A small meeting that began in a building at the corner of Shallowford and Gunbarrel Roads evolved into what we know now as Grace Baptist Church. In 1963, under the leadership of Kenneth Bode, Grace Baptist Church was organized and established. Pastor Bode was a student at Tennessee Temple School (TTS) in addition to serving as pastor of this small church.
In 1964, the church had a dream of purchasing property at the corner of Shallowford and Jenkins Roads to eventually build a permanent place they could call home. Pastor Bode wrote and distributed a letter to the community to plead for needed funds to purchase the property. On the corner of the property sat the small, six-room farmhouse where the church met until 1969. They met in a tent in the beginning while partitions in the house were being rearranged to make more space for the main assembly. They met under the trees in the open air for Sunday School classes when the weather was warm. In 1965, Pastor Bode borrowed a bulldozer and began digging a hole for the basement for a new auditorium. In 1966, Bruce Lackey became the pastor. He remained with the church until September 1967.
In October 1967, Grace called a new part-time pastor. Clyde Paul White was originally from Johnson City, Tenn., but had lived in California for 30 years before the Lord called him back close to home. For six years he and his wife worked at TTS before coming to Grace. Under Pastor White’s leadership, the first building was finally “under construction again” in 1969. The plans included only the auditorium construction. Presently, the area of this first auditorium houses the library and a large meeting room with plans underway to convert this space into a new children’s ministry center.
On August 12, 1972, after five years of pastoring the church, Pastor White resigned, saying, “The church has grown to the point that a full-time pastor is needed and desired for the ministry of the church.” The membership of the church had grown to more than 100. The auditorium now had new carpet, pews and chairs, and the smell of the country air had been replaced with central heat and cooling. Pastor White had been the dean of men and an instructor at Tennessee Temple Bible School and continued teaching at the school after resigning his position at Grace.
Dr. Ronald Dingess pastored Grace from January 1973 until August 1976. During his pastorate in 1975, the church built a 40’ x 40’ addition on the rear of the existing auditorium. This area is presently being used for children’s classes.
The church called Dr. Doug Rutherford to be the pastor in January, 1977. Dr. Rutherford was very faithful and consistent in prayer and in visitation, visiting much of the East Brainerd area; however, due to a severe sickness and paralysis, he was confined to his bed for six to eight weeks. In July 1978, Pastor Rutherford felt it best if he resign and open the door for someone else to pastor the church.
On September 3, 1978, Dr. Steve Euler was voted on as pastor. Dr. Euler had been teaching at TTS for six years and was the head of the speech and drama department at that time. The church began to grow again quickly and construction on a new 275-seat auditorium began.
The fall of 1978 marked the beginning of the AWANA program, one of GBC’s first recorded organized programs. Due to its growth, a regular game room and assembly room were needed. Thus, the AWANA building went up in 1980. The new building was also used for other things such as the fellowship hall and gymnasium.
In 1985, Dr. Euler’s dream of starting a church-sponsored school became a reality. Enrollment for the first year for grades K-4 through 9 was 242. The need for more space was evident very quickly and an education wing was added next to the fellowship hall/gym the next year.
The first school building was built in 1987 and is used now by the high school of the Academy. A new phase of the ministry began in 1989, when Grace Children’s Center was established. The new building accommodated about 90 children ages 6 months to 4 years old.
Another building for classrooms was erected in 1995 and is now used by the middle school. Two more pieces of property were purchased in 2000 and 2001 to expand the total acreage for the church’s property to 22 acres. These purchases allowed room for yet another building, which was completed in 2006. This two-story building has 27 classrooms and now serves as the learning facilities for the entire elementary level of the Academy.
In 2005, the church and school built a new building for the Children’s Center, and then the church renovated the old Children’s Center to make room for much-needed church staff offices. The latest renovation was completed in 2006 to the main auditorium. The only thing that remained in its place was the original baptistery! The expansion of the facility raised the seating capacity to over 900. The platform and choir loft were enlarged, the balcony was extended, and gallery seating was added on the extreme sides to help make the balcony more accessible from the main floor.
New pews on the main floor, chairs in the balcony, and new carpet and colors changed the appearance drastically from its original ‘80’s orange!’ A new choir suite, two drama dressing rooms, a music library, a new 40-seat classroom, and a beautiful entrance to our main lobby were added as well. This addition to the front of the existing auditorium changed the ‘look’ from the road of one of the busiest intersections in Chattanooga. The ‘lighthouse tower’ has a light that shines 24 hours a day to remind us to be a ‘light’ to our community.
In March of 2015, Dr. Steve Euler retired from the pastorate at Grace, where he had faithfully served for nearly 37 years. The church then called Dr. Ben Graham on March 8, 2015 to lead as senior pastor. Pastor Ben had been in ministry in a variety of roles for more than 13 years, most recently as Associate Pastor of 12th Street Baptist Church in Rainbow City, AL.
We are currently working on plans to renovate our facilities once again to modernize, provide more efficiency so we can focus more on ministry, and better reach our community. This includes new information and welcome areas, updated media throughout the building, and a new children’s area, kitchen, entrances and signage. We also plan to open a missionally focused café that will house missionary information and opportunities to engage missionally. We’ll serve coffees and teas from developing countries and artisan works (such as scarves and jewelry) from rescued women in programs the church partners with around the world. Looking to more wonderful years of missional living ahead for Grace, Pastor Ben says at the end of every gathering, “Grace, it’s time to GO!”