News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Texas., Okla. evangelism/missions news; Churches surging after periods of decline

Today’s From the States features items from:
Southern Baptist TEXAN
Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)


On brink of closing doors,
Texas church now thriving
By Bonnie Pritchett

AUSTIN, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) — By his own admission, George Ward is doing everything wrong. Because of that the interim-come-full-time pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church (PHBC) attributes the tenfold growth of the once-dying congregation to God’s timing, the work of the Holy Spirit and “the mystery of God’s people.”

Nestled under a grove of live oak trees on the southern outskirts of Austin’s city limits, the steepled limestone church was once a thriving congregation. But by 2012 only seven faithful members remained, and they understood the church would stay alive only as long as they did. They voted 4-3 to keep the doors open and, reluctantly, to call yet another interim pastor to fill the pulpit. That act of faith proved the turning point, and the church that was once on life support is now breathing new life into its community.

“We are in the middle of a mystery of what God can do when people are willing to say ‘yes,'” said Ward in a telephone interview with The TEXAN.

Ward, who had pastored in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska for more than 30 years was a member of Austin’s Hyde Park Baptist Church when he was asked to preach at Pleasant Hill. The tiny congregation wasn’t sure they could commit to supporting an interim pastor. They just needed a preacher. But after three weeks, they asked Ward if he would be interim pastor. Three months later, in October 2012, Ward was asked to pastor PHBC.

Already sensing the call to go back into the ministry, Ward agreed. By then the church membership had grown to 44.

But the surge in growth was prompted, in part, by the death of two of the faithful seven in late September 2012. The timing of their passing and funeral services proved providential. Ward, in an effort to draw former members back to the church, had already planned a homecoming service for Sept. 30. Funeral services for the two members were scheduled for the preceding Friday and Saturday.

The services filled PHBC with family members who had long since let church attendance slip off their list of priorities; adult grandchildren who, as children, had attended the church at the behest of their now-deceased grandparents; and former church members who had forgotten what Pleasant Hills meant to them.

A sense of nostalgia brought the mourners back for services on homecoming Sunday, but it was the Holy Spirit that prompted 25 of them to join the next week.

“It’s not just my great preaching,” Ward quipped.

It is his preaching, among other things, which is “all wrong.” But Ward, an expository preacher, said he sees a hunger for the Word of God in the congregation.

Expository preaching, he is told, is passé, as are traditional hymns and old sanctuaries. However, these factors have not kept the church from growing. Membership has grown by word of mouth.

On Dec. 6, 2015, 79 attended church.

“That’s tremendous growth,” said Gilbert Chavez, SBTC field strategist for Central Texas. “God’s hand is upon that ministry.”

Chavez said the 2012 PHBC was an “Anglo, older family church.” But now its diverse congregation “is starting to look a little bit like heaven.”

Members of the church — which is located in a lower socio-economic neighborhood — represent a spectrum of income levels, from the homeless to those making six figures. Twenty-five percent of the congregation is African-American, and a growing number of Hispanics fill the pews. The oldest church member is 96 years old, and for the first time in 25 years the children’s ministry rooms are being used regularly.

The church’s financial well-being is an indication that the new members are willing to invest in the church—an unusual phenomenon, Chavez said, as it is usually the older, well-established members of a church who give faithfully.

But for 2015 the church is well on its way to exceed $100,000 in giving, more than doubling the 2013 budget of $45,000, Ward said.

In addition to regular tithes and offerings, the church sold a portion of its property for $500,000 to a contractor building an affordable housing complex next to the church. Half of that money will be poured into remodeling the dilapidated sanctuary as well as other long-neglected projects. The remainder will go toward ministry development and church staffing. Ward hopes to hire part-time music and children’s ministry directors soon.

After all, he said, the new housing complex will be home to 500 new neighbors, many of them families. Pleasant Hills Baptist Church wants to be prepared to minister to them and the rest of their community, demonstrating what it means to be alive in Christ.
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the TEXAN.


Historic OKC church
celebrates ‘God’s work’
By Chris Doyle

OKLAHOMA CITY – (Baptist Messenger) — The theme was “Come & See,” and many did just that when Trinity Baptist Church in Oklahoma City hosted a “Grand Re-opening” on Dec. 6 to celebrate its restored worship center that has been unusable for approximately six years. Pastor Tobin Jackson led the resurgence of the sanctuary that was damaged by a 2009 ice storm, but he credits the faithful support of approximately 30 church members who remained at Trinity in spite of facing disbandment three years ago.

