SAN ANTONIO—Freedom Hill Church in San Antonio is what Doug Hixson, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention director of church planting, calls a “unicorn,” a replant so rare it had only a one percent chance of working out in the first place, pastor Ryan Napier said.
God called Napier to plant a church in 2018, and while that was in the beginning stages, he ended up filling the pulpit of Eisenhauer Road Baptist Church—once a bright light in San Antonio drawing more than 800 people—for a couple of Sundays. The church had dwindled to below 50 people, and after he preached, several members asked Napier to be their pastor.
“I was like, ‘I appreciate that. I’m humbled by that, but I’m already a pastor of a church plant, and this is what God has called me to do.’ Basically, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” Napier told the TEXAN.
A deacon at Eisenhauer Road asked Napier if he had considered replanting a church. “I told him, ‘I have no idea what that means. I don’t even know if that’s a thing.’”
Napier called Hixson, who told him replanting means a church has to vote to dissolve on paper “and then give all their stuff to the church plant,” Napier recounted. Thus, chances of success are slim.
The church plant core that Napier had been preparing by leading a Bible study in his home continued to plan a launch for September 2019. Meanwhile, Napier went back to Eisenhauer Road and explained what a replant would entail.
“I said, ‘I’m willing to back up and then take another run at the starting line.’ … Long story short, 55 days after the first day that I preached there, they voted yes to do that,” Napier said.
“We went from 25 people meeting in my house for a Bible study to 70 people overnight. We went from no place to meet to 10 acres of land and a 32,000-square-foot campus.”
Eisenhauer Road also had a sizable staff and ran a licensed daycare. “It was mind-boggling,” Napier said, comparing the experience to Star Wars where “the stars go from little dots to lines because they’re going so fast. That’s what it felt like. We went into hyper-speed.”
The SBTC helped extensively with the transition, Napier said, walking the church through the considerations and training to make the replant happen. Hixson reminded Napier, “This doesn’t happen. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” the pastor remembered.
“I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just following God, and whatever God tells me to do, that’s what I’m doing. He’s just blessing it,” Napier said. “I don’t have this crazy wisdom or all the answers to all the questions. I just know that God called us to start a church, God provided a place for us to meet, and here we go.”
Something Napier wants to be careful to do at Freedom Hill is to honor the fact that the current congregation has a stable foundation to build upon “because of the sacrifice, the blood, sweat and tears of the people of Eisenhauer Road Baptist Church.”
Napier was born and raised in Houston, and for 10 years he traveled with the gospel music group Paul’s Journey, leading worship in churches across the country fulltime. He served as worship leader and assistant pastor at his home church for several years before becoming a church planter. He and his wife, Angela, have two children.
Freedom Hill Church got up to 110 people by the end of last February. They were seeing people saved and baptizing people. Then COVID hit. The replant never really had an official launch date, Napier said, because they had been planning that for the springtime, near Easter.
Throughout the pandemic, the church has been ministering to people much like other churches—offering online services and making disciples through Zoom.
Part of the foundation of their ministry is a strong commitment to the Cooperative Program, and though they’re a small congregation, they forward 10 percent of all receipts through the Southern Baptist Convention’s plan for supporting missions and ministry.
“What a way to be a part of a bunch of different things,” Napier said of CP, “and it doesn’t matter the size church you are. We can be involved in the same things that the megachurches are involved in. It may not be as big of a dollar figure, but it’s a good percentage of what’s coming in here.
“We’re able to make those investments, and obviously, it’s going to pay big dividends because many people are going to get to hear the gospel because of that, many people are going to come to Christ because of that, many people will get help because of that,” the pastor said.