This organization was founded under the leadership of Revs. John Wolfe and G. S. Latimer (of Kansas and Nebraska) and Rev. T. C. Ferguson (of Missouri). These men had been part of the Northern General Conference but chose not to take part in the merger of that body with the Northern Baptists in 1910-11. Being left without a broad denominational organization, they determined to begin a new one that would preserve the Free Will Baptist heritage. In the fall of 1915, Wolfe and Latimer visited the Missouri State Association and recommended the new organization. The recommendation was received warmly.
At the Philadelphia FWB Church near Pattonsburg, Missouri, then, December 27-31, 1916, the new Cooperative General Association of Free Will Baptists was organized. Delegates from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, and North Carolina participated. An ambitious program was adopted, including plans to found a college and publish a paper.
The organization was structured to meet regularly every three years, with provision for adjourned sessions in between when needed—a provision that was used at least almost every year. Membership soon grew: associations from Oklahoma, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky were added the next year, and from Illinois, Michigan, and Tennessee in 1918. Indeed, the 1918 session met in Paintsville, Kentucky, and the 1919 session at Cofer’s Chapel in Nashville, Tennessee. As can be seen, the organization included a number of churches that had been part of the Randall movement: at least some of those from Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas. But it also included some whose heritage traces to the Southern movement: Tennessee, Michigan, Oklahoma, and perhaps some of the churches in Missouri.
As the listing of minutes below will show, we do not have minutes for all the sessions of the Cooperative General Association. Anyone who knows where unlisted minutes are is urged to contact the Historical Commission in order to help us complete the record.
It may be that this would have become a true national association for Free Will Baptists, but some whose lineage traced to the Northern Free Will Baptists, like John Wolfe, were unwilling to define washing feet as an established ordinance. As a result, some of the participants, primarily from the Southeast, withdrew and, in 1921, founded their own General Conference.
But some of those involved began to work on a union of these two bodies almost as soon as they came into existence. In 1935, that union was accomplished and the National Association of Free Will Baptists was formed. At first, the National was to meet every three years, with the two uniting bodies—the Cooperative General Association, renamed the Western General Association, and the General Conference, renamed the Eastern General Association—would meet annually in between. But by the second meeting of the National Association in 1938 all agreed that it should meet annually from then on, and the other two bodies ceased to function.