MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After more than 20 years of doing church the traditional way, Pastor Jason Rogers has elected to take a different path that still reaches the same endpoint.
This Blount County husband and father of three most recently was pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Rockford. But after that assignment was complete, he said he felt a pull to break away from the old ways of worship. Things in his personal life made him start questioning the whys and hows.
“I decided to go back to the basics and ask myself what do I believe and why do I believe it?” he said. “And in doing that I realized there are a lot of things we have going on in churches that is tradition more than truth of scripture. I wanted to get back to what does the Bible say?”
That reflection led Rogers to start the HomE Church here in Blount County last year, during a pandemic. He said churches were shuttered due to COVID-19 and he wanted to host services that felt comfortable to people but that also placed emphasis on the Word of God.
The Rogers family, including his wife and three young children, began having church at home and inviting others in, through social media. It was a simple set up: The girls would sing and Rogers would preach. It caught on with the community, he said.
He said once churches were back open, he felt like his makeshift church would no longer be needed.
“But the burden never left,” the pastor said. The next step was to contact a friend, Mike Seagle, who was associate pastor at Riverview when Rogers was there. Rogers told Seagle to pray about this journey.
“I really believe we are going to have to launch a church to reach people because we found out we aren’t alone in our conclusions,” Rogers said he told his friend. “There are a lot of people that were put out with traditions for tradition’s sake. I felt like there was a need for something different.”
The HomE Church began meeting first at the Everett Recreation Center in Maryville. Then in May, the venue was changed to the Blount County Public Library. Rogers said growth has been steady. Services are held at 10 a.m. each Sunday.
Where Rogers and Seagle have parted ways with traditional church are things like dress, eating at church, the number of weekly services and music. These two said no one should be made to feel less than or different because they want to wear shorts to a service. In fact, that’s what Rogers wears.
He also leaves behind the notion that churches must hold services on Sunday morning and evening and again on Wednesday evening.
“Some people have said you have to have three to thrive,” Rogers said. “Here is the reality of the matter. We live in a different century than when that was instituted.”
Besides, that isn’t scriptural, the pastor pointed out. There is no mandate in the Bible about the number of services required.
“All of these are tertiary issues,” Rogers said. “They are third tier, not important. They are not biblical.”
This leadership team is not adhering to the premise that only the King James version of the Bible is the book of truth, either.
Seagle said he has seen churches die because they were not willing to adapt to change. He was pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Maryville and said he once brought up changing the name of the church and the Wednesday meeting time.
“Change? You can’t even talk about it,” he said. “We make fun of it but ...”
Seagle added that in the more than two years that he served as that church’s pastor, he baptized one man, who was 83. The mostly older congregation was down to about 15 members, he said.
He also spoke about church leadership and how a few take over the decisions for many. “I don’t know a church in Blount County that I would want to pastor,” Seagle said. “I love the church. I love the people. But if you go to that church, that’s the Johnson’s church and they run that church. There is no use trying to do anything they don’t approve of.”
At HomE Church, you can wear shorts or other comfortable clothing, bring your coffee and doughnuts and listen to the upbeat sounds of contemporary Christian music while also hearing the Word of God, these two pastors said.
Sunday school and only singing from the hymnal are going by the wayside too, Rogers said. He said the methods of reaching people for God have to keep up with the times. Sunday school, this pastor said, has outlived its usefulness as families have become so busy.
But, there are the constants, both men said.
“The gospel never changes,” Rogers said. “The truths of this book never change. But the times change and the methods have to change. And the approach has to change because the reality is we are still here to reach people. We can’t do that effectively if we are trying to hang on to things from a generation ago. We are not in that generation.”
In the event HomE Church outgrows its current location, Rogers said it will look for a more permanent home. What it won’t be is a traditional church structure.
“It will look more like home,” he said.
After the soul-searching he did in preparation for launching this church, Rogers said it became evident that he wouldn’t be able to pastor another Baptist church, and he is OK with that. What has surprised him is the reaction he’s received from fellow pastors he once spent time with; some of them are no longer speaking to him, he said.
HomE Church is Baptist in its theology, Rogers explained, it just chooses to lose some of the bindings that hold no purpose or that keep people away.
“God is a lot nicer than we give him credit for,” he said. “He is not up there waiting to strike us out of our shoes. He is a God of grace and love and mercy. He judges us when we disobey but there is so much freedom in Christ. If people would just loosen up and let God be the gracious God that he is, they would enjoy their salvation a lot more and more people would want what believers have. I am happier now than I have ever been in my life.”