“…but God gave the growth.”
— 1 Corinthians 3:6 (ESV)
In order to understand what we are as a church now, it’s good to look at our roots and the significant milestones along the way. The people of Henderson Hills Baptist Church will be forever grateful to the vision, faith, sacrifice, and obedience to God of the many people who participated in the initial dream and planting of our church.
The Birth of a New Church
The dream began in December 1959 when Mr. and Mrs. C. A. (Pat) Henderson gave four acres of land to First Baptist Church, Edmond, as the future site for a mission church. Located in the Henderson Hills housing addition, the site was two miles from the downtown First Baptist Church.
Five years later, a small church building was completed at 2300 S. Boulevard, and the doors opened to receive worshippers on May 3, 1964. The building project had been costly, had taken a long time, and had added to the already significant debt that First Baptist maintained. However, true to the vision that God had given them, they had pressed forward to construct a building for the new mission church, under the direction of their pastor, Dr. M. E. Ramay.
Eugene “Gene” Stockwell, who worked full-time for the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention, volunteered to be the interim pastor. It was Pastor Stockwell who preached to worshippers in the new church that May morning. A few families from First Baptist had pledged to attend and support the new church and were in attendance. But in addition, several other people also attended the service that first morning. In fact, 134 people attended Sunday School that morning—including more than twenty babies in the nursery!
James W. Wright, Independence
God quickly blessed the young church with growth. Within six months, membership had climbed to fifty-six. The congregation sought to find a full-time pastor to fill the pulpit and minister to the members. On August 1, 1965, James W. Wright preached his inaugural sermon and pledged to lead the church.
Members continue to be added and soon the small church was out of classroom and nursery space. Unfortunately, First Baptist simply could not incur the cost of another building project at this point. Since the mission church had been able to support itself financially, the logical step was to declare independence from First Baptist and become an independent church, which formally occurred on March 20, 1966.
In May the Henderson Hills began selling bonds to fund a new building, with plans for it to house classrooms and a nursery. Attendance was now approximately 200. But by the time the addition was completed, attendance had exceeded space in the worship center, so instead the top floor of the new addition was used for the worship center and affectionately called “The Upper Room.” Although thriving and active, attendance plateaued the last couple years of this decade.
Kenneth Lay, Growth
In February 1970 Pastor Wright resigned to accept a pastorate in Wyoming. Now in need of a second interim pastor, the church turned to Dr. M. E. Ramay, who had since retired from First Baptist. He was delighted to serve in this role until August 1970, when Kenneth Lay accepted the call to Henderson Hills.
Pastor Lay focused his efforts on nurturing and growing the seedling church. He led efforts to reach out to the community, and the results were dramatic. The church grew from 170 people in 1970 to 354 in 1975—a wonderful growth in five years.
Of course, space was now an issue, and the church began planning for a new worship center.
The Lime-Green Shag Carpet Worship Center
Perhaps only those who attended Henderson Hills during the 70’s can truly appreciate the green, shag carpet, but everyone who hears the story grows to appreciate its representation of sacrifice and humility.
As the new worship center building project drew to a close, plans abruptly changed. The general contractor filed for bankruptcy and the bonding company took control of the final phase of construction. They insisted on austere standards and dictated options for the interior carpeting and pews, most likely from deeply discounted materials they had access to. The choices: maroon fabric pew coverings and reddish-brown carpeting or blue fabric pews and lime-green carpeting. The blue seat coverings and lime-green shag carpeting were selected and lasted over 30 years.
While the interior decorating scheme wouldn’t win awards for attractiveness, members were delighted to have a spacious new worship center, which was completed in 1974.
What this carpet represented to the members of HHBC was so significant, however, that a small section of it was preserved and still hangs on the wall of our current facility to remind us of our roots and the dedication, sacrifice, and vision of those who preceded us.
