On a scorching hot Monday in July of 1958, Louis Johnson and his family arrived in Tucson, Arizona. By the following Sunday, Pastor Johnson had reserved a room for the first church service in the Pueblo Garden Elementary School. Pastor Johnson and his oldest son knocked on eight hundred doors the following week, inviting everyone that was home to attend a new church plant. Twenty-eight people attended the first service in 1958.
Pastor Johnson knocked on one hundred doors per day for four straight months. After just four months, there were 187 people attending church at the elementary school. Over the next three and a half years, the church continued to grow until a decision had to be made regarding a future location. A $10,000 gift from a high school friend in Paducah, Kentucky, enabled Pastor Johnson to purchase three acres of choice property in the growing area of South Columbus Boulevard in Tucson.
After God’s miraculous provision, a 500-seat auditorium was dedicated on Sunday, January 28, 1962. Thousands of doors were knocked on during this four-year span. In fact, Mrs. Edith Green (saved in 1959) said before she passed away in 2012, “Anniversary Day reminds me of how special this church is to me. My children were dedicated to the Lord as babies, saved, and baptized at TBT. Four of my children were married here. If Pastor Johnson had not knocked on our door over forty years ago, who knows where we would be today?”
Pastor Johnson continued to reach out into the Tucson community after the new building was completed by beginning a bus ministry. Tucson Baptist Temple continued to grow at such a rate that new considerations were being given to additional building projects. By the twentieth anniversary of the church, there were fifteen bus routes. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tucson Baptist Temple, over eight hundred adults and children rode the buses known as the “Golden Chariots.”
Pastor Johnson continued to knock on doors, see people saved, and grow in influence throughout the Tucson community. Work began in 1974 on a new 1,500-seat auditorium. On March 23, 1975, a special Sunday service was held to dedicate the new auditorium and Sunday school classrooms. By 1978, the 13.5-acre campus averaged 1,250 people on Sunday morning, with some 600- 700 people arriving on those Golden Chariots.
At the age of eighty-seven, Pastor Johnson retired on his fiftieth year as the pastor of Tucson Baptist Temple. Only eternity will reveal the thousands of lives that were impacted by the ministry of Pastor Louis Johnson. Pastor Johnson is now in his early nineties and still attends TBT when he is physically able.
It was a great privilege to move to Tucson in 2009 and begin serving the people as the second pastor of Tucson Baptist Temple. Tucson is a dry, brown, dusty desert place. It was quite a challenge to transition from the lushness of South Carolina to the desert of Southern Arizona. The challenge facing us when we came was a literal comparison to the physical surroundings of a desert. For the last twelve to fifteen years, there had been significant declines in attendance. Sunday morning attendance had fallen below three hundred. Just forty people came for the midweek services.
However great the challenge, there were several keys I knew would work. If we loved the people who were still faithful in church and we began to knock on doors, then we would see God bless this ministry once again. That was our goal: love our people and knock on doors!
We ordered new tracts and challenged those faithful members to give it one more “GO!” The church was composed mainly of elderly members, but our dear, sweet people began to visit and help us reach our city once again. It has been humbling to see our people rise to the challenge presented to them.
In the fall of 2009, I had the opportunity to bring before our people an eighteen-month to three-year plan for our church. There were several initiatives introduced, including a comprehensive campus improvement plan. In conjunction with changes on our campus, music ministry, seniors’ ministry, Awana introduction, Spanish church, and youth department, we really began to knock on doors with urgency during the week and on Saturday mornings. I believe it was this initiative that the Lord greatly blessed as we saw people saved and begin coming to church.
The church had never had a missions conference, so in October of 2009, we had our first conference and introduced the biblical model of Faith Promise giving. Our people responded, and we began to give in earnest to missions. The church had never taken any members to the mission field, and since 2009, we have been able to expose over sixty of our members to Mexico, China, South Africa, Congo, and Uganda. Another trip is planned for Iceland. The mission trips have generated great excitement among our members to reach others with the gospel.
It was in the spring of 2010 that we experienced a great blessing from the Lord. I asked our staff, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and members to help us reach 25,000 homes in one week—the week before Easter. We had specially designed door hangers prepared to invite people to our Resurrection Service. On the Sunday prior to Easter, we placed all 25,000 door hangers on the communion table and gathered our entire church congregation around the table to pray. I asked the people to pray for a one-percent result—250 firsttime visitors.
Our members worked hard! From early in the morning until dark, over two hundred of our people participated at least one hour, as they canvassed one ZIP code at a time, until the last of 25,000 door hangers had been distributed by Friday. We had another special prayer meeting on Saturday morning, and then Easter Sunday morning arrived. By the time the service began, there was an unmistakable buzz throughout the auditorium. We would not know until after the service when all of our visitor cards had been returned that we had 261 first-time visitors. It really happened! Oh, that my personal faith had been stronger and we had prayed for a two-percent result! However, the greatest blessing and cause of extreme excitement was watching forty-eight people walk the aisle during the invitation to trust Christ as their personal Saviour.
With this special service in the rearview mirror, our work really began as we had dozens of people to visit, disciple, encourage, and help grow in their new relationship with Christ. Since early 2010, we have seen our church grow by over 425 people. Sadly, during this same time, we have had over fifty funerals for faithful members who valiantly gave of themselves for many years to help see Tucson changed with the gospel message while serving in the TBT ministry. It has been a great honor to learn from these members during this short season of ministry here in Tucson.
There is little doubt in the minds of anyone at Tucson Baptist Temple that it still works to go out into our community and tell our neighbors about Jesus Christ. Just recently, I had the opportunity to go visiting with one of our members, and we were invited into the home of Royce and Amber. After sharing the gospel, answering a myriad of questions, and addressing real issues of anger and bitterness directed at God for the death of a son, we had the glorious privilege of seeing both Royce and Amber bow their heads and ask Jesus to forgive them of their sins and become their Saviour. Royce and Amber have now been in church for two months, and Royce is witnessing to his father. According to Royce, his father wants to know more and understand these changes that have taken place in his son’s life.
The Lord has blessed mightily as we have had numerous young people surrender to serve the Lord with their lives. We now have several young adults at Bible college preparing to serve Christ. I am reminded often that it is in spite of my failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses that the Lord chooses to use me. It is an amazing privilege to serve the Lord. I certainly am not worthy, but I am so thankful for His call to serve. I have grown to love this dry, arid, dusty, and beautiful city simply because of the people who live here. It is our prayer that the Lord would allow us to see many more souls trust Christ, complete our discipleship course, get connected in their local church, and grow in their new relationship with Christ.