In January 1963, God led Pastor William H. Roberts from First Baptist Church of West Hollywood to start a church in Pompano Beach. Canvasing the area to generate interest, he knocked on the door of Mrs. Ruth DeWitt who was more than interested in having a church in her area! She opened her home for an organizational meeting on February 15th, and 16 people gathered in her home. That evening, a foundation for ministry was laid that would eventually be felt around the world.
Only two days later, 38 people attended the first service of the newly-organized church at Tedder Elementary School. Charter members included Ruth DeWitt, Nettie Reynolds, and Gay Greer.
Things began to move quickly for Pompano Baptist Temple. Nettie knew the people who owned a dairy farm on 48th Street, and five acres of this property were purchased for $1,000 per acre. It was around that time that Ron and Nita Utz along with their two little boys, Troy and Ryan, moved to South Florida. They began attending the infant church in October 1963.
"The building [present-day Fellowship Hall] was started in 1963," Nita recalls, "and our first service was held in the church on Christmas Eve of 1963. Even though the ceiling was not in, and we only had concrete floors, everyone was happy to be in the church and sitting on borrowed metal chairs.”
Construction of the church building was completed in 1964, and the first floor of an educational building [Building 1] in 1965. Church board members sold bonds to church members and friends to finance the buildings.
This same year, we established our Christian school, then known as Baptist Temple School, beginning with a class of 15 kindergarten students.
By 1969, the need for additional space necessitated a second story to be placed on the existing educational building. Troy Utz, current church member, was the first student to begin in kindergarten and go on to graduate from the school, which was renamed Highlands Christian Academy.
In 1972, we were thrilled to send out our first missionaries, Don and Mary Rowland, who served in Mexico until 2009.
Further expansion of the ministry took place in the early 1970s with the purchase of 17 additional acres and the construction of the two-story educational building on the northwest side of our campus. The men of the church worked evenings and weekends to keep construction costs down, and by the end of 1970, a trailer park for staff was also completed. The gymnasium was added to the campus in 1976.
Pastor Bill Rogers came to Pompano Baptist Temple in 1978 and faithfully preached the Word of God for 8 years from the pulpit in our old sanctuary [present-day Fellowship Hall]. In 1982, we purchased 5.2 acres which would become the site of our sanctuary, the football field, and the maintenance area. In 1985 a new nursery complex became the Sunday morning “home” for all the babies and toddlers filling our growing church family.
We broke ground for our 800-seat auditorium in 1989, and on September 16, 1990, with Pastor Ed Holland, the sanctuary of newly-named Grace Baptist Church was dedicated to the Lord. The Highlands’ secondary building and cafeteria were completed in 1999 to accommodate our student body, and Pastor Art Larson came to pastor our congregation in 2003.
On October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma’s category 3 winds destroyed the interior of our church building. Our then-new pastor, Dr. Brian Wingenroth, led our worship in the gymnasium for 18 months before repairs allowed us to move back and rejoice in God’s provision of a reconstructed sanctuary.
Today we celebrate God’s faithfulness to our church during the past 50-plus years. We thank Him for our full-time faculty and staff of more than 80; for our 25-plus church ministries impacting our community for Christ; for a current student body of over 600 and 1,300+ Highlands’ graduates to date; for our 34 missionaries bringing Christ to the nations; and for countless lives touched and saved for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, that little meeting of 16 people in 1963 surely did lay the framework for an outreach across the globe. To God be the glory, great things He has done!