K-12 school infuses new life into Arcadia First Baptist Church in South Texas

Afather dropped his daughter off at Arcadia First Baptist Christian School in Santa Fe and walked back to his car. 

“I saw him look back at the office,” Pastor Joshua McDonald said, recounting what he saw watching out the window that day. “He was getting back in his car, and he shook his head and he just walked straight to the office.”

The man had no history of church involvement, but his daughter, an elementary student, had placed her faith in Jesus at the school and had been baptized at Arcadia First Baptist Church about six months earlier. The father sat down with McDonald and poured out his heart.

“She’s been telling us about the gospel, and I believe in Jesus now, and I want to know how I can do this.”

“He was like, ‘Man, I’ve seen a change in my daughter. She’s been reading the Word of God, she got saved, she got baptized. She’s been telling us about the gospel, and I believe in Jesus now, and I want to know how I can do this,’” McDonald said.

The man was baptized and the pastor gave him a Bible with his name on it—the first Bible he has ever owned. 

“Now he’s in my small group and he’s growing by leaps and bounds, studying the Word every day,” McDonald said.

As many as 100 members of Arcadia First Baptist have died during the past five years since McDonald has been pastor, the inevitable reality of an aging congregation. Yet Sunday attendance has grown from about 200 when he arrived to more than 300 now. 

“Probably 50 to 60 of those are kids,” McDonald said.

One of the ways God has pumped new life into the church is through its Christian school, training about 150 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in addition to a daycare with 200 children. What once was viewed as an opportunity mainly for educating children has grown into a ministry also aimed at reaching parents, McDonald said.

Arcadia First Baptist Church was an aging congregation five years ago, and now 50 to 60 children attend on Sundays. (Photo at right) Pastor Joshua McDonald said Arcadia First Baptist Church in Santa Fe has realized what ministry opportunities are available through the church’s Christian school and daycare.

“People know that we’re in the community because of the school. We’re on the main highway that passes through town, and everybody knows we’re the last school zone before you can just take off on the highway and leave town,” he said, noting Santa Fe is between Houston and Galveston. 

“I think visibility has mattered a lot for revitalization. Anytime there are parents mingling around outside, like for drop-off in the morning or pickup in the afternoon, I go out there and try to meet parents. Our staff is really good about that, too.”

One of the church’s best-attended events is a fall festival in partnership with the school and daycare. 

“The first year we had maybe 1,000 people show up. The fire station came out, the police came out, we had food trucks, the Coast Guard parked a boat out here,” McDonald said. “The second year it doubled, and this last year, we probably had 2,500 to 3,000 people come through.”

Church members individually take an interest in the students, too, the pastor said. 

“One of our church ladies wanted to beautify our garden area around the church where we have bushes and flowers. She said, ‘I’m going to teach the kids to do landscaping,’ so she made a butterfly garden with some of the younger kids. 

“So our kindergartners and first graders go out there and plant flowers and then butterflies land on them. It’s like a little science project for them,” McDonald said.

The growth of Texas is helping the church grow. An infusion of new life has been evident in recent years as families have found a place to belong.

The growth of Texas is helping Arcadia First Baptist grow. When McDonald arrived, it was a rural church, but Houston has expanded toward Santa Fe and developers are buying up land near the coast. Projections indicate 3,000 to 6,000 new homes will be built near the church in the next few years, the pastor said, and church members have been knocking on doors and having gospel conversations. 

One church member, though, realized the church didn’t have to wait until new residents moved in to share the gospel. Many of the workers constructing the homes are Hispanic, so the church member took along the pastor of Arcadia First Baptist’s Spanish language ministry, and as many as 23 of those who heard a gospel presentation placed their faith in Christ, McDonald said.

The Coast Guard set up a boat for people to view up close at a fall festival at Arcadia First Baptist Church in Santa Fe.

“In the last year we’ve had probably over 100 salvations,” he said. 

Other efforts Arcadia First Baptist has made toward revitalization include walking the campus to identify maintenance needs and transforming a seldom-used library of 3,000 books into a coffee shop where church members meet seven days a week for various reasons. 

Said McDonald: “There have been more gospel conversations in the coffee shop than there have been in that room in all the church’s history.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Erin Roach
Most Read

Barber exhorts Southwestern graduates to go to the harvest

FORT WORTH—Get to work in the harvest, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber challenged the 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College during spring commencement held May 3 on the Fort Worth …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.