“On August 5, 2012, this remnant behind me made the decision based upon prayer, fasting and seeking the Lord that they would not leave,” Jackson said during this special Sunday worship service with many of those faithful members standing on stage with him to participate in a ceremonial ribbon cutting. “God told them to stay and trust Him. This is one of the most beautiful stories I could ever imagine, and here I am the pastor. God is so good to us.”

Jackson became pastor of the church two years ago, after serving as youth pastor at Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City for about 10 years. When he came to Trinity, the church met in the fellowship hall for worship services because the ice storm in 2009 caused major damage to the roof of this historic building, and litigation with an insurance company caused the repairs to be unaffordable, as reported in the Nov. 29, 2015 edition of The Oklahoman.

Near the end of Jackson’s first year at Trinity, a settlement was made that allowed the church to progress toward the opportunity to praise God in His sanctuary. The Oklahoman reported that it took several months for Jackson and church members to restore the sanctuary, which includes a fully suspended balcony, nine stained-glass windows and other special architectural design features and holds a capacity near 825.

The Oklahoman reported the church was established in 1911. Jackson said they were doing final touches until 4:30 a.m. the day of the service. He thanked John Stowe of Covenant Restorations, whose company, Jackson said, was involved in the restoration process since “Day One” after the ice storm affected the building. “John, your construction company is absolutely awesome,” Jackson said.

Many others Jackson thanked including the audio/visual team and the company that installed the sound system and video equipment. He also showed appreciation to the attorneys who supported the church and helped through the four and a half years that resulted in the settlement.

“I am amazed,” he said, when he looked around the sanctuary that was filled with people on the ground floor and approximately two-thirds full in the balcony. “I told Kyle (Duncan, associate pastor) that we might be halfway full. I underestimated you. I see friends and family who are here today. This is beautiful. Thank you for being here.”

Many representatives of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, the Baptist Foundation, Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children and other affiliates, as well as members of supporting churches, were in attendance.

The service opened with Jim Bellah reading Scripture and Jim Matthews voicing prayer. Barbara Bell sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and a video testimony from Charlotte Bellah was shown.

“Trinity is home. Trinity is family. Trinity is a very unique congregation,” said Bellah who has been a member of the church for 41 years. “We are made up of all kinds of socioeconomic levels, different nationalities; it just doesn’t matter. I have had several people ask me about lots of people leaving and if I was leaving, and I said, ‘No. Number one, I don’t believe the Lord has asked us to leave. Number two, I’m not going to leave…. I’m going to stick around. I’m going to see what the Lord’s going to do with Trinity.’

“I am just thrilled to get back over here,” Bellah continued about meeting once again in the sanctuary. “This is going to be more like home. I think the fact that Trinity is still here, a functioning church, we’ll see more people come.”

Jackson’s sermon was titled “The God Who Sees,” taken from Gen. 16, about Abram and Sarai following their own plans to fulfill God’s covenant of making a great nation. Jackson emphasized the words of Sarai’s servant Hagar who named the Lord “The God Who Sees” in verse 13.

“I hope you can understand that God sees everything because that’s what Hagar discovered,” said Jackson. “The revelation of God often occurs after we’ve gone through a situation. God reveals Himself to us, but we see His hand at the end of a long journey. And you’ve probably experienced this or somebody mentioned this to you that when you look back, you can see the tracing of God’s hand.

“Trinity has a second opportunity. It’s a rebirth, a revitalization of a great church. And what we find hard to understand sometimes is that we want to know the whole story in the middle of the story. And that confuses us, frustrates us. And in the middle of God’s story we try to get our hands all in it … try to force it and get frustrated if we are not careful. God’s plans need to completely unfold.”

Now averaging nearly 150 in regular attendance, Trinity is involved in community ministry and supports international groups that meet regularly at the church.

“Please don’t stop praying for this great people,” Jackson said at the conclusion of the service. “There’s much yet to be done. This is a launching pad, not a finishing post. We just have a place to do it in. What a joyous occasion. Don’t let this be the only time you come and share with us. We love you, and God is so good.”
This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Chris Doyle is associate editor of The Baptist Messenger.


EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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