Houston’s First Baptist Church (HFBC) is blessed by tremendous unity and openness among its staff, deacons and members. In the spirit of that relationship, HFBC provides a forum to address questions that many may have about current developments at the church, how things operate and more.
OUR STORY: THE BEGINNING
Houston’s First Baptist Church was organized in 1841 by 16 men and women. The church has survived through wars, yellow fever epidemics that took an early pastor and the 1900 Galveston hurricane, which destroyed one of the early church buildings.
In the 20th century, as the city continued to grow, so did HFBC with the help of great pastoral leadership. In the latter part of the 1960s, as with many churches in Downtown Houston, church membership began to decline. Even so, the core of committed members remained faithful.
In 1970, Houston’s First Baptist Church called Dr. John R. Bisagno as pastor. Dr. Bisagno was a man of vision whose enthusiasm was equal to that of Houston. A renewed emphasis on Evangelism, strong religious education and a vision for missions sparked a phenomenal growth in the old downtown church. Within a few years, it was obvious that to continue its growth, the church would have to relocate. In April 1977, HFBC moved to its current location at the corner of I-10 and the 610 West Loop.
At the new location, HFBC continued to grow through sound doctrinal teachings with an emphasis on Evangelism and missions. Church members traveled throughout the world sharing the gospel, digging water wells and meeting needs. In the 1980s, the church emphasized starting new missions and helping churches in decline. Many members answered the call to be a part of this outreach for the cause of Christ.
After 30 years as pastor, Dr. Bisagno retired, believing it was time for a new pastor to take the church into the new millennium. For nearly four and a half years following Dr. Bisagno’s retirement, Associate Pastor Dr. David Self provided leadership for the staff and church. During this time, the church continued to add new members and prosper financially—a tribute to Dr. Bisagno’s legacy, Dr. Self’s leadership and the faithfulness of the members of HFBC.
A NEW CHAPTER IN THE STORY
While the church continued to grow, an 11-member Pastor Search Committee carefully reviewed 265 candidates from 33 states and four foreign countries. Consistently seeking divine wisdom and guidance, the committee was focused intensely on finding God’s choice and not merely fulfilling criteria.
On March 28, 2004, they unanimously proclaimed that they “have sought God’s direction and we faithfully believe the Lord has given us His choice in the person of Gregg Matte.” On Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, this conviction again was confirmed by the congregation as they approved and embraced Rev. Gregg J. Matte as pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church.
The calling of a new pastor by HFBC was a pivotal passing of leadership from one generation to the next in the history of a world-renowned church that began in 1841. In response to the church’s call and his acceptance to be the new pastor at HFBC, Pastor Matte stated, “I’m humbled by and grateful to the Lord.”
Pastor Matte sharpened his leadership gifts at Texas A&M University and earned a masters degree in Christian Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As a college sophomore, Matte founded Breakaway Ministries and expanded it from a home-based Bible study to a weekly gathering of more than 4,000 students.
The author of Finding God’s Will and I AM changes who I am, Matte was elected by his peers to serve as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Pastors’ Conference to be held on June 9–10, 2013, in Houston.
Pastor Matte is married to Kelly, and they have a son, Greyson (2002), and a daughter, Valerie (2008). He summarizes his ministry as an overflow of his walk with God, and colleagues and friends often state that he is a man after the heart of God, possessing strong integrity, true leadership, the gift of preaching and a humble spirit.
In 1982, Jane Fonda's Workout video made its debut and sparked a nationwide interest in aerobics and fitness. Also that year, Houston's First Baptist Church broke ground on the Christian Life Center — a fitness and recreational facility designed to meet the needs of church members and guests.
Church leaders realized how effective an activities and recreation ministry could be for outreach purposes. With vision cast by Bro. John Bisagno, our Pastor at the time, the church family stepped forward and gave to the 2x2 Campaign — a capital campaign that challenged members to give a double tithe over 2 years.
The CLC — now known as the Fitness & Recreation Center, or FRC — opened its doors on Feb 5, 1984, under the leadership of Buddy Griffin.
Today — 30 years later — the FRC has over 1,600 members. Just over half of the members (53%) are from Houston's First. The rest attend other churches (31%) or have no church affiliation at all (16%).
Over the years, the FRC has sought to keep up-to-date with fitness trends and technology, providing their members and guests with services and equipment that they might find at other local fitness facilities. From group exercise classes to personal trainers, cardio equipment to free weights, people looking to get in shape or maintain a healthy lifestyle can partake in a variety of options at the FRC.
Today's staff remains faithful to the original vision for the FRC. They see the facility as more than just a gym; they approach it as a ministry of the church.
"God has allowed me the joy of serving in this ministry for 21 years and it has been truly an honor and a joy," says Debbie Brown, Fitness Ministry Associate. "Our team has a strong desire to proclaim Christ, build up believers and support the FRC members in living a healthy life with a solid foundation in Christ."
Dave Bundrick, Minister of Fitness & Recreation, is grateful for the vision leaders had three decades ago to provide the church with a facility like the FRC.
"Today, the FRC serves as an incredible outreach tool for our church members," Dave says. "There is nothing more exciting to me than to see our church members utilizing the offerings we provide to reach out to their neighbors and friends."
Compared to other local options, the FRC provides an economic value for its members, as well. Membership costs only $25 a month and no contracts are required. During the month of January, the FRC enrollment fee is being waived — a savings of $50.