A small group of Christians, determined to have an Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church and reach those in and around Panama City with the message of salvation, organized the Oakland Terrace Baptist Church in April, 1956.
The original members held services in the Oakland Terrace Club House. For a short time, members met in the auditorium of the Oakland Terrace Elementary School. It was there that Rev. Bill Childs was called as the first Pastor. A small wooden building was moved to the corner of Fortune Avenue and 14th Street where the Oakland Terrace Baptist Church held services until the Spring of 1958.
Upon Bro. Childs’ resignation, Ken Beal acted as the Interim Pastor until Rev. Hugh Pyle, a full-time evangelist, was called as Pastor in the Fall of 1957. In December of that year, the church agreed that they would seek a prominent piece of property large enough to grow into a city-wide ministry for the Lord. The church began to pray for that property, and in Spring, 1958, God provided a plan. The church had no money for a down payment of the purchase of the 35-acre Reaver Airport, but moved their little wood building to 11th Street. They conducted services there while the Air Service constructed the Municipal Airport on a new location. It was at this time that the members voted to change the name of the church to Central Baptist Church.
For awhile, planes and sermons started at the same time, and planes frequently landed in the backyard of the new church property! Finally, the Reaver Air Service moved to Fannin Field, and the newly-named Central Baptist congregation moved into the front half of the hanger. The hanger was used as an auditorium and that little wooden building held the Sunday School rooms. Some classes even met under the wings of planes in the back of the hanger!
A radio broadcast of the Gospel, “Impact and Inspiration” was begun and aired each weekday morning on WPCF radio in February, 1958, for most of the next 14 years. By means of radio, newspaper advertising, and personal visitation, the name of Central Baptist became known throughout Bay County. Crowds grew until the services filled up the entire hanger auditorium. Eventually, the last plane was moved and Central was in full possession on the property.
Central hosted renowned speakers like Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Dr. Walter Hughes, Dr. Glen Schunk, and Dr. Lee Roberson; Dr. Joe Henry Hankins came to inspire our people with great Bible teaching. From 1960-1961, the church maintained a weekly telecast, “Real Life,” featuring preaching and singing from the church.
In 1960, the church met to talk about starting a Christian school. In September of that year, Panama City Christian School began with 32 pupils - 20 in kindergarten and 12 in first grade. Two rooms were built to accommodate classes, but the classes continued to outgrow each room addition.
A Building Committee was appointed in 1966 with the goal of moving out of the hanger and into a new church and Sunday School facility. By 1968, the mortgage on the 35 acres was burned and the church property debt was cleared. The plans were completed for the present church facilities, and Ground Breaking was held in July, 1969.
During the sixties, Central was very busy. Missionaries were being supported on many foreign fields, and busses were rolling through the city bringing students to our Christian school on weekdays and to Sunday School on Sundays. Many outstanding preachers came to Central, e. g., Dr. John R. Rice, Dr. M. R. DeHaan, Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., Dr. Jack Hyles, evangelist Jack Van Impe, Dr. J. R. Faulkner, and hymnwriter Charles Weigle.
Our new church building was completed in late 1970. The first service held in the beautiful, new auditorium was on November 15, as the finishing touches were still being made. The Dedication Service was on January 10, 1970, with Sword of the Lord editor, Dr. John Rice, as guest speaker.
Our joy in 1971 was to host the annual Southwide Baptist Fellowship Conference. Hundreds of preachers and Christian workers who attended heard the preaching of evangelist Lester Roloff, Dr. Bob Gray and Dr. Lee Roberson. In the early 1970s, Central was also blessed with speakers of the caliber of Dr. Dolphus Price, Dr. Bob Jones III and Dr. Harold Henninger.
In 1973, the school enrolled nearly 1,000 students, Day Care through High School. In June, 1973, Dr. Pyle announced that he felt God was calling him back into full-time evangelism. The church honored him with the title of Pastor-Emeritus.
Rev. Bryant Nelson was called as our Pastor in January, 1974. During this time, the church reached a high of 1157 attendees in Sunday School. Rev. Nelson resigned in February, 1975.
Pastor Milton Ker came to pastor Central in August, 1975, from a successful, growing church near Atlanta, Georgia. After nine years at Central, Pastor Ker resigned to go into full-time evangelism.
Early in 1984, Dr. Bradley Price answered a call to Central. A special event with Dr. Price was the annual Spirit of Christmas service. Our members joined together to provide the community with thousands of Christmas dinners to those who came. Guest speakers for Spirit of Christmas included Apollo astronaut Jim Erwin, Lt. Col. Ollie North, Christian comedian Jerry Clower, and evangelist Dr. Tim Lee. The Price family blessed Central with their musical ministry as well as great preaching from Pastor Price and his evangelist father, Dolphus Price. Dr. Price left Central in 1990 to pastor Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bro. Gordon Godfrey served as Interim Pastor for a year before leaving to begin a ministry in Pensacola, Florida.
Dr. Richard White began his work at Central in July, 1991. One of his lasting contributions to our church is his very special philosophy and implementation of a Missions Conference. Through Dr. White, we learned to love missionaries in a new way, and to see their needs more clearly. Having Christmas for our missionaries during the conference has become one of the favorite services of the year. In addition to continuing Spirit of Christmas with guest speakers like former POW Admiral Jeremiah Denton, Lt. Col. Ollie North and Dr. Tim Lee. Because of his uncontained enthusiasm, Central had the wildest, most fun Vacation Bible School around. Dr. White also wrote and directed three full-scale Christmas pageants. In June, 2000, Dr. White announced his call to full-time evangelism.
After a year as the Interim Pastor, Dr. Frank Starling was called to be Central’s Pastor in December, 2000. God continued to honor the strong Missions heart of Central, as evidenced during the Missions Conference 2001, where we celebrated firm and active support of almost 100 missionaries, worldwide. It was also under Dr. Starling that the auditorium was completely renovated to the beautiful worship center it is now. In December, 2005, Dr. Starling announced his resignation.
On July 30, 2006, Central called her eighth and current Pastor, Dr. Bruce Barton. Dr. Barton is a man of vision and energy. That combination is leading the Central family into an exciting time of challenge, personal growth and active outreach. This strength and leadership has allowed us to cease ministries that were strangling the overall effectiveness of Central Baptist Church. Closing a Christian School, re-aligning full-time and part-time staff with common vision and philosophy, eliminating over one-million dollars of indebtedness have been negative decisions that have turned into positive results. Starting a bus ministry with four bus routes, doubling our output in Faith Promise Missions dollars, participating in two new church plants in North Carolina and Montana, broadcasting services through radio, TV, and internet, and organizing our Sunday School Classes and Children’s Ministry development have been positive moves for a balanced ministry.
The interior and exterior of the buildings, roofs, HVAC, and sound systems have all been upgraded or replaced. The parking lots have been repaved and work is being planned for new property entrances and front entrance elevations from Balboa Avenue, as well as auditorium platform renovations and stage lighting.
Pastor Barton’s expository preaching through books of the Bible and the great doctrines of faith and practice are used in our congregation to help Central Baptist Church be equipped to serve in this new generation. Verse-by-verse preaching through Daniel, Jonah, Malachi, and Revelation over the last few years have been some of the highlights of his pulpit ministry.