the history of Gateway Baptist Church
→ Our Mother Church
Our humble history begins in 1926 with the birth of University Baptist Church that was founded with the purpose of uniting Miami and the world under the grace of a loving God. That very same year, a devastating hurricane destroyed their new building which was located across the street from the University of Miami and the young church was forced to rebuild in Coral Gables. However, the relocation resulted in steady growth and commitment over time. In her 30th year, University Baptist Church members responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to branch out to serve Miami by developing a new mission in the southwest area of Dade County to meet the needs of a growing community. Business meetings were held, resolutions were passed and plans materialized to develop a mission that was named the Red Road Mission.
→ The Red Road Mission
On December 4, 1955, the first Sunday School session for the Red Road Mission was held at David Fairchild Elementary School with 26 people present. On February 12, 1956, a young and new enthusiastic Baptist minister named Ernest O. Sikes was introduced to the 48 people gathered for worship and later that day, he became their permanent pastor.
With the Red Road Mission membership growing steadily and still meeting at David Fairchild Elementary, the search began for suitable property to build upon. After a 4-year search, University Baptist and Red Road Mission leaders found property located “in the middle of nowhere” at S.W. 97th Avenue and 64th Street. At a special business meeting held on March 7, 1960 at University Baptist Church, it was unanimously voted to purchase the 5-acre tract of land for the permanent location of the Red Road Mission congregation, provided that the land could be zoned for church purposes. The purchase price was not to exceed $33,000.00, which was a hefty sum in those days.
The surrounding neighbors were not happy and there was opposition to the rezoning of the land for a church. However, a large number of members from University Baptist Church, the Red Road Mission and other interested local Baptists rallied to strengthen the cause. In June 1960, the Dade County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the use of the land for church purposes.
→ From Mission to Chapel Status
On October 2, 1960, the Red Road Mission relocated to Blue Lakes Elementary and held Sunday School and worship services there for one year while the church was under construction. It was during this time that the mission members desired a name different from “Red Road Mission” so University Baptist Church charged them with the duty of finding a Biblical name. Members were invited to submit names for consideration but it was member Dulce Garrison who suggested the name “Gateway” derived from Matthew 7:14 – “Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” University Baptist Church approved and at a business meeting in January 1961, the members adopted the name Gateway Baptist Chapel.
→ The Need to Build
The first Sunday in their new building in May 1961 was filled to capacity and the members immediately started thinking about another building program. At a business meeting on June 4, 1961, it was recommended that the Finance Committee secure a loan for $40,000.00 to build a chapel and education building and that the members raise $2,500.00 in cash to initiate the project. A resolution was passed and adopted at a special business meeting on June 28, 1961. The loan was secured and with the approval from University Baptist Church, architect O.K. Houston was selected to prepare details and supervise the building phase. The first buildings to be constructed included a chapel with seating for 183 worshipers and an educational facility for 247. Anxious to build and with the slogan “Be One of the One Hundred – Open the Gate for Gateway”, the members gave $2,600.00. What a glorious day it was on July 16, 1961 when groundbreaking, along with a special service, took place.
→ More Buildings Needed
On November 5, 1961, the chapel members moved into their new building with an attendance of 192 which was an all-time record high. On December 3, 1961, the building was dedicated with Pastor Ernest Sikes presiding and Dr. T. Ruppert Coleman from University Baptist Church bringing the dedication message. They had barely moved into their new building when members began another drive to add an educational building to hold 500 people.
Six months later in June 1962, 5 additional acres were purchased. On a cash basis, the chapel membership built the educational addition and occupied it on September 23, 1962.
→ From Chapel to Church Status
Gateway Baptist Chapel reached a point where she felt spiritually and financially able to stand alone from her mother church, University Baptist. At a special business meeting held on December 5, 1962, a resolution was presented to University Baptist requesting that Gateway Baptist Chapel now be permitted to become a duly constituted church. The resolution was passed unanimously.
A Constitution Service was planned with University Baptist and members of the mother church were encouraged to attend since the church had never previously constituted a church. On March 3, 1963 at 3:00 pm, a praise service was held constituting Gateway Baptist Chapel into Gateway Baptist Church. Mission Pastor Ernest Sikes was elected unanimously to serve as pastor of Gateway Baptist Church.
At the Constitution Service, beautiful resolutions of appreciation were read thanking University Baptist Church and which read in part: “We thank God for you and thank you for letting God use you in bringing into being Gateway Baptist Church.”
→ Steady Growth
At the time of her constitution, church membership was at 350 with a Sunday School enrollment of 480 members and Training Union had enrollment of 245 members. It was reported that Gateway had been the fastest growing Baptist congregation in the Southwest area of Miami. Gateway’s membership continued to climb during this period and in 1967, the East and Center Educational buildings were constructed.
