The Church of the Nazarene is the product of a series of mergers that occurred between various holiness churches, associations and denominations throughout the 20th century. The Nazarene Church traces its roots back to Phineas F. Bresee, a Methodist Episcipal minister. In 1894, Bresee withdrew from the appointive ministry to serve as pastor at the Peniel Mission, an independent ministry to the homeless in Los Angeles.
In October 1895, Bresee was joined by Dr. Joseph P. Widney, a leading Los Angeles physician, and the former president of the University of Southern California. They were joined by other numerous lay men and women to form a new church. Widney suggested the name “Church of the Nazarene,” because he said it identified the ministry with the toiling masses of common people for whom Jesus lived and died.
From 1903 on, Bresee began a process of systematic church planting, and by 1907 there were congregations of the Church of the Nazarene along the West Coast and as far east as Illinois.
The First General Assembly held in Chicago, Illinois from 10–17 October 1907, brought together the Eastern and the Western streams. The Western group was the Church of the Nazarene and the Eastern group was the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America (APCA).
At the time of its merger with the Church of the Nazarene in 1907, the APCA existed principally from Nova Scotia to Iowa and the northeastern United States. The name of the united body adopted at the First General Assembly was the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
At the Second General Assembly held at Pilot Point, Texas, the Holiness Church of Christ, located in the southern United States, merged with the Pentecostal Nazarenes. The merger of the Holiness Church of Christ in the south and the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene took place on Tuesday, October 13, 1908, at 10:40 a.m., “amid great shouts of joy and holy enthusiasm.” This date marks the official birth of the Church of the Nazarene. The newly merged Church of the Nazarene began with 10,034 members, 228 congregations, 11 districts, and 19 missionaries, according to historical records. In 1919, the Church of the Nazarene dropped the term “Pentecostal” due to the rise of the modern Pentecostal movement.
From that day forward, the Church of the Nazarene has brought into her fold other various holiness churches and movements. The latest merger was with on April 3, 1988, as an indigenous Church of the Nazarene in Nigeria, established in the 1940s, merged with the denomination.