Pastor Jack Graham walks into the empty worship center at Prestonwood Baptist Church and looks around: What was once a cow pasture now resembles a grand performance hall. Bright theater lights shine down on him, and pews seem to extend endlessly toward the lofty ceiling.
Graham hovers near the entrance, taking it all in. He wears a dark suit and tie after leading a funeral earlier that day. He has a weekend of regular services ahead of him. Back in his office, the Rangers game is being recorded so he doesn’t miss a pitch. But here, in this empty hall, is the heart of Graham’s life and ministry: It’s where up to 7,500 believers gather to worship each Sunday.
“That’s what motivates me. Keeps me going. Keeps me fired up about what I do,” Graham, 63, said.
This weekend, Graham celebrates his 25th anniversary as pastor of one of the nation’s largest and most successful Baptist churches. To mark the occasion, all three branches of his 37,000-member congregation will come together to worship for the first time. His staff also has plans to dedicate a water well in Uganda in Graham’s honor.
“My emotions this weekend with the anniversary are just pure thanksgiving,” the pastor said. “Pure gratitude.”
Prestonwood Baptist Church’s membership and presence in North Texas sky-rocketed after Graham took over in 1989. The church had 8,000 members then, and has since grown to fill massive churches in Plano, Dallas and Prosper. The main location, off West Park Boulevard in Plano, spans 140-acres and includes everything from a school to a football field.
In a sector of Christianity that emphasizes baptisms and spreading the Gospel, Graham has found success even as overall baptisms among Southern Baptists declined over the past decade. Graham attributed that to his church’s strict focus on reaching out to meet people where they are, whether that’s on Twitter (he has more than 25,000 followers) or on the football field.
“We just keep a lot of hooks in the water,” he said.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said Graham won’t see a downturn in baptisms like other churches because he has taught his congregation to be externally-focused.
“The only reason we have a downturn in baptisms is because our churches became internalized and … stopped reaching out to people,” Patterson said. “Jack never did that.”
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SOURCE: Dallas News