amilies who moved to the Clear Lake community of southeast Houston to start the U.S. space program more than five decades ago started something else that continues to impact the world: Clear Lake Baptist Church.
They met in homes for a while and sent mailers to the community to gauge interest—and they had a great turnout, said John Aaron Matthew, pastor of Clear Lake Baptist Church. “They have continued to minister here in the community and meet needs, to be a light for all these years,” he said.
Some of the founding members are still there, having retired from NASA or related contractors IBM or Boeing, and newer generations of space program workers have come along. “It’s pretty fun to have these people as deacons and church members,” Matthew said.
One new member recently graduated from college and moved to Houston to work for Mission Control, and another church member has trained astronauts. The pastor is friends with the daughter of an astronaut who perished in the Challenger explosion.
When Matthew was on a trip to Israel with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention last year, his friend Bob Hines was the pilot on a SpaceX mission to the International Space Station.
“As I was posting pictures of what we were seeing from the ground, he sent me pictures of us from space and said, ‘Looks like you guys are having a great time,’” Matthew recounted.
Popular opinion doesn’t link science with God, but Matthew has heard countless testimonies of God’s involvement from members dating to the beginning of the space program. Hines, for instance, was praying for people on earth while he was in the space station, Matthew said.
“It’s cool to know that those who are working at the highest levels of science believe in God as our Creator and they are worshiping Him even from the space station and even as they’re working on these projects,” Matthew said. “Person after person at high levels at NASA have faith, and they are worshiping God, and they view what they’re doing as part of using their gifts and abilities to glorify God. They see Him in creation all around.”
A New Orleans native, Matthew graduated from Southwestern Seminary before working in college ministry with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and earning a Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Seminary. Along the way, God drew his heart to church revitalization.
He discovered Clear Lake, which had been used by God to do great things but was in a season of decline, and God moved him there with his wife Emily and two children in 2015. At the time, the church was mainly senior adults and his 5-year-old and 3-year-old were two of about 10 children attending.
“We haven’t seen fast, explosive growth, but as we’ve been faithful to preach and to pray and to love and to stay, we’ve seen God bring health and growth to our church in a meaningful way,” Matthew said. “Our church is spiritually healthy, loving, and unified.”
Attendance on Sundays ranges from 150 in the summer to 200 on a high attendance day, and the children’s ministry has grown to about 40 kids, he said.
“It didn’t happen overnight, but now we’ve got a leadership team of about 30 people that went to the Equip Conference and were encouraged,” Matthew said. “It’s a challenge to develop leaders, and it takes time, but we have new leaders stepping up and a growing ministry to young families.”
God used a love for reaching the nations to draw Matthew to Clear Lake. Houston is the most diverse city in America, he said, with more ethnic groups than any other city. Ministry to international students had been part of Matthew’s college work, and the University of Houston campus in Clear Lake appealed to him.
Also, Matthew had a previous missions partnership in India, and he led Clear Lake to get involved. “As a small church that doesn’t necessarily have a ton of resources, we still can make a Great Commission impact,” Matthew said, adding that the church was introduced by the International Mission Board to a church planting network in India.
“We’re able to fund monthly support for 10 church planting families among 10 different unreached people groups in India,” he said. Matthew also travels occasionally to teach biblical theology to about 100 Indian church planters.
“We just got a report that this network of churches that we sponsor has shared the gospel with nearly 1.3 million people” and saw more than 158,000 decisions made for Christ, he said.
Locally, Clear Lake established a food pantry to feed the community. When COVID demands pressed beyond their ability to provide, they reached out to five other churches for help. Now Clear Lake partners with those churches to run an independent food pantry providing groceries for about 300 families per week.
The church also started an afterschool program in a local elementary school, ministering to about 30 children each week, said Matthew—who also serves as chairman of the SBTC’s Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee and on the leadership team of the convention’s Young Pastor Network.
“When you invest in a church and you take time and you don’t give up, you see fruit,” Matthew said. “Fruit doesn’t come quickly, typically. It takes years of tending and cultivation. But when you walk through difficulties, you get to be a part of experiencing the spiritual fruit that God brings in season.”