COVINGTON—First Baptist Church of Covington averaged slightly more than 50 in attendance when the congregation decided to build a sanctuary that seats 150 worshippers—in a community of 269 people.
“We’re either crazy or have high expectations—maybe a little bit of both,” Pastor Eric Black said.
Sure enough, the building project sparked growth and revitalization in the rural congregation north of Hillsboro for the first time in more than a decade.
Last June, First Baptist Church held its first service in a new building that more than tripled the size of the old one. The 17,000-square-foot building includes a sanctuary, fellowship hall, preschool, nursery and youth room.
For the first three months in the building, the church averaged 120 people on Sunday mornings, four times the attendance in 2010 when Black became senior pastor. After the initial spike in attendance, 75 to 80 people consistently attend Sunday morning worship services on a regular basis.
Serving the region
The Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church are the only other congregations in Covington. Membership at First Baptist includes people from throughout the region, including Hillsboro, Itasca and Grandview.
“If this church was serving Covington proper, it would be overbuilt,” he said. “We are really more of a regional church.”
During the first three years of Black’s pastorate, he baptized 15 people. In the past year, the church baptized more than 40 people.
“Our youth minister has baptized about 25 youth,” Black said. “I’ve baptized children, youth and adults close to that number in the last year. And that’s just huge, because this congregation hasn’t baptized that many people going back the last six or seven years.”
Youth Pastor Jerred Hurt, who is from Grandview, has built relationships with the youth in Covington and the surrounding areas, and the students have responded to him, Black said. In a small town, the youth minister benefits from having grown up in a neighboring community as part of a respected family, he added.
Youth pastor built relationships
“A lot of the influx of youth have been because of his tenure in the community,” Black said. “We have a lot coming from Grandview, but he is also connected pretty well with youth here in Covington.”
Soon after he arrived as youth pastor, Hurt took the students on an already-planned trip to work with Mission Arlington. This summer, he plans to take another group to serve with the multifaceted ministry in Arlington.
Weekly youth assemblies on Wednesday nights have outgrown the new youth room. So, the students meet in the church’s sanctuary.
“There are just too many of them to fit,” Black said.
A wedding in the unfinished building
Even before First Baptist completed construction of its new sanctuary, one couple chose to have their wedding in the facility. With simple decorations—a half-dozen candles at the front of the sanctuary—Joe and Megan Jennings married in a room with bare concrete floors and exposed drywall.
When their first child was born recently, the church held a baby dedication ceremony for their son—the only infant in the church’s nursery at this point.
“That is something the church hasn’t seen in a while,” Black noted. “That has really brought some life into the church, to see a young family come together like that and to plug in to the life of the church.”
Soon after Black arrived as pastor, he led the church to rewrite its bylaws. The congregation redefined who could serve on committees, combined several committees with overlapping duties and changed the language regarding baptism to bring it in line with the church’s beliefs and practices.
But Black rejects any suggestion he should receive credit for the church’s renewal.
Black: ‘I lean on a lot of people’
“The good stuff that is happening here, most of it has come from outside myself—help from friends and colleagues in ministry, my dad, my father-in-law, who was a pastor for over 40 years,” he said. “I lean on a lot of people.”
The John D. Marbut Endowment, managed by the Baptist Foundation of Texas, provided funding for the new building at First Baptist Church.
Since the church moved into its new facility, members have responded to the challenge of financing the increased expenses that accompany growth. Offerings exceeded the church budget last year, and missions giving grew significantly.