Under the preaching of evangelist George Whitefield, a young native of Pennsylvania, Oliver Hart, trusted in Christ for his salvation at the age of 18. Five years later, he was licensed to preach and was ordained in October 1749. Oliver Hart became pastor of the First Baptist Church Charleston in February 1750.
Having been in his new ministerial position at the Charleston Church for just over one year, Hart had arranged to meet pastoral representatives from the Ashley River, Euhaw and Welsh Neck churches. The result of cultivating these relationships led to a vision of forming a cooperative association of churches similar to the Philadelphia Baptist Association (1707). On October 21, 1751, the Charleston Baptist Association was established and became a prototype for all Southern Baptist Associations that followed.
At first the principal functions of the associations were to provide a larger fellowship and to allow counsel concerning common problems facing the churches. By common understanding, associations had no authority over the churches that affiliated with them. As stated according to the Historical Commission Report, “The purpose was to promote the Kingdom of the Redeemer through maintenance of love and fellowship, by mutual contribution for peace and welfare of the Churches.”
Under Hart’s vigorous religious leadership, the Charleston Baptist Association pioneered a sustainable strategic force for expanding the growth of churches in the Southeast. For three decades the association continually grew in both size and influence under his leadership, extending its membership to include churches in both North & South Carolina.
This vision of a cooperative mission continued through leaders who succeeded Hart. Richard Furman who also pastored the First Baptist Church (1787-1825) led the association into furthering the cooperation for mission and education among the growing number of churches. As moderator of the Charleston Baptist association, he arranged for funding for the education of young ministers and for funding of missionary activity in the state. Furman’s leadership was instrumental in establishing the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1821. As a result of his influence, Furman University became the South's first Baptist college founded in 1826 and was named in his honor.