August 5, 2008

The Church Hoppers

Written by: George Halitzka & Zach Nord

The people are friendly, but money talks at Pleasant Grove Baptist

As soon as we walked into church, I smelled trouble.

The video screen up front proclaimed this week “Catch-Up Sunday.”  Translation: The congregation was being asked to cough up bucks for a budget shortfall. So I took my poison pen in hand, ready to write about an evil, money-hungry church.

Then something unexpected happened.  Five — count ’em, five — people walked up to the Church Hoppers and introduced themselves by name. After that, Pastor Von Erik Smith came by and said hello. With true small-town hospitality, everyone welcomed us enthusiastically and invited us back.

Mind you, not one person has spontaneously introduced himself during our previous Church Hops. But here, “I couldn’t believe how many people came up to me,” Zach said. “They treated me like an old friend.”

That helped soften us up for Pleasant Grove Baptist. I was glad to discover that their “money sermon” was not a guilt-ridden affair. The pastor emphasized that visitors didn’t need to contribute, and said Christians give out of gratitude to God for his blessings, not guilt. 

 

God and mammon 

We don’t mind that Pleasant Grove Baptist asked for money. Everybody needs it, including churches. The Church Hoppers’ objection is that they spent the whole service on it, from the song choices to their dual offerings. 

At the beginning of worship, we watched a genuinely funny video on the subject of giving to God. Then one of the church leaders talked about the congregation’s financial picture. Don Smith was open with budget figures. Obviously, the church was trying to meet a need, not fleece the flock. 

The money talk got old when the choir sang a weepy song about one’s giving being rewarded in heaven: I dreamed my life was done/and I stood before God’s Son/It was time to see/what my reward would be. 

Gene Smith, a layperson, told everyone about his first experience with tithing*. His family was in a tight spot: “We can’t even feed our babies, much less give money to church,” he recalled. “But we (decided) to take a stand and give to God.”

A few days after he put money in the plate, Gene reported, “There was an (anonymous) check in the mail for $2,000. … The words of the Bible are true: Trust God and He will bless you.” 

I wonder why the church didn’t pick a more commonplace story. I think God does provide for our needs when we give, and Zach believes in good karma. However, an unexpected two grand would be a new experience for both of us.

“Everyone can relate to having bills to pay,” Zach said. “But there are some people who are worse-off than others. Why don’t they talk about giving to the poor?”


Right church; wrong Sunday

In spite of the financial overkill, the Church Hoppers enjoyed worshiping at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. We definitely wouldn’t mind going back.

Pastor Von was a good motivator without resorting to guilt. 

But your Church Hoppers wondered why this church is trying so hard to raise funds. In a PowerPoint slideshow that closed the service, there seemed to be an emphasis on expanding their facilities.

Zach protested the idea vigorously. “I liked the size of the church!” he said. “Don’t change it! I felt like I could get closer to God here, and that’s what it’s all about.” 

Pastor Von said in his sermon, “When we acknowledge that all things come from God, there’s a sense of peace that will come over our lives.” Perhaps if Pleasant Grove Baptist looks for that “sense of peace,” they’ll find contentment with the building they have. 

THIS MONTH’S CHURCH HOP

Name: Pleasant Grove Baptist Church

Location: 5285 Highway 44 E, Shepherdsville

Service Times: Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.

Website: www.pgbc.net

Size: Small — about 250 people in two weekend services

Denomination: Southern Baptist

Senior Pastor: Von Erik Smith, Sr.

You Might Like This Church If: You’re looking for a friendly church with heartfelt worship in the Shepherdsville area

The Church Hoppers visited on April 27, 2008. Source for church facts: www.pgbc.net.


*Tithing means giving 10 percent of one’s income to the church. 


The Church Hoppers visit a different Louisville-area congregation every month. Their opinions are based on one anonymous trip to each church.