First Odessa travels long road to growth
ODESSA—To look back on the history of First Baptist Odessa, you will notice the buildings. The hardy congregation has been housed in a total of six different structures since its establishment in 1879, yet the impressive history of the church is not about the wood and brick on the outside, but the growth on the inside.
First Baptist Church of Odessa was initially called Mt. Hope Baptist, the name the 22 original pioneering Baptists gave it. Beginning in a series of church and community buildings, the congregation was able to build its first official building in November 1879. The small building was on one of the main streets near downtown Odessa and had enough room for the 50 members that attended. With a new location and purpose, Mt. Hope Baptist formally became the Odessa Baptist church.
The little church grew steadily for the next 40 years until it became evident that they could no longer house the number of members. In December 1922, a building committee was formed and by 1924 a new building was erected. This time Odessa Baptist was intentional in its relocation. The new church now stood at the busiest intersection in downtown Odessa—a prominent place for a purposeful church. With the new location came a new name; in 1924 the church became First Baptist Church of Odessa.
The establishment of the building brought settling within the church. For the next 80 years, the congregation ebbed and flowed with the times. Attendance fluctuated between 100 and 200 for services and by the 1990s it seemed as if “the little congregation that could” halted its ascent to the top. But as the members looked into beginning a new millennium, they knew it was time to change.
In 1999, First Odessa welcomed a new pastor and a new vision. “[When I arrived as pastor] we were a typical downtown church, with little parking, a building that was adequate for the initial attendance of 120 but nowhere to go,” Terry Hodges, current pastor of First Odessa, said. “At the first business meeting that I moderated I asked someone from the church to make a motion to do what it took to grow. The congregation took ownership and the vote was unanimous and that started a process that none of us really imagined.”
With a determined spirit to grow, the congregation began to take steps to change the stagnant situation. A new purpose statement was adopted: To know Christ and make Him known. “That summed it up,” Hodges said. “We knew that to grow we had to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ and then share our love for Christ with others.”
Restructuring started to take place within the church’s services and classes. Instead of focusing on programs, the members began to focus on Scripture. “The only way we could grow deeper was to focus our lives on God’s Word,” Hodges recalled. “We launched Bible studies. Our Sunday School began to focus on making the Bible real and new classes were begun. The morning worship services focused on making the Word of God practical and relevant.”
As First Odessa grew in faith, the church grew in numbers. Soon second and third worship services were started and extra space was created. Even with the addition of services, it was evident to many that the old building was running out of room. “There were times when we literally had prayer meetings asking God to stretch our walls,” Hodges said. “We added television monitors to add more seating in the balcony. Soon our little building that could comfortably seat 180 was holding a combined total of over 300 people.”
The church started getting more involved in local missions and ministry. As the members of First Odessa took time to know Christ in their personal lives, they naturally began to tell others. “The members are the ones telling others to come, not me,” Hodges explained. “They are excited about what is going on.”
In 2001, the church decided that is was time to build again. The downtown location land-locked the church, so relocation was recommended. The congregation unanimously voted to move forward with the first phase of relocation.
At the perfect time, God provided the land needed for the church to expand. A family in the church donated five acres of land at the corner of Hwy 131 and OO, an essential location in the expanding community. Another seven acres were bought after funds were raised, and by August 2007, First Baptist Church had built again.
“During the [relocation] we saw over 115 new members with nearly half of them coming by baptism,” Hodges explained. The church now runs over 500 regularly.
First Baptist Church of Odessa is joyful about the move, but remains focused on the mission. “Our location has changed but our purpose has not,” Hodges said. “My vision for the church is to see about 1,500 in worship. I believe that will put us in a healthy place to intentionally plant a new church.”
To see the vision carried out, the congregation continues to band together under the direction of God’s Word.
“There is a [deeper] sense of unity, direction and purpose,” said First Odessa Secretary Patty McReynolds. “I think we are growing deeper spiritually is the biggest thing. Our pastor attributes that to staying in God’s Word.”