The latter years of the 70’s saw a plateaued growth level. In 1981, Brother Lay resigned, due to pressing family matters, such as several illnesses in his family and his own illness.
Mark Hartman, Teaching, Music, Growth
Bob Ross, president of the Baptist Foundation, was called to serve as the interim pastor in early 1982. He did much to unite the congregation in love, since prior to Brother Lay’s departure, the church had experienced tension between those who wanted him to resign and those who wanted him to remain. His teaching on love began to break the stubborn barriers in the hearts of many.
The third pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church, Mark Hartman, began his tenure in August 1982. At only 28 years of age, Brother Mark was an energetic pastor eager to lead the church, but the church seemed stuck in the 250 attendance zone. Then one day when Mark was praying and reading his Bible, he felt like God gave him a special message from Isaiah 41:14-20 (NLT) and its promise of growth. Verse 20 concludes, “I am doing this so all who see this miracle will understand what it means—that it is the Lord who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it.”
Mark was confident it meant that the church was destined by God to grow. And grow it did. From a low point of 257 people attending in 1982, the attendance grew to 892 by the end of 1988!
Healing & Expository Preaching
There seem to be two things that are attributed to the tremendous growth spurt. First, Mark sensed the factionalism from the pro-Lay and anti-Lay groups still simmered. He began preaching on resolving conflicts and healing relationships for several weeks, until finally one of the leaders of the groups admitted to him that he wanted to take steps to repair the fractured relationships. The next Sunday this man and two others, representing both sides, stood before the congregation repenting of their actions. Church-wide repentance ensued and the church humbled itself before God. God truly moved in a remarkable way.
Secondly, Mark introduced a rather new preaching style to the church. He typically focused on a book of the Bible, analyzing the text in a detailed expository manner and then showing how the concepts applied to daily life. His “teaching-preaching” style proved to be very popular. People seemed especially hungry to be taught the Word of God in this manner.
New Directions in Music
When Mark was hired, he was the only full-time pastor. But over the next few years he added on five full-time staff members.
John Mark Benson was hired as the minister of music. The church had observed that some other growing churches had shifted their music from the traditional hymns to more contemporary Christian music and choruses, and they urged John Mark to do the same for Henderson Hills. He also began incorporating drama into the church Christmas and Easter musicals, which became important outreach events to the community.
Together We Build
Once again a familiar phrase was heard: “We’re out of room!” Some adult Sunday School classes had been forced to meet off campus in businesses, and we offered three Sunday morning worship services. The congregation approved purchasing the Assembly of God church and buildings to the immediate south of our property for additional classroom and office space. But in spite of the relief this space offered, it was evident that what was now needed was a new worship center. Thus, the “Together We Build” capital campaign was begun in 1984.
Then in 1988, a new building program, “Forward in Faith,” was begun. The money was to finance a new worship center. Despite the flat Oklahoma economy of the late 80’s, members believed God would provide and sacrificially gave.
The lime-green carpeted worship center was packed to overflowing. Three Sunday morning worship services were offered. The youth department grew and matured greatly under Kim Bearden’s leadership. When Kim moved on to another church, Ken Surritte was called as youth pastor, and the youth department continued to thrive.
In early 1991, Mark Hartman resigned, feeling the call to co-pastor First Baptist Church in Houston. The decision was made to delay the building project until a new pastor could be called.
Dennis Newkirk, Vision, Biblical Authority
This time the church called Dr. Chuck Ward to be the interim pastor. Chuck was a Dallas-based consultant and speaker who flew to Oklahoma City to serve the church on weekends. Contrary to what often happens, Henderson Hills didn’t lose any members during this interim time, and in fact, gained members. Also, important, the church continued building fundraising, and in March 1992 we broke ground for the new worship center.
