A Smoky Mountain Surprise: The stunning way God provided for Praise Lutheran Church
Praise Lutheran Church, Maryville, Tenn., hosts services in a converted mechanic’s garage at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. Yet without a large budget or social media campaigns, this community of Christ-followers continues to grow as families move into the area.
“We’re still processing the influx of people with amazement,” said Senior Pastor, Rev. Derek Roberts.
Families are leaving major metropolitan areas in California, Michigan and other places to relocate near the Great Smoky Mountains.
“We haven’t spent any money on marketing, but people will say things like, ‘We watched you online during the pandemic,’ or ‘This church felt so welcoming to us.’”
An astounding turnout
God planted the vision for growth several years ago when the senior pastor and members sensed God leading them to dream about a new building. They turned to Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) for help. LCEF walked them through the building campaign stage, where the generous financial commitment of the congregation blew away any expectations.
“Usually, we advise churches that building campaigns will bring in about double their annual budget,” said Paul Reaves, LCEF district vice president, Mid-South and Southern Illinois. “But they exceeded the average, more than four times their annual budget of $200,000.”
The initial cost estimate was $1.5 million. Congregation members pledged $1.1 million over three years.
Things were off to a great start. But then, the pandemic hit.
A new challenge emerges
“We felt the need to pause with the building project,” Roberts said. “But we continued to grow, adding 60 new members, including a recent influx of 20.”
The future looked bright, but after the pandemic, inflation hit. Building costs significantly increased, and it caused them to revisit their designs to see how they could continue while remaining financially wise in what they could afford. υ
“At times, we would get discouraged, but we had faithful members (like Clayton Narveson, a Hiroshima survivor in his 90s) cheering us on,” Roberts said.
An unexpected hero
Narveson wanted to see the new building happen in his lifetime. One Sunday, he stood before the congregation and said, “I see this church as a city on a hill, and we can do this!”
To say this inspired the congregation is an understatement because Narveson was a regular hero at Praise.
He went to the communion rail every Sunday, even after doctors advised him not to sit on his knees. His faith, even in the middle of excruciating pain, inspired the faith of church members.
“I will do this for Jesus, no matter what.”
The congregation also includes other men and women of faith and commitment, like a former carpenter who donated his skills to do all the woodwork in their current modest sanctuary.
“These members set the tone of the culture of our church,” Roberts said. “They encouraged us to build humbly and within our means.”
Both of these men are now at home with the Lord, but their legacy lives on in the church’s future—and the completion of the building.
A concession is made
“We had to go back to the drawing board of what we could afford after the project’s cost increased substantially,” Roberts said.
Their initial plan included stained glass windows to draw worshippers into the beauty of Christ, but they needed to reduce the cost only to have the two windows at the front worship area.
“We could do future fundraising to build the rest,” Roberts said.
But then, the phone call came.
A surprising phone call
“Calling to confirm your eight stained glass windows,” the glass company representative said. Roberts was confused. “We only could afford two windows with that budget, right?”
“Oh, no. We can do all eight. It’s already all here,” the representative said.
“Wow,” Roberts thought. “God even provides for stained glass windows.”
The congregation hopes the new beautiful sanctuary will see weddings, funerals and weekly worship—where all who enter can glory in God’s beauty as they sit in an artful space designed for liturgical worship.
“We live in a beautiful community. And now we will have a beautiful place to welcome that community into worship,” Roberts said. “Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s financing is helping make it possible for us to reach toward the future of what God wants to do here. We are grateful.”