On February 10, 1935, before the dogwoods would bloom that year on the grounds of the Florida Supreme Court several blocks away, a new church, Immanuel Baptist Church of Tallahassee, was born. For the previous month, a group of 34 Christians from the largest Southern Baptist Church at that time in the City of Tallahassee, First Baptist Church, "spent much time in prayer" praying God would show them a way to form a church. Understanding God’s call, the group agreed "Why not call our church 'Immanuel,' God with us?" As a “neighborhood church” in downtown Tallahassee at the corner of Boulevard Street and St. Augustine Streets, Immanuel’s first congregation was drawn mainly from an area whose boundary began at present day Doak Campbell Stadium and ended on property now occupied by the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. A vacant, former African-American Methodist Mission, erected in 1885, became Immanuel’s first church building. Purchased on the “word” of its first pastor for a $25 down payment and the promise thereafter of $25 dollars a month, it had no heating, air-conditioning or running water.
Immanuel’s story has been the story of the Lord working through its membership as they invested in the lives of others so that they too can live for Christ. It is the story of church building and church planting. In this story of investing in God’s kingdom, Immanuel’s members have understood the importance of sacrifice. After World War II, recognizing that the old wooden church, now nearly 60 years old, lacked Sunday School space, its members built a new church in 1947 utilizing the labor and professional skills of its membership. In the 1950's, Immanuel planted churches in Indian Head Acres (Parkway Baptist) and on Tharpe Street (Forest Heights Baptist Church). Planting these churches resulted in a loss of vital membership and leadership to these new churches, reaching new heights in the early 1980s with Celebration Baptist in the subdivision of Killearn. As these members moved from downtown and joined the churches planted by Immanuel, the Immanuel’s close-knit community became a thing of the past. In the midst of a declining membership, God prepared Immanuel’s remaining members to be the foundation for the future of His church, ushering in a new chapter at a new location. After almost a decade of prayer, planning and negotiating with the City of Tallahassee over the sale of the downtown church property, the church moved to its current location on Mahan Drive. Before the doors were opened for worship in 1976 at its current Mahan Drive property, a tent revival was held on the property, and, soon after, members engaged in a building program, “Together We Build.”
After the move to Mahan, Immanuel continued to grow closer to God as He provided new opportunities to serve and trust in Him. Since the late 1990's, God has blessed Immanuel with a fourfold increase in the number of Sunday School units, along with threefold increase in average class attendance. With the advent of these increases in worship and Sunday School attendance, Immanuel sought guidance from the Lord through prayer. "Dream Night,” a church forum held several times in the sanctuary in recent years, were memorable times where members dared to dream and earnestly seek the Lord’s will. To accommodate the growth, Immanuel began to provide an additional contemporary worship service in addition to the traditional, classic service. In time, as it is today, Immanuel introduced another contemporary service, offering a choice of two (2) contemporary and 1 (one) traditional service. "Challenge To Build" commenced in February 1999 with the idea of "Equal Sacrifice ... Not Equal Gifts,” to help fund the building of educational space, now occupied by preschool through fifth grade Sunday School classes. Soon after, Immanuel purchased property that became available on Concord Street, across from the church, for immediate use by Youth Sunday School and for possible future development.
At the start of this decade, Immanuel began the “20/20 Vision, “a multi-phase, 20 year plan for reaching more people for Christ. Phase I, which called for the creation of additional parking and the construction of a Fellowship Hall, was completed in August 2012. In early 2015, Immanuel celebrated the retirement of one of the loans taken out to build the Fellowship Hall, and the commitment of members who pledged to give sacrificially for another three years to pay down the remaining debt. With worship attendance continuing to grow, 20/20 Vision includes plans for a new sanctuary on the growing Immanuel campus Missions involvement has included partnering with Builders for Christ in North America and partnered with missionaries and church planters in Wisconsin, New Orleans and Guatemala. Most recently, members have ventured to Cuba in July 2014 and another team plans to visit the country in June, 2015.
Immanuel’s spiritual roots run deep in the community of Tallahassee. From the members who worshiped on Boulevard to the over 2,900 who worship at its modern facilities on Mahan Drive today, longtime and new members alike can trace their parent’s membership and/or their own membership to Immanuel or the churches it planted. While much has changed at Immanuel, the church’s focus on Jesus Christ through dynamic worship, small group Bible study, and intentional outreach has not changed. Dr. Rich Kincl, Immanuel’s current pastor, has said the "one thing that will never change (at Immanuel) is weekly visitation.” Since the late 1990’s, the average number of baptisms per year has increased threefold, from 36 to 102. God remains at work in His church and we rejoice that He is Immanuel ... God with us.