In June 1992 Dennis Newkirk accepted the call to pastor Henderson Hills. He preached in a direct but gentle teaching style and was a true teaching pastor. He also had a vision to make sure the church was a thoroughly biblical church and operated in all ways to exemplify that the Bible was our authority. Under his leadership the church produced a document called the “Ten Principles of Ministry.” He also formed the “Vision Implementation Group,” whose task was to compare the standards of the New Testament to the practices of our church.
One of the most important decisions to come out of their efforts was the decision to move to a governmental leadership by an Elder Council. New by-laws were adopted on August 4, 1996, and Henderson Hills began its leadership by elders.
Blue-Carpet Worship Center
Construction on the new worship center began September 1992, but a series of relentless rainstorms hampered construction. To help avoid the muddy mess, members were shuttled between the south classroom buildings and the north worship center.
Finally, the new worship center, with tasteful blue carpeting, was completed in June 1994. The inaugural service was June 26. Visitors and members filled the church, and kept coming after. By the next Sunday we once again offered two services, and by fall, three. From 1994 to 2003 Henderson Hills grew from 1541 people in attendance to 2235. God continued to draw people to the church.
Ministries of Jesus
In 1998, Dennis became convicted by the Luke 4:18 (NLT) passage where Jesus proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” He began teaching the church about how Jesus was involved in four ministries: to preach about salvation, to release people from their bondage to sin, to heal people physically, and the heal people emotionally.
Soon the elders and others began exploring the idea of a free medical clinic. Furthermore, they envisioned it as a place hurting people could go to receive spiritual healing and prayer, emotional and mental healing from a Christian psychologist, and physical healing from a godly physician. On January 2, 2002, Ministries of Jesus opened its doors.
By the late 1990’s it was obvious that the church would run out of room again. The long-range planning committee scouted locations for a new facility. A wooded, hilly corner of I-35 and 15th street was purchased, but the church decided to stay at the Boulevard location for the time being and work on paying down existing debt.
The “Time to Sacrifice” fundraising program began in May 2001. The current worship center seated 1,000; the new worship center at I-35 and 15th would seat 2,000.
Under Dennis Newkirk’s leadership, the church continued to grow steadily. But in 1999, rocked by a proposal to merge with Metro Church, attendance declined slightly. The consideration was nixed, but healing would take many years. As it recovered from the controversy, the church began to grow in attendance and membership again.
God’s Church God’s Way
After the controversy of the proposed Metro Church merger, the elders sought to clarify the vision and nature of the church. The result? A 93-point document called “God’s Church, God’s Way.” It outlined the church’s position on topics such as God, the Bible, creation, sin, salvation, the Ministries of Jesus, the ministries of the Holy Spirit, the nature of the church, the nature of Christian life, church application, and church practice. As a result the church began moving forward with a greater sense of unity and purpose.
By 2003, attendance was 2,235.
I-35 & 15th Location
Although the church left the Henderson Hills neighborhood, the name still seemed appropriate. On April 25, 2004, Henderson Hills Baptist Church opened its doors for worship at I-35 and 15th Street.
The new worship center anchors a spacious building. A wide-open area known as “the Gathering” serves as a hub of activity and fellowship before and after services. Two wings stretch off the Gathering—one a children’s department area and the other a student area, cafe and gymnasium. The café enhances fellowship opportunities, with meals served on Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and many special events.
Long-time member Stan Kelley summarizes the church’s key growth by five significant milestones, each a decade apart:
1964: The church begins as a mission.
1974: The church builds the north (green-carpet) worship center.
1984: The church purchases the adjacent buildings from the Assembly of God Church, which provided much needed education space and space to add a new worship center.
1994: The church builds the south (blue-carpet) worship center.
2004: The church moves to the I-35 location.
This article is a short summary of a book written by Dr. Allen Rice, member and elder, for Henderson Hills’ 40th anniversary. He compiled the information based on interviews with numerous current and former members. The information is used with permission.
— Allen Rice, A Tree Grows in Edmond—Henderson Hills Baptist Church 1964-2004 (Henderson Hills Baptist Church : 2004).