→ Gateway Pre-school
In 1967, a special committee consisting of Pastor Sikes and church members researched the possibility of starting a preschool that would provide a quality Christian learning environment. The preschool was successfully started and church members were offered the opportunity to work in it provided that they had the proper education and training requirements. Gateway Preschool’s first principal was member June Foster, who left her nursing career to lead the new preschool.
Because parents were so pleased with the preschool, they requested that the school expand to include pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and elementary grades so that their children could continue with their Christian education at Gateway. These grade levels were successfully added over time.
→ More Buildings Needed
In 1971, the Fellowship Hall was constructed so Gateway’s members could have a place for activities and fellowship but more buildings were needed. As of April 10, 1976, over 773 members were enrolled in Sunday School and the church was out of meeting space. The sanctuary was even used to hold an Adult Department.
A two-story building costing $500,000 that would enable the church to expand their outreach ministries was proposed. To help with this tremendous expense, the “Together We Build” campaign was launched in June 1976 where members committed to make pledges according to their financial ability. The campaign lasted for 3 years and the members stayed on task with their pledges. On October 14, 1979, a dedication service of the John W. Lewis Memorial Building took place in memory of this late beloved Gateway charter member who was instrumental in the planning and construction of the buildings.
→ Pastoral Leadership
Gateway’s founding pastor was Ernest Sikes. From its humble beginnings as Red Road Mission in 1956, Rev. Sikes gave leadership that took the mission of 26 people to church status on March 3, 1963 in its current location. Ernest was surrounded with visionary people who developed an evangelistic Sunday School that would see new Christians by the hundreds and a vibrant program of discipleship. As founding pastor, Ernest led the church in multiple building programs and the establishment of a Christian Preschool. Rev. Sikes left Gateway in September of 1979 after 23 years of service.
Upon the departure of Ernest Sikes, Gateway approached Jim Soles to serve as interim pastor while a new full time pastor was being selected. Jim served Gateway from October 1979 to August 1980 for Sunday and midweek services. During this time he was also full time director of the local Florida Baptist Children’s Homes campus.
◇Bob Geer was called as full time pastor for Gateway in September 1980. He served as pastor until December 1988. During his tenure, he led Gateway to begin two Sunday morning services which continued for several months before returning to one service. He was also associated with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and accompanied them on several trips while at Gateway.
◇Steve Zahare had served as associate pastor and became Gateway’s interim pastor from January 1989 to March 1990 while a new full time pastor was being sought. During Steve’s time, he worked closely with Gateway’s youth ministry and regularly visited the sick and ministered to our senior adults. He became a full time pastor in Key Largo.
◇Larry Tomlin was called as full time pastor in April 1990. He stayed for a brief time, departing in October 1990 to enter full time prison ministry. As pastor at Gateway, he was known for carrying a list of the weekly prayer requests in his pocket so he could pray for them during the day. Upon his departure, Larry recommended that Gateway approach Dr. Emit Ray as interim pastor until a new full time pastor was selected.
◇Dr. Emit O. Ray had recently retired after twenty years as pastor of Riverside Baptist Church. He accepted the interim pastoral position at Gateway in November 1990 and remained here until April 1992. Dr. Ray, as a former foreign missionary, encouraged the church to give ten percent of Gateway’s tithes and offerings to support local, state, national, and international mission ministries.
◇Dr. Steven L. Ray, who had been in Baptist denominational work in Texas, was called as Gateway’s pastor in May 1992. As the son of Dr. Emit O. Ray and always referring to himself “a missionary kid”, he followed his father’s example leading the church to support missions, including several mission trips with Gateway members to South Africa. Under Pastor Ray’s leadership, Gateway was one of the top 10 churches in the State of Florida to give consistently in support of missions. In January 2017, Pastor Ray announced his retirement and departed on June 30, 2017 after 25 years as Gateway’s shepherd.
◇Michael D. Solomon accepted the call to serve as Gateway’s new shepherd on March 11, 2018. Coming from Bear, Delaware, Pastor Solomon has a passion for mentoring men to become true followers of Christ and for teaching discipleship. Positive changes are already in progress at Gateway under his leadership.
→ Gateway’s Next 50 Years
Gateway has been and will continue to be a shining beacon in the community. The church stands today doctrinally sound, evangelical in reaching people and dedicated to the development of those saved.
We will never forget those who journeyed before us charting Gateway’s history and we will always commit to continuing it in the years to come. As we look forward to what God will do in the next 50 years, we pray for the continuation of His Hand to be upon Gateway as we strive to be a Great Commission Church changing hearts and lives.
To God be the glory, great things He has done! And will continue to do!