By Bob Allen
Four years after announcing bold plans to return to its Dallas roots, Prestonwood Baptist Church has quietly closed its Dallas campus, which is being sold to a non-denominational charismatic megachurch.
Robert Morris, founding pastor of the 36,000-member Gateway Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area, announced Oct. 17 the purchase of the campus, its sixth, near I-635 and Hillcrest Road in Dallas.
Prestonwood, a Southern Baptist Convention megachurch led by former SBC president Jack Graham, purchased its Dallas campus in 2011 for a reported $18 million. It held its final service there Oct. 18, the same day Graham hosted a high-profile North Texas presidential candidate forum at Prestonwood’s main campus in suburban Plano, Texas.
“I want you to know I am praying for you, all of us here at our Plano campus, are praying for you today, on this last day at our Dallas campus,” Graham said in a video message watched by about 600 worshippers in the 1,700-seat auditorium.
“I want to thank you for your ministry and your service in the greater Dallas community,” Graham said. “Four years ago, when we began at the Dallas campus, we prayed that we could reach people for Christ, grow the church, and you’ve been a part of these past four years, or you have joined with us in these past four years, to be Prestonwood, representing Christ in that community.”
“Now that we’ve made the decision for the Dallas campus to close, we are praying that many of you will join us here at Prestonwood Plano,” Graham said. “This is your church, I pray. You joined Prestonwood, and now the location for you will be here at Plano.”
Four years ago Graham had high hopes for the former Hillcrest Church property, Prestonwood’s third campus. It is located about three miles from the original 4,000-seat worship center which served the church before the move to Plano in 1999.
“There are so many young families in this region, and we believe that many of these are not going to church anywhere,” Graham said in a clip shown by ABC affiliate WFAA Channel 8 in 2011. “I envision five or six thousand people a week attending worship and Bible study at that location.”
Gateway’s Morris described the Prestonwood deal as “more than a sale of property — it was a kingdom exchange.” Morris hopes to get 75,000 pastors to attend a solemn assembly next July in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — home of the Dallas Cowboys — featuring names including Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd.
“Dr. Graham and I are great friends,” Morris said in a video message. “We’ve done things here in the city for the Kingdom. We’ve done things in our nation for the Kingdom, but I want to commend Dr. Jack Graham and Prestonwood. They are so Kingdom-minded that when they felt led to go to a different direction, they said, ‘We want Gateway Church to have this campus.’”
Morris quoted Graham in an email to Gateway members Oct. 23.
“Our people have served well and worked faithfully to accomplish our mission at this location,” Graham commented. “We have no regrets. Within the past year, other churches interested in our property have approached us on several occasions. We have asked God to show us his will regarding a potential sale of the facilities. After much prayer and wise counsel, it has become clear to me and our church leadership that we should accept the offer from Gateway Church and transition our congregation back to our Plano campus. We view this as a kingdom opportunity in that Prestonwood continues to flourish and Gateway will continue to prosper and grow in this location. It is a win for the kingdom.”
Neal Jeffrey, associate pastor of preaching at Prestonwood who transferred to the Dallas campus in 2013 “because the church needed me to,” described mixed emotions in his final message.
“I probably shouldn’t say this,” Jeffrey said in an audio recording provided to Baptist News Global. “I’m not even exactly sure how I mean this totally, completely, but you know, I’m just sorry. I’m just sorry to kind of have this happen. I understand it, but still it’s sad.”
“The overarching emotion I have and have had has just been sadness at just seeing you and knowing it’s not going to be here, knowing it’s not going to be in this county,” Jeffrey said. “Maybe I should be stronger than that and not be a big baby, but that is real. The real emotion in my heart is sadness.”
The pastor’s emotion came through a couple of times in gallows humor. “I realize I’m taking too much time,” he quipped while performing five baptisms early in the service. “What are they going to do, close us down?” The congregation erupted into laughter.
Jeffrey closed his sermon with this:
“One day we may all be up in heaven — and this may be stupid, but this is a thought that just ran through my head — we may be in heaven and Saint Peter or someone says, ‘Hey, all you Dallas campus guys. I want you over here.’ And, he will say, ‘I want you to watch the fruit of what you guys did here.’ We’ll just sit there and just weep and rejoice and give praise and honor to our God.”
“That’s probably not theologically correct, but for me it’s a great thought,” Jeffrey said.
In his video message, Graham recognized that some members who joined Prestonwood at the Dallas campus have never set foot on the main campus in Plano.
“I can tell you this, you’re going to be incredibly welcomed, not only those who have been formerly at the Prestonwood Plano campus, but those of you who have never been,” he said. “We really want you all to come here. We want you to be a part of this.”