Geneseo was founded as a Christian colony in 1836 by a few families in the Congregationalist denomination from Geneseo, New York as they migrated to the “Far West” desiring to establish a “church in the wilderness”. As the population became more varied, especially after the arrival of the railroad, other churches began to emerge including the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics. The first effort to organize a Baptist church in Geneseo was in the summer of 1858, but the venture did not go well. During this time a meeting was called with other Baptist churches of the area to attain recognition. They came, and a meeting was held, but because of the omission of some preliminaries deemed necessary, the recognition was deferred. A few weeks after this failure to organize a church, Elder Nathaniel Huson, who was the one spearheading this effort, settled with the church in Princeton. Since this field was left without any one to cultivate it, the enterprise failed.
On March 20, 1860 Elder Wakeman G. Johnson was returning from a visit to Iowa, and his mind was unusually impressed with the idea that it was his duty to stop at Geneseo. Obeying the conviction which he experienced, he began to search for Christians of the Baptist faith. A few were found, and arrangements were immediately made for a meeting the same evening for Elder Johnson to preach. This he continued to do, each remaining evening of the week—the Methodist friends kindly opening their building for the services. On the Lord’s day following, March 25, Elder Johnson preached two sermons. On Thursday, March 29, a meeting was held for prayer and business at the house of one of the brethren. It was then and there that they had resolved to extend a call to Elder Johnson, who lived in Princeton, to become the first pastor. He sent a letter of acceptance back to the Geneseo brethren which was read at a prayer meeting held April 5, 1860, at another brother’s house, and an appointment was made for him to preach the next Lord’s day in the Seminary Hall.
Sunday, April 8, Elder Johnson preached two sermons, and a meeting was appointed for Saturday, April 14, for the gathering of all the Baptist brethren and sisters together, for the purpose of resolving themselves into a church, under sacred covenant engagements, to walk together religiously in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord’s house. On April 14, according to the appointment, the Baptist strength of Geneseo was brought together in the solemn purposes of men and women in Christ; and being “all with one accord in one place,” they adopted the Articles of Faith, and a Church Covenant, and eight brethren and fifteen sisters resolved themselves into sacred covenant engagements as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the Geneseo church came into existence with twenty-three members, April 14, 1860. On May 8, First Baptist Church joined the Rock Island American Baptist Association. Elder Johnson continued his labors as pastor until March 24, 1864, leaving the congregation with fifty-seven members—an actual gain of thirty-four. With the completion of their church building in 1864 and the ministry of the next two pastors, by 1868 the congregation hit the 100 mark in attendance.
The next few decades the church endured some difficulties. In the 1880’s there were intervals when they did not have a pastor; the pulpit was supplied often by students from the University of Chicago. In the 1890’s many members, including some of the best workers, left. From 1907-1941 the church had fourteen different pastors, and there were periods when they had no pastor for many years. However, from 1942-1946 the church secured a full-time pastor named Claude Sailhamer, who was responsible for redecorating the church inside and out, and instrumental in putting the neon sign over the door. From 1948 until 2016 God used eleven more pastors to help shepherd the church, and in 1975 the church voted to withdraw from the American Baptist Association. Most of these pastors’ tenures were two to seven years, except for Frances Scranton (sixteen years) and Joe Kobernat (twenty years). After Pastor Kobernat’s resignation in February 2016, the church began its search for the next pastor. Seven months later in September of 2016, David Murphy began his tenure at the First Baptist Church of Geneseo.