After pastoring Faith Baptist Church in Bourbonnais, Illinois, for four years, Dr. Bob Gray became LBT’s fifth pastor on August 31, 1980. On his first Sunday as pastor, there were 400 in Sunday school and over 600 for preaching. However, seven months later, in March of 1981, a series of conflicts between the deacons and the new pastor led to a church split. Consequently, in the spring of 1981, the split started a new church in a storefront on Gilmer Road. After the split, LBT hit bottom with a low of 159 folks at one church service and a low offering of $2,250.00. In spite of the split, the soul-winning results led to the church’s survival.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Pastor Gray led the new deacons to buy fifteen buses in the summer of 1981 so the church could obey Jesus’ command to “call the poor.” After visiting several schools in the Southwest, who were selling buses, they finally settled on fifteen buses at a bus sales company in Dallas, Texas. The buses were purchased, painted, lettered and the bus ministry at LBT was off and running.
The first Thursday night Pastor Gray went soul winning in Longview he discovered the church had implemented a visitation program for visiting the absentees. This was meant to take the fear out of going into the community cold turkey by providing prescribed visits. A handful of men, who were ready to go visit their absentees from the previous week, greeted their new pastor. Pastor Gray handed out the cards and sent the men out two by two, while he took his partner and went soul winning. Before the night was over, Pastor Gray and his partner had nine folks saved. The new pastor’s excitement was evident as he determined to set the example in the matter of confrontational soul winning. The men could not get over how Pastor Gray actually had people saved when he went out and how he had his converts at church the following Sunday to be baptized. Eventually, the new pastor tore up the visitation cards and taught the men to find someone who wanted to be saved and give them the Gospel. Thus, began the church-wide soul-winning night at the Longview Baptist Temple, which God has used to set the pattern for churches around the country to follow to become soul-winning churches.
Texas Baptist College, a ministry of LBT designed to train soul-winning leaders, opened her doors in the fall of 1982 with sixty-five students from nineteen states. The first-year student body consisted mostly of married men with families.
God’s blessings upon Dr. Bob Gray’s first three years at Longview Baptist Temple were nothing short of miraculous as the number of souls saved, the number of converts baptized, the number of soul winners on the streets, and the church’s attendance increased dramatically. As Dr. Gray made plans to knock “Every Door in ‘84,” God was planning another miraculous year in the history of LBT.
In July of 1984, LBT’s bus ministry began branching out well beyond the city limits of Longview, Texas, with the goal of reaching the Ark- La-Tex area with the Gospel. The first city outside of Longview to be invaded by the LBT bus ministry was Tyler, Texas.
The 1980’s ended with a bang when, just as the preaching service was about to begin on Sunday morning June 4, 1989, a rumbling sound was heard throughout the auditorium. A tornado took the roof off of the auditorium, leaving the tongue-in-groove ceiling slates pulled apart, but stationary. Services were held in the gymnasium (below) until the auditorium was repaired.