In 1838, Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Restoration Movement, preached at Canton’s courthouse. Other preachers followed, but no permanent church was established.
The Canton First Christian Church was organized in 1855 with thirty-five members. The first building was located on the current site of the city hall and seated three hundred people. Isaac Errett, editor of The Christian Standard called it, “A neat edifice in a central location and they have a good prospect of usefulness.”
In 1880, after selling that structure to the city, a new church building with a seating capacity of 450 was erected on the southeast corner of Dewalt Ave. and Fourth St. SW. On March 25, 1892 the church was granted a charter by the state of Ohio. It was at this location that P.H. Welshimer began his 57 years of ministry in 1902.
In June of 1903, this building was sold and the congregation met in the Grand Opera House on Third St. SE for two years while a new house of worship was being built on the corner of Cleveland Ave. and 4th street. The new building was dedicated in October 1905 with a seating capacity of 1000. A series of fifty nightly (every night except Saturday) meetings began that day and during those weeks 606 people united with the church. Due to exciting growth, it would not take long for a need of an even larger building.
Five years later, that building was torn down to the foundation and the lot next to it was purchased to provide room for a larger church. During that time, FCC worshiped in the city auditorium. On February 18, 1912 the new facility was dedicated. That day 365 people joined the church. By the end of a four week evangelistic meeting 1,028 were added.
First Christian purchased the remaining third of the block on Cleveland Ave. built a new addition in 1924. This addition consisted of church offices, a reading room, a 500-seat chapel, and the intermediate auditorium, classrooms and basement rooms under the entire structure.
On April 17, 1955, the membership of the church again voted to enlarge the building. A gymnasium and recreation room were added which included at 72’ basketball court, and shuffle board court. Additional space was also added for infants through Junior High. With this third addition, the dimensions of the church stretched an entire city block in 2 different directions.
P.H. Welshimer served First Christian Church for 56 years before his death on August 16th, 1957. During that time FCC came to be one of the largest churches in America, and was in fact the largest Christian Church. In October of 1957, Harold L. Davis was chosen as the successor to Dr. Welshimer. Mr. Davis served as P.H.’s assistant for four years and would serve for 12 years until 1969.
A study in the mid-1960s led the congregation to conclude their sixty-year-old building could no longer meet their needs. Steep stairs, less than ample parking, windowless classrooms, and a deteriorating downtown area led to the decision to relocate to a new site. In 1971, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to purchase a 20 acre site on Cleveland Ave, between 25th and 30th Streets. Under the leadership of Senior Minister E. Richard Crabtree and after nearly six years of planning and prayer, the first service was held in the building at 2600 Cleveland Ave.
Five years later, on February 16, 1981, the historic First Christian Church located downtown was destroyed by fire and had to be demolished.
Senior Minister David L. Corts and church leaders joined the congregation in celebration of the centennial years (1892-1992) with four special events. The Centennial Celebration was designed not only to reminisce about the past, but to look forward to a glorious future.
On August 24, 1997, John Hampton accepted the call to ministry at FCC as Preaching Minister.
After a favorable congregational vote, on May 2, 2002, FCC officially closed on the 114 acre Edgewood property and on September 12, 2004 a groundbreaking ceremony was held for First Christian on its newest property at 6900 Market Ave. and on December 10, 2006, First Christian Church made the move to the new facility where it continues to impact the community. Pastor Hampton led the ministry until February of 2010. Following Pastor Hampton’s 13 years as Senior Pastor the Elders named Scott Rosen as the next Senior Pastor in May of 2010 after a brief time as the interim. Scott furthered the mission of the church through a very challenging season of ministry until February 2013.
God has blessed First Christian Church with remarkable growth during her history. Under the long and capable leadership of P.H. Welshimer, whose ministry spanned 56 years, First Christian Church once boasted of the world’s largest Sunday school. Thousands made decisions to follow Christ because of First Christian’s ministry to the greater Canton area.
Blessed with humble, spirit-filled leadership, First Christian Church stood as a role model to the brotherhood of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Ministers and church leaders often look to Canton to find out “how to do God’s work effectively.”
Believing that First Christian’s best years lie ahead of her, the elder team recently named Pastor Dan Stoffer as the Interim Lead Pastor to equip and empower a capable servant team who strive to bring glory to God through obedience to His Commission (Matthew 28:18-19).
First Christian Church is now focused on the new vision God has for us – being the “best source of hope for hurting people” as Jesus lives in, with, and through this body of believers.