Sports is among “greatest avenues for outreach,” Pender says

HOUSTONFoot traffic on the church campus—particularly because of sports activities—has been vital to the growth of Fallbrook Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in north Houston. If people are familiar with a church because they’ve played ball there, they’re more likely to attend a service, the pastor said.

“We just think that sports is one of the greatest avenues for outreach because you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who has a kid who didn’t play some sort of sport here,” Pastor Michael Pender told the TEXAN regarding the local community.

The church has hosted a men’s basketball league, a youth basketball league, football, volleyball and even track and field. 

“Prior to COVID, every single weekend there was some sort of sporting event at our church. There aren’t too many Houston professional athletes in terms of basketball that did not come and play in our gym,” Pender said.

Nearly every week, people come through the visitor line and say they attended a sporting event at Fallbrook before they attended a service.

“When they decide to go to church, when the family wakes up and says, ‘We want to go to church today,’ the logical place they’re going to come is Fallbrook,” Pender said. 

The predominantly African American congregation began as a Southern Baptist church plant in 1994 with Pender, the founding pastor, also driving a truck for FedEx. Now with an ever-expanding campus and thousands of members, Cooperative Program giving remains a priority because of the resources they received in those early days, Pender said. 

“I fully support the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program certainly helped us to get started,” the pastor said.

Situated near four elementary schools in a growing community, Fallbrook has seen tremendous success at reaching people whose lives were headed in the wrong direction before they were introduced to Jesus. 

“Even those who make poor choices in America are in need of a Savior,” Pender said of the church’s decision to emphasize community missions. Too often, people who have made poor choices don’t feel welcome in church, he said, but Fallbrook seeks to change that perception.

“Throughout the years, we’ve had so many men and women who came and didn’t know Christ. They received Christ and got saved, and now they’re Sunday school workers,” Pender said. “That’s pretty much how we’ve gotten our people over the years.”

Something people are searching for, he said, is authenticity. People also look for leaders who demonstrate integrity and set a good moral example, Pender said.

The latest way Fallbrook is bringing people to its campus is by building a state-of-the-art facility to be used as a branch of Lone Star College, the third-largest community college system in America. The church has included chemistry and biology labs in the new building and will welcome students in January. 

“This partnership, from what we understand, is the first of its kind,” Pender said. “Fallbrook Church believes that if we love our community, we’ve got to put skin in the game. We can’t wait on government. We can’t wait on others outside the community. We’re going to be able to bless thousands of students in our community.”

The pastor said, “Kids come to my office all the time and say, ‘Hey, Pastor Mike, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I’m going to be able to walk them across the parking lot on our campus and get them registered at one of the largest community colleges in America.” 

Fallbrook already houses a K-12 charter school as well as a before-and-after-school program and a daycare. Pender likes the idea that a child could come to the church campus as a baby and not have to leave for his education until he has graduated from college. 

“We want to get traffic in our buildings, so we want our buildings used every day,” Pender said. 

The church hosts blood drives and has been a voter registration site for years. Twice a month they host a drive-through food pantry, giving out thousands of meals. 

“Early on, we realized our building was just a building,” the pastor said. “People and kids are going to tear up your building, and that’s why God gives you resources to fix it up. We have thousands and thousands of people outside of Sunday that come through our building.”

Those are people the pastor and other church members have grown to love and to recognize when they see them at the mall or elsewhere in the community, he said. 

“Traffic is our friend, and in my mind it doesn’t make sense to have a church building—hundreds of thousands of square feet—that’s only used on Sundays and Wednesdays.”   

TEXAN Correspondent
Erin Roach
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