I was privileged to pastor the fine people of Somerset Baptist Church, Mount Perry, Ohio for eleven years. During my tenure — thanks to our bus ministry — scores of people heard me preach. Using the methodology I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College, I became a modern-day Apostle Paul — becoming all things to all men that I might by all means save some. Desiring to use any legal means possible to attract bus riders, I turned the church into a carnival sideshow. We would offer riders all sorts of incentives to ride on our church’s four busses and invite their friends, families, and neighbors to ride with them.
Several times a year, we would have what we called Hamburger Sunday. Most of the