One relationship at a time
Freedom Hill Church has been the beneficiary of at least two significant, unique blessings God has placed before it in its short existence: an established church campus and a BMX bike track that attracts thousands.
The church started in Pastor Ryan Napier’s home in 2019. Within months, an older, struggling congregation donated 10 acres and 32,000 square feet of building space. The church plant grew to about 120 before COVID hit.
During COVID, the owner of USA BMX built a track on the church’s property.
“In the seventh-largest city in the country—San Antonio—if you’re going to race BMX, you’ve got to come to Freedom Hill to do it,” Napier said.
About 150 people meet at the track four times a week, and more than 1,000 people come for the state race each year. Freedom Hill members have developed “a great relationship with them,” Napier said, and church volunteers man the concession stand during the state race, setting up, tearing down, and giving the proceeds to the BMX organization.
“We have people cooking burgers, doing sides, getting ice cream, getting popcorn, getting drinks together—stuff like that,” Napier said.
As for the congregation, attendance is around 150 now, and the pastor believes they’re on a steady growth track. They’ve started ministries for kids and students, and last year when the church took 18 students to camp for the first time, six committed their lives to Jesus.
This year, the amazing work God did at camp was mostly on the Sunday when they returned. They were planning to baptize three students, but the student pastor felt led to offer the opportunity to anyone who needed to take that step.
“He made the plea and we ended up baptizing 17 people that day,” Napier said. “We had men taking off their boots and emptying their jeans pockets and getting in fully clothed, women in dresses and jewelry with makeup and hair done, and they’re climbing into the water, just being obedient to the Lord.”
Also this year, Freedom Hill hired a Spanish-speaking pastor from Venezuela who is building a launch team for Freedom Hill en Español.
“He’s got an ESL class started and they do a dinner on Friday nights to gather people and build community [and] cast vision,” Napier said, adding that in the past year, more than 100,000 Venezuelans have migrated to San Antonio.
Within a five-mile radius of Freedom Hill are 289,000 residents, and that number is expected to grow to 320,000 in the next five years, the pastor said. He emphasized that Freedom Hill already is a multigenerational, multiethnic church aiming to look more and more like worshipers in heaven.
“Our vision is to raise up leaders and future church planters where we can go and plant more churches in San Antonio and around the world,” Napier said.
To impact the thousands right around them, Freedom Hill members participate in various outreach opportunities.
“We’ll do a free car wash and just pray for people,” Napier said. “We’ve given away free sodas at the light in front of our church while people are driving, just doing things in Jesus’ name. [We tell them], ‘No strings attached. We just want to let you know that we love you and that if you ever need anything, this church is here for you.’”
Freedom Hill hosts a three-on-three basketball tournament, which is meaningful to people in San Antonio who love basketball because of the NBA team in town, the Spurs. “Parents are watching, and our church is loving on them while their kids are playing basketball,” Napier said.
As an example of God using Freedom Hill to change a life, Napier mentioned a young woman who “just kind of stumbled in” the church not long ago. She had some exposure to church as a child but had encountered hard times and strayed from God.
One Sunday, at the end of the service, the woman went to the altar to pray, and she was weeping and crying out, “I’m just so sick of sinning!” She had made a lot of bad choices, Napier said, but the woman got to the place “we want to get to, that we’re just so fed up with our sin that we just turn from it.”
Now she is a beautiful story of redemption, he said. Another woman in the church is discipling her, even as her string of better choices led her to move away from the area. “She’s growing. She’s gotten a job. She’s on her feet,” the pastor added.
Looking back, Napier remembers having a calling on his life at a young age to be a pastor, “but I ran from that calling for a long time.” Now that he is living that calling, he respects the importance of the local church.
“That community can surround you when you go through something hard in life and provide accountability to grow as a Christian,” he said. “When you have that community around you, that’s when you see real growth.”