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Texas pastor’s vision: a church ‘of hope, healing & influence’

DENTON, Texas (BP)–First Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, has a brand-new purpose statement: “To love and serve the Lord so we can reach and influence our community and the world for Christ.”

But the church has been doing just that ever since its founding in 1858 by residents of what then was a year-old town a day’s wagon ride north of Dallas.

Located 25 miles northeast of DFW International Airport, First Denton was stop No. 28 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour to kick off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” by Southern Baptist churches in one year.

The Denton church, in addition to its new purpose statement, has just purchased 90 acres five miles north of its current location adjacent to Denton High School.

“One of the things I challenged our church with this year is to be an influence in our city,” said Jeff Williams, pastor for the last seven years. “We want to show Denton we love Christ and invest our assets right here at home.”

First Denton members helped build five Habitat for Humanity homes over the last five years. Demand has quadrupled this year at First Denton’s food pantry. Members also assist in and financially support Denton’s Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.

Until First Denton started the FAITH strategy of evangelism through the Sunday School four years ago, it had no evangelism strategy, the pastor said.

“It’s going strong,” Williams said of FAITH. “Three people were saved the first night of this semester.”

Over the last four years, baptisms have averaged more than 100 a year, the pastor said. “We’re pretty much like the norm,” he said. “We baptize a lot of high school and junior high school students.”

First Denton also baptizes about 30 percent of those who make decisions for Christ during Vacation Bible School, the pastor said.

“Denton County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation,” Williams said. “We have about 15,000 students in the Denton school system. Nine years from now, they’re predicting 30,000. We’ve got a lot of young families moving in.”

Denton also is home to the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University, which together add about 40,000 people to the city’s 95,000 population.

The church ministers to its members through an upbeat blended worship, Sunday School, discipleship training, small groups and missions involvement, the pastor said.

First Denton helps support three mission churches in its association, along with one in Wisconsin and one in Indiana. Its high school students have gone to Haiti during spring break five times to work with youngsters at an orphanage and on construction projects. This year, because of political upheaval in Haiti, the teens went to Washington, D.C., where they worked in one of the nation’s largest homeless shelters.

Students in First Denton’s college department in recent years have worked on mission projects in Las Vegas, Boston and New York City in conjunction with the SBC Strategic Focus Cities thrust in those metropolitan areas.

First Denton’s senior adults went to First Baptist Church of Huntertown, Ind., this summer to do Vacation Bible School. Adults and teens went to Germany for nine days, where they ministered through sports camps and public schools.

First Denton gives 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to the Cooperative Program for funding Baptist missions and ministry initiatives and seminary education. “In all, our missions budget is about 17 percent of our total budget,” Williams said. “We give to about 20 different mission ministries.”

The need for additional space has become more acute than ever this year, the pastor said.

“Preschool space is at a premium,” Williams said. “We recently gave them the last two rooms we possibly can give them.” The number of sixth- to 12th-grade students has increased more than 100 percent on Sunday mornings since he was called as pastor. Wednesday evening student attendance has grown by more than percent.

“It’s going to be a challenge to grow here the next five years before we move to our new location,” Williams said. “We bought land at the edge of town because we knew we weren’t going to be able to continue to grow here.” The church’s two buildings, about 130,000 square feet, are supplemented by seven houses adjacent to church property, purchased as they became available to use for Sunday School, staffing needs and missionary housing.

A task force is to be formed this fall to work out details of the construction project and move, the pastor said.

“With 90 acres of land, our opportunities for ministry are almost endless,” Williams said. “I’ve challenged our people to be an influence in city government and schools. I’ve challenged them to run for the school board, city council and for mayor.

“We believe that when Jesus said we are to be salt and light in the world, that it includes having an influence in all areas of our city,” the pastor continued. “It is my hope that First Baptist Church of Denton will be seen as a place of hope, healing and influence in the years to come.”