Methodism first came to Gainesville over 160 years ago and has continued to grow in strength and service ever since. In 1830, a young circuit rider was ridden out of town for attempting a service in the small village of Gainesville. The rough fellows who ejected him swore that no Methodist would hold service here! Nevertheless, just a few years later, in a borrowed house, with a local preacher belonging to no circuit or district, J.W. Glenn organized the First Methodist Church in Gainesville with 15 members. In the early part of 1834, the old, wood-framed Gainesville courthouse was sold for $150 to the Methodist Church. It was moved to a lot at the corner of South Bradford and Church Streets.
In 1872, the congregation built and occupied its second house of worship on the Bradford street lot. In 1906, following a strong sermon by Rev. B. F. Fraser, $18,000 was quickly subscribed for a new church at the corner of Green Street and Academy. In 1908, the building was completed, and the Annual Conference met in Gainesville with the church as its headquarters. Since 1908, the Green/Academy Street facility had been home to the majority of Gainesville’s Methodists. By the early 1960’s space limitations and church growth facilitated the need for long-range planning. Finally, in 1972, the charge conference adopted a resolution to set up a building committee and in July of that year, the Church voted to buy property on Thompson Bridge Road. Construction began in 1980 under the leadership of Dr. Jim Thompson, and the interior north wing was completed in 1985. In 1988, seven acres of adjacent land was purchased for future expansion.
A Facility Study Committee was developed in 1996 to study future expansion. In 1997, under the leadership of Dr. Phil DeMore, the charge conference adopted plans for a $4.8 million expansion, and the “Many Gifts… One Spirit” campaign was born. By 1998, the fund-raising efforts were virtually complete, and the church entered a building phase that culminated in the consecration of a chapel, a multi-purpose facility, a new youth area, a prayer room, a new library, new Sunday School rooms, expanded offices and many other improvements in June, 2000. Ministry use of the new facility began almost immediately, and continued to expand under the leadership of Dr. Gerald Thurman.
As the 21 Century began, it became apparent that the Lakeside worship services, which take place May through September of each year, were components of the ministry that attracted many visitors, and are loved by the members. Expansion and improvement of the Lakeside sanctuary by the trustees and Boy Scouts, along with the introduction of an even wider array of musical worship offerings, has given Gainesville First a reputation as “the Sanctuary without walls.” The stage at the Lakeside Sanctuary was also expanded to meet increased capacity for the outdoor services held in spring and summer.