In 1904, on the South side of Chicago, a small group of Christians, whose former church had disbanded, wanted to continue their Christian endeavor. So on April 4, 1904, they met at the home of Mrs. Mary Burr, at 2619 S. State Street and organized the Saint John Missionary Baptist Church. The founding members were: Deacon George Dunnington, Colonel Young, Clara Hopkins, Mamie Burr, Mary Taylor King, and Deacon Willie McCoo. After having met with a young minister whose preaching skills and qualifications were impressive, the founders asked Reverend Forest McCoo to help them organize the new church and he became the church's first pastor.
Until 1908, Saint John held its services in a storefront at 3403 S. Federal Street. It was furnished with a few oil lamps, a coal stove, and a pulpit made from an orange crate. In 1915, the church moved into a larger facility at 3434 S. Wabash Avenue. Membership increased to over 5,000 and Sunday school enrollment was more than 500. In the 1920's, the church began holding services at Frances E. Willard School at 49th and St. Lawrence. In early 1927, Reverend McCoo resigned and later that year, Reverend Oliver W. Williams of Joliet, Illinois, became the new pastor of Saint John. He recommended adding the word "Greater" to the name of the church. Under his leadership, membership increased again and new clubs and auxiliaries were formed. In 1935, Saint John moved to its current location at 4821 South Michigan Avenue.
In 1939, a church split occurred, and the large membership was divided. Reverend Williams resigned to become pastor of the new Saint John Temple. In 1940, the Reverend William A. Johnson of Plainfield, New Jersey, accepted the call to lead Greater Saint John. Under his dynamic leadership, the membership grew to more than 2,000. Saint John was enlarged and remodeled in 1948, doubling its seating capacity and adding newer facilities. The church purchased the adjacent apartment building in the early 1960's, and converted it into the William A. Johnson Parish House. In 1967, the name of the church was changed to Saint John Church-Baptist, because another church had filed a charter with the State of Illinois, under the name, Greater Saint John.
The underlying strength of Pastor Johnson's ministry at Saint John was a strong worship program. During his reign, Sunday morning worshippers would have a spirit-filled devotion with personal testimonies.
When Pastor Johnson’s health began to rapidly decline, retirement was obvious. So during the semi-annual church meeting in 1994, Saint John’s Board of Deacons recommended to the congregation that a Pastoral Search Committee be appointed. Pastor William Augustus Elliott Johnson retired at age 94 and passed away December 21, 1995.
In October 1995, the Pastoral Search Committee announced its selection of the Reverend Ricky Freeman, as a candidate for pastor of Saint John Church-Baptist. He had served as pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois for eleven and a half years. At 37, Pastor Freeman was already a "distinguished teacher, counselor, civic leader and preacher of the Gospel." He received God’s call to the ministry when he was 16 and at age 22 was ordained to preach the Gospel. On Sunday, January 28, 1996, the Reverend Ricky Freeman was installed as the pastor of Saint John Church-Baptist.
During his tenure, Pastor Freeman formulated several goals designed to once again galvanize Saint John's active involvement in the civic and Church Communities. These goals were to organize the ministries and activities of the congregation around its core values; to increase the membership of the congregation; to attract more families; to expand the congregation's role in the community; to update our facilities to enhance efficiency and comfort; to expand our level of participation in denominational work; and to develop ministry partnerships with sister churches. He asked the church leaders to assist with formulating a Mission Statement for the church. Our mission is to encourage persons to come to know Christ as Savior and Lord, nurture them in faith, and lead them to participate in the ministry of Christ through our Church. From this statement evolved the four core values of the church's mission: (a) Reaching the unsaved and unchurched for Christ; (b) Developing spiritually mature Christians; (c) Experiencing God in worship; and (d) Serving the needs of persons in our Church and Community.
Under Pastor Freeman, the Department of Christian Education was expanded and the Children’s, Youth and Seniors ministries were implemented. The SJCB School of the Performing Arts, which offers piano, voice and organ lessons and our 501C3, Saint John Community Outreach Organization, a community development corporation of the church, were also created. These ministries are designed to address the needs of both the congregation and the community -- bringing the two together as often as possible, which also stimulates church growth.
On August 19, 2012, in a special call meeting, Pastor Ricky Freeman announced that his final Sunday at Saint John would be September 16, 2012. He was called to pastor Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. A Pastoral Search Committee was soon formed.
On Saturday, February 7, 2015, the Pastoral Search Committee recommended the Reverend James Edward Dunn to the congregation as the candidate for the next pastor of Saint John Church-Baptist. On Sunday, February 8, 2015, the congregation voted and called Reverend Dunn to pastor Saint John Church-Baptist. Reverend Dunn originally came to Saint John as a ministerial intern in 2003. He and his family eventually joined Saint John and he became the Director of Christian Education, overseeing 17 ministries.
He was called to preach God’s Word in May 2000. Reverend Dunn was licensed at Greater Tabernacle Holiness Missionary Baptist Church in June 2000 and was ordained there in September 2001. In 2007, he earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. On June 7, 2014 he received his Doctor of Ministry with an emphasis in Church Leadership from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.
On Sunday, April 12, 2015, Reverend Doctor James Edward Dunn was installed as the new shepherd of Saint John Church-Baptist. This man of God is committed to equipping and empowering our congregation to become more unified and to fulfill God’s vision for Saint John Church-Baptist.
In June 2015, Pastor Dunn developed a Core Leadership Team, designed to assist with spiritual development throughout the congregation. Members of the team have led our yearly “Fellowship Unity Sunday” initiative and assisted Pastor Dunn with planning and participating in leadership workshops for the church. Some of the team members have completed a week-long session in Mediation Skills Training for Church Leaders. The Core Leadership Team also led our 115th Anniversary celebration in 2019.
God imparted the vision to Pastor Dunn for our congregation to focus on Christian discipleship. We are “to be the best Christian disciple” we can be and “help others grow to become Christian disciples.” In 2016, our initial focus was on the theme: Growing in Christian Unity and Love. In 2017, our membership was encouraged to embrace the theme: “Arise, Shine, and Grow.” “Arise, Shine, and Grow” continues to be our theme as we work congregationally to extend biblical hospitality, encourage unity, strengthen worship and develop church leadership, which are ingredients of Christian discipleship.
Our Free Meals Monday initiative began in May 2016 to serve our surrounding community. The meals are served on the first Monday of each month. Our church has teamed up with other non-profits to distribute meals to feed hundreds, every month. Another aspect of our church’s outreach, is working in partnership with the One Summer Chicago program to employ youth from our community during the summer.
In an effort to begin developing Christian leaders for the future of our church, during 2017 a Faith Based Leadership Committee, which included Pastor Dunn and ten members of Saint John Church-Baptist were commissioned. This leadership committee participated in a Multi-Level Certificate Program on Faith Based Strategies for Congregational Agility. The leadership committee concentrated on three objectives designed to strengthen the church congregation: Biblical Hospitality, The Use of Holy Space for Our Youth and Members Care. This effort was launched to connect with the missing young adults and other members in our congregation.
Pastor Dunn has led “Anointing Worship Services” and our “Fellowship Unity Sunday Worship,” which is designed for the congregation to get to know more of its members. In 2018, he implemented a “meet and greet” time during Sunday Worship to further promote biblical hospitality and fellowship among the membership and visiting guests.
Our 115th Anniversary theme: “Thanking God for the Past: Paving the Foundation for the Future” reminded us of the blessings God has bestowed on our church throughout the years. The theme also informed us that God has work for us to do as we envision the future of our church. We will accomplish this work through Christian discipleship. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV). Amen.