This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.
12 adults! That’s how many said yes to coming on board to help start a new church in Odessa, Texas.
In June of 2006, a group of us came together under the belief that the city of Odessa did need another church, but not like the other churches in town. We would be clear, this would be a place where no perfect people were allowed. It would be focused on making faith seem normal to our lives. The new church would reach out to those not already in a church. We would emphasis family, acceptance, and try to not take ourselves too seriously. We were committed to encouraging others to take the next step in their journey of faith in Jesus.
Early in 2006, I had met Tim Halstead of New Life Church in Odessa. Tim and his wife Melinda, along with nearly 70 others had opened New Life in the summer of 2005. The Halsteads were a huge encouragement to us and were champions of our efforts to launch another new church in town. The New Life Team allowed our team to come and learn from them for three weeks. We participated in the set-up/tear-down routine. We observed how they did children’s ministry and refreshments. We learned how to be a portable church from the new life team.
As we were ramping up our efforts to open the new church, Christy was struggling. She did not know what was wrong, but she knew something was physically wrong with her and it was impacting her emotionally and spiritually as well. She wanted to see a specialist to have some blood work done to see if they could determine what was impacting her. This was very scary for me on a couple of levels. First, I was “busy” planting a new church. I couldn’t imagine being side-tracked! (Bad Husband, I know!) Second, I didn’t know how we would pay for this $500 test. We were barely making our monthly expenses between what little support we had raised and the part-time job I had. We sent out a request asking for some help to pay for the test for Christy. We had three friends from our college and high school days step up and pay for the test! Christy was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder. It still affects her life today, but at least now we know what the issue is. The response from our three friends was amazing and reminded us that we weren’t alone.
The training with New Life Odessa and through the financial and prayerful help of partners across the country, including Church Multiplication Association and New Life Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, along with the commitments from the 12 adults who signed on board, we launched Grace Point Church in October.
For our first service, our friends at Crossway Church in Midland came and joined us to cheer us on.
The beginning of Grace Point was probably premature. Looking back on it, I know we did not have a large enough team. Even with our guests for the from Midland, we had less than 70 people in attendance. Some of the research on church planting says you will likely double the number of people of your launch team for the first service. We were within those stats.
Though our opening did not go as planned, we kept at it. After all, we were up and running now. To be honest, when we started Grace Point, I knew what to do on Sundays. What I didn’t know was what to do throughout the week. Even though I had spent some time as a senior pastor, I did not know what to do to develop disciples, lead teams, and invite guests to our services. I did know how to preach and organize a worship service. I did know we needed a great kids’ class and nursery. I did know how to produce marketing material. What I didn’t know was how to develop strangers into community. I had a lot to learn.
In December,we witnessed Josh and Jessica getting married.
We also held our first baptism service. We met at the home of one of our newest attendees. They had a hot tub and we witnessed Fred’s baptism. Later in the spring we returned to that same house for Misty’s baptism. These were encouraging steps we were taking.
In February of 2007, Church Multiplication Association gave us a grant for a mailer to be sent out to our city. We had not done this for our opening due to limited finances. For the first time, we started to see some traction in attendance. We bumped up from averring less than 30 to more than 50.
For Spring Break, Christy, the kids, and I took a vacation. We drove to Alabama to drop the kids off with the grandparents, then Christy and I drove to Nashville, Tennessee, to fly to San Francisco, California. It was our first time away, without kids, it nearly five years.
As Easter approached, we knew this would be a great time to reach out to our city. I came up with an idea to host what I believe to be the largest Easter Egg Hunt in the city on the Saturday of Easter Weekend. We partnered with Grace Baptist Church in town to stuff some 10,000 plastic Easter Eggs. We purchased door prizes like bicycles, kites, and fun toys for kids. We were going all out!
On Friday, April 6, 2007, the weathermen began reporting a potential problem to our plans. Rain would have been easy to overcome. Instead, on Saturday, April 7, it snowed!
We had some 10,000 Easter Eggs loaded into my minivan. The fumes from the sugary candy and gum was nearly sickening. And as I looked outside around 7am, snow was falling. This was not good. When the snow falls in the desert, people stay inside. The temperature had dropped and the snow covered the roads. Everything that day was cancelled. Including our amazing Easter Egg Hunt!
Now you may wonder, what do you do with 10,000 Easter Eggs? We certainly did. I knew we weren’t going to have enough people present on Sunday, plus the grounds were still wet. So I decided to postpone the hunt to the following Saturday.
As you might have guessed, there isn’t the same enthusiasm for an Easter Egg Hunt after Easter. We got the word out the best we could leading to Saturday. As 10am approached on April 14, six days after Easter, 69 kids showed up to collect the eggs. In case you are wondering, that works out to be 145 eggs per child! We were encouraging parents to let the kids hunt a second and third time!
I’ll never forget that Easter.
As the spring came to a close, we prepared for our first summer as a new church start.