On October 21, 1956, some very brave people gathered at Alice Drive Elementary School, believing God called them to start a church in what was then the western edge of Sumter. Dr. W. R. McLin, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sumter preached the first sermon, “Upon this Rock.” In the excitement of starting the new church, no one had thought to get something suitable for offering plates. In those days, men commonly wore hats, so literally at the time of the offering, they passed the hat.
In their excitement, they choose the name “Alice Drive Baptist Church,” assuming they would be able to purchase land from the city of Sumter on Alice Drive. The property they had their eye on was sold to other interests, and the church purchased property at 109 Miller Road instead. From early on in our history, Alice Drive has been confusing people in Sumter!
Those early days were filled with challenges of calling Francis Batson as first pastor, building the first building, and taking care of the needs of the new growing congregation. In the background, there was always tension over the civil rights question and whether the new church should be open to people of all races. The church finally settled this in 1977, declaring that Alice Drive would be a church for everyone who came, regardless of race.
For years the church struggled over issues of space and growth. Dr. Bert Welch, the fourth pastor, led the church to begin a second worship service, to provide additional room.
In 1994, I became pastor. I felt like God wanted ADBC to reach people and live up to her full potential. Two years after I came, we celebrated our 40th anniversary. We were again facing a space crisis – too little room, and too many people.
In 1998, averaging 400 in worship, the church made the bold decision to relocate. Property was purchased at the intersection of Wise Drive and Loring Mill Road and plans for a new building were drawn. The church needed room immediately, however. We moved worship services to USC- Sumter’s Nettle’s auditorium in 1999.
On Mother’s Day, 2001, we moved to our present location at 1305 Loring Mill Road. The church continued to grow. We celebrated our 50th anniversary with a campaign to provide more space. Economic uncertainty and stalled growth caused us to miss our goals. But God was faithful; He provided a way for us to get the space we needed at half the cost. Additional parking was added in 2009, the Administration building was obtained from Shaw AFB in 2011 and the Venue was built in 2012.
In 2013, we began Monday night worship, unique in South Carolina, for those who can’t or won’t come on Sunday.
I celebrated 20 years as pastor in 2014. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine God would place me here for 20 years.
Now on the verge of turning 60, we are poised to become a multisite church with the launch of our Pocalla location in February 2017. But I believe there is more for us. God is calling us forward to embrace opportunities to tell people about Jesus and to help them take their next step.
I’ve been part of our 40th anniversary, when we were a church of 450; our 50th, when we were a church of about 1,000; and now, our 60th, when we are a church of 1,500. I believe with all my heart that our best years are ahead of us.
I know Sumter needs all kinds of churches, and I pray good for all gospel preaching churches. But I also feel deep in my bones that God is telling us that He needs a church like ADBC in Sumter and in other parts of South Carolina. It’s not because we are special; it is because He has chosen us to help as many people as possible take their next step toward Jesus Christ.