In 1848 an adventurous, young preacher set sail from New Jersey to carry the message of Christ to "wild, lawless California." After a rigorous crossing of the Isthmus of Panama, which involved horseback riding, canoeing, and walking, Rev. Osgood Wheeler arrived at the San Francisco Bay. He founded the First Baptist Church of San Francisco, and after two years he moved to Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe. On May 19, 1850 he, along with eight men and women, knelt in a homemade tent of blue jeans, and the First Baptist Church of San Jose was born. This was the first church in the newly incorporated city of San Jose.
The pioneer church, the second oldest Baptist church in California, witnessed many tragedies in its history. The first struck in 1853 when their wooden structure at Santa Clara and Third Streets was destroyed by fire. A second tragedy struck in 1882 when the growing 275-member congregation saw its building at Second and San Antonio Streets also destroyed by fire. Ten years later a November storm destroyed the roof. It is recorded that barrels of water poured in and the organ looked more like "a huge fish tank than an instrument of music."
Later, the world-renowned San Francisco earthquake of 1906 shook the church building to its foundations, toppling the spire towers which reached heavenward. Following each tragedy, the undaunted members rallied and, with courage and faith, rebuilt.
Early in the twentieth century, First Baptist's vision of reaching the lost advanced with the addition of the newly perfected system of radio. On December 5, 1925, FBC aired its first service over its own radio station. KQW (King's Quickening Word), the pioneer Christian broadcasting station of the world, later became KCBS of San Francisco.
Successive decades saw continued faith and growth, even during the early sixties when First Baptist's 87-year old buildings were condemned by the downtown San Jose Redevelopment Agency and the Fire Marshall, who issued the church 47 demerits. A real estate committee was quickly formed, and in 1963 First Baptist bought the 33-acre Ironwood Golf Course three and one-half miles to the south. In 1970 the church family moved to its new home, the “Church on the Hill." One year later, the Achiever Christian Preschool began and since then has expanded to become an elementary school and middle school.
Throughout the years new leaders have put new words to rock-solid biblical truths, and recently the Church on the Hill leadership has done just that. Ever since Jesus called the Church to “go and make disciples,” church leaders have articulated that mission in different ways. At Church on the Hill we have defined our purpose as Elevating Life by Connecting, Growing, and Serving.
Church on the Hill includes our English-speaking congregation, our Spanish-speaking congregation, and our Chinese-speaking congregation. We also belong to the Conservative Baptist Association of churches and the Willow Creek Association for the purpose of encouragement, church planting, and missions. These are like-minded churches who share resources to see the truth of Jesus spread. Each church is independently governed and self-sustaining. At Church on the Hill history and future converge as our rich history reminds us of God’s amazing faithfulness and leads us to have great expectation of what God will do in the future.