The first Baptist Church in New Zealand was formed at Nelson in May 1851. The ship Comet brought the Rev. Decimus Dolamore, a Baptist minister from Bedale, Yorkshire, who was seeking service in the colonies. The Church began under his leadership with 15 foundation members. A grant of land was obtained from the Provincial Government and a building was erected. Services were also begun in outlying parts. Rev. D. Dolamore continued to serve the denomination in Nelson and elsewhere for almost 40 years.
In Auckland, the Wellesley Street Church dates from 1855, its location being shifted later to Upper Queen Street where the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle was erected. In Dunedin, the Hanover Street Church was formed in 1863. Baptist work in Canterbury dates also from the early 1860s but the Church passed through many difficulties until the arrival of the Rev. Charles Dallaston in 1877. Under his guidance the present Church centre in Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, was obtained and Baptist activity throughout Canterbury was widely extended. A Canterbury Baptist Association was formed to foster weaker churches and the Canterbury Baptist periodical was launched. This was the forerunner of The New Zealand Baptist which, under its present editor, the Rev. N. R. Wood, is the official organ of the Baptist Churches. The Wellington Church began in 1878, its members worshipping in the Vivian Street Church until 1941, when more central buildings were acquired in Boulcott Street.
From these centres the work of extension progressed steadily and by 1880 there were 1,600 church members throughout New Zealand. Though in principle Baptist Church policy is independent, it was soon realised that a close association was necessary. As a result, the Baptist Union of New Zealand was established in 1882 with 25 churches in initial membership. Fifteen ministers were serving these churches. Membership has now (1964) grown to 16,362, with an additional 23,389 under pastoral care in Sunday school and Bible classes. Churches have increased to 141, while 123 ministers and 7 deaconesses are in direct service of the denomination. The definitive body of the Baptist Union is the annual Assembly at which all churches are represented in proportion to their membership. An elected council assumes responsibility between Assemblies. A president is appointed annually, the office usually alternating between a layman and a minister.
District associations were formed in the four main centres, and two others have since been added–South Auckland; and Central Districts, which is centred on Palmerston North. Church extension into strategic areas has become a specialised task, much of which is directed by a central committee. Its success has owed a great deal to the vision of its chairmen, notably Messrs J. R. Carey, Ernest Nees, and H. W. Milner, of Wellington. Baptist churches have always stressed the evangelistic appeal, an early landmark in this work being the appointment by the Baptist Union of the Rev. Thomas Spurgeon, minister of the Auckland Tabernacle from 1881 to 1889 and son of the famous London preacher, C. H. Spurgeon. From 1932 to 1934 the Rev. Joseph Carlisle undertook tent missions; in 1955–56 the Rev. Ivor Powell, from Wales, was Baptist evangelist, followed in 1959–60 by the Rev. F. H. Carter. Present evangelists are the Revs. G. Clifford Reay and Roland Hart.