participating in a sixth BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE. STANLEY O. WHITE became the Director of Mission in 1976. The HISPANIC TASK FORCE was formed to better reach the Latino community. 1980, there were 18 SPANISH CONGREGATIONS. The SOUTHERN BAPTIST NATIONAL CONVENTION was held in Los Angeles in 1981. LASBA purchased property and relocated its office to the present location in Downey on LAKEWOOD BLVD. in 1982. By that time the association had grown to 89 CHURCHES.
The Fifth Decade
1983 - 1992
The Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles in 1984 and LASBA churches took the opportunity to share the gospel with those visiting L.A. through its LOS ANGELES SUMMER GAMES MINISTRIES. the LASBA office opened a MEDIA LIBRARY and the association BSU work continued to grow. The ethnic diversity of the greater Los Angeles area was well reflected in the membership of LASBA churches. The number of BLACK and HISPANIC continued to increase and there were also four KOREAN, two CHINESE, two FILIPINO, two SLAVIC, two ROMANIAN, two ARABIC, and one each HUNGARIAN, YUGOSLAVIAN, INDONESIAN, LAOTIAN, HEBREW, UKRAINIAN, JAPANESE, and AMERICAN INDIAN congregation.
The Sixth Decade
1993 - 2002
LASBA celebrated it 50th anniversary in 1993. ROBERT SOWELL became the Director of Missions in 1994. As LASBA churches prepared for a new millennium, churches reworked their purpose / VISION statements. New Southern Baptist works started all over and by 1995 LASBA included 105 CHURCHES and 53 MISSIONS. Associational projects included LEADERSHIP BRIDGE, PASTORAL FELLOWSHIPS, and YOUTH LINK 2000. MARK HAMMOND became the Director of Missions in 2001 as LASBA continued to develop ministries to serve associational churches. The association offered YOUTH RECREATIONAL and CAMP PROGRAMS, VBS and Sunday school training as as EQUIPPED FOR EXCELLENCE, and COMMUNITY MINISTRY resources to churches. By the end of 2002, there were more than 170 CHURCHES and MISSIONS including 10 CHINESE, 22 KOREAN, 6 FILIPINO, 6 ASIAN, 1 SLAVIC, 1 ROMANIAN, 1 ARMENIAN, 1 IRANIAN, 1 HUNGARIAN, 1 NATIVE AMERICAN, 1 MIDDLE EASTERN, and more than 25 BLACK and 30 HISPANIC congregations.