By Shannon Baker
OAKLAND, Md.—When new attendees to Pleasant View Baptist Church (PVBC) walk into the church, they are greeted with a warm, vibrant community of believers—of all ages.
About eight years ago, after studying the early church in the book of Acts, Preaching Pastor Wally Weeks became convinced Pleasant View was over-programmed.
Families busily attended one program after another, but parents worshiped without their children. Brothers and sisters often went to separate classrooms. In truth, families rarely interacted together in the worship experience.
Weeks felt uncomfortable with what he saw.
And so he sat down with the church’s other two pastors, Jon Moorman and Mark Weeks, along with the elders and deacons, and began to pray. And over time, they decided to take a risk.
What if all our families worshipped together in the same service? they asked. What if all the age groups served together and studied scripture together?
That meant eliminating the children’s church so the children would sit with their parents instead. There would be an unstaffed nursery for parents to use as needed, but even babies could stay in the service.
This drastic change opened the door for a lot of extra noise and distractions during the services, but it also opened the door for children to see their parents cry during worship and to see them shaking their heads in affirmation as they listened to the Word of God preached to them.
And it offered an opportunity for children to understand what the early church was like: older generations teaching younger generations about Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection.
“Even in the Old Testament, all the people gathered together for worship, from the fathers to the ‘nursing babes,’” Weeks said, referencing Joel 2:15-16 and Psalm 8:2.
Weeks said it wasn’t easy at first, but the children have really adapted. Parents often bring along coloring books for them. Weeks often intentionally uses illustrations in his sermons that children can understand, and he asks the children to draw pictures of what they have learned.
“At the end of the service, there is often a line of kids with pictures to give to me,” he shared. “I have a whole drawer full of them and when I think things are going all wrong, I pull them out and cry!”
Since its inception, the intergenerational worship experience has been sown into the entire fabric of the church.
On Wednesday nights, Pleasant View’s Awana-like discipleship program involves whole families in games, upbeat singing, and missions teaching. Pastor Moorman gives an extended look at the Sunday sermons, using object lessons and other activities to reinforce the messages.
And each week, the three pastors write family devotionals, based on the Sunday sermon. The Saturday devotion introduces the scripture Weeks will share the next day.
But the intentional family worship isn’t just inside the church. It is out in the mission field as well.
Pleasant View takes the Vacation Bible School experience, organized similarly to their Wednesday night intergenerational program, to Oakland Glades Park, a park near a low-income housing development. There, parents and children are involved in an enriching time of games, Bible learning and relationship building.
Every guest who comes is invited to share a meal on the last evening, and most are invited into the home of a church member and to church.
Church families also have an extended partnership with Deep Creek Resort Ministry, that pairs international students who work at the Wisp Resort with individual families who can “adopt” and care for them.
“We train our families to sit down at meals and bridge their conversations to the Gospel,” Weeks said, noting it’s one thing to love the international students, but it “doesn’t help eternity if we don’t share the Gospel with them.”
Pleasant View families also serve in the church’s puppet ministry, which hosts large performances at Christmas and during Autumn Glory, Oakland’s popular fall festival.
In addition, church families visit nursing homes, where they “adopt grandparents.” And in partnership with Friendship Baptist Church in Sykesville, Md., many go to the Oasis Ministry’s soup kitchen in downtown Baltimore.
The church also has an ongoing partnership in Haiti, where nearly 50 people in the church have served since the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010.
They additionally support 20 pastors in northern India.
Weeks credits such success to the church’s leaders for being unified in vision and mission. “They are really the glue that keeps all this together,” he said.
But he’s also quick to say, “I overwhelmingly recommend this [strategy,] but we’re not going to see the fruit until our kids grow up.”
But Randy Millwood would beg to differ.
“The experience of worshiping with the PVBC Church is truly family… not the ‘exclusive’ kind (who are you?…you don’t belong here!); but the ‘inclusive’ kind –so much love and delight that you just get drawn into the family experience,” shared Millwood, team strategist for church strengthening at the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.
“A person who does not know Christ, who courageously ventures into our gathered worship experiences should walk away persuaded that we love God…love God’s family…love God’s world. Not that we don’t wrestle with the hard and real nature of life in a fallen world, but we don’t do so as people without hope,” Millwood said. “That is our experience every single time we worship with PVBC…hope, joy, delight, love…family.”