The first Baptist churches came into being in Europe over 400 years ago as part of the Reformation which swept the continent. The Baptist movement’s founding principles:
- Freedom of worship according to one’s own conscience
- Baptism of believers only
- Each believer’s direct access to God
- Voluntary association of believers
These beliefs and practices were regarded as so radical at the time that many who held them were martyred.
Baptists in Australia
The first Baptists came to Australia in 1831. Today there are about 65,000 members in Baptist churches in Australia and many more adherents. Each local church is autonomously self-governing. We voluntarily link together with other churches to form a Baptist Union in each state, which in turn forms the Baptist Union of Australia. We have fraternal links through the Baptist World Alliance with around 36 million others around the world. We are a part of God’s worldwide family of Christians, which numbers 2.3 billion.
Local Family Beginnings
In 1949 the suburb of Blackburn was mostly bush, apple and pear orchards, interconnected with dirt tracks. Mr C.E. Burden of the Bush Sunday School Union of Victoria visited the area in November 1949 and at his invitation, Mr R.W. Jones established a lively Sunday school in the area. On August 3, 1952, adults met for a worship service in Blackburn South Primary School, which was at the corner of Branksome Grove and Canterbury Road. On September 16, 1952, in the home of Mr Press at 2 Lavelle Street, Blackburn, it was agreed to form a Baptist Fellowship.
The children of the Bush Sunday School and the worshipping adults became the foundation of the new fellowship. With encouragement and support from the Victorian Baptist Home Missionary Society and others, a hall was erected at the corner of Canterbury and Holland Roads on two blocks of land, which had been purchased in August 1950 by the Baptist Home Missionary Society for such a purpose. The new hall was opened on April 24, 1954 and at the fellowship’s first business meeting in June 1954, the church was officially constituted. Rev J.H. Newnham, serving part-time, was its first pastor.
In 1957 the church called its first full-time pastor, Rev George Ashworth. In 1962 the church was relocated to 19 Holland Road, Blackburn, to facilitate growth as younger families moved into the developing suburb. The second full-time pastor, Rev David Griffiths (1962–1972), also experienced continued growth in the church proportionate to that in the suburb. He was followed by Rev Rowland Croucher (1973–1981).
A pastoral team concept was introduced along with a church office for support staff. Thirteen houses were administered at low cost to needy families, a supervised home for homeless youth was set up, as was the first Christian refuge for abused women in Victoria. Burwood Baptist Church was enfolded into Blackburn Baptist. Further buildings projects were completed on the two acre site to accommodate the church’s growth.
Stuart Robinson, having worked cross-culturally in South Asia for 14 years, became senior pastor for the next 25 years (1983-2008). During this time, ministry developments included:
- Accountable cell groups with trained leaders becoming primary pastors.
- A counselling centre with professionally qualified staff.
- A prayer department with a goal of 24/7 prayer.
- A church-planting department that commenced seven churches around suburban Melbourne and four non English-speaking congregations at the centre.
- A cross-cultural missions department that commissioned hundreds of workers, each with significant financial support from the church.
- A radio ministry broadcasting across the nation.
- An annual five day conference to help smaller churches grow and to which people came from across the Commonwealth and New Zealand.
- A full time bookshop whose profits were donated to the missions department.
- Children’s Church recognised as a distinct independent congregation.
- Worship transitioned from traditional to contemporary styles.
- Women appointed to the senior staff and governance levels.
To facilitate continuous growth it was decided in 1990 to relocate. The new site was on Springvale Road, Burwood East. To reflect the church’s regional nature its name was changed to Crossway in February 2006. Over the years a total of 16 acres of land was purchased. Building construction commenced in 1993 and the first service was held on site in the new auditorium in September 1995. Further construction was continuous throughout this period. When all land and facilities were debt free by 2007, Robinson initiated generational transition.
Crossway’s current senior pastor, Dale Stephenson, was inducted in February 2008. Under Pastor Dale’s leadership, Crossway currently holds eleven services each weekend.
Significant improvements to the main building were completed in 2010, with foyer floorspace doubled and Crossway Café added. The project was undertaken during the GFC and cost $2.1 million; funds were raised from within the congregation without needing to borrow.
In 2012, Crossway LifeCare began operation as an extension of Crossway’s counselling services. LifeCare was developed as Crossway’s response to the growing needs of people in local neighbourhoods around Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs. LifeCare provides opportunities for volunteers to work alongside professional counsellors and staff to help families and individuals flourish, offering counselling services, community mentoring, financial mentoring, community-building events and more.
In 2015, Crossway Baptist Church formalised an 80% stake in COACH Community Mentoring, partnering with local churches and agencies to strengthen communities and empower disadvantaged children, young people and families and through one-to-one mentoring. By 2018, COACH had over 760 mentors, supporting more than 550 families around Australia.
Crossway launched an online campus in 2015 with internet-based worship services for people in remote locations and overseas. A South East campus was planted at Berwick in February 2016, with weekly worship services in English and Indonesian.
Crossway completed a significant construction project and in 2017 celebrated the opening of the new LifeCare and Administration Centre.
In 2019, the first full time pastor was appointed to the South East campus. The first Building a Discipling Culture (BDC) conferences were rolled out nationally in May 2019, representing a milestone in Crossway’s long term commitment to equip Australian churches to make disciples who make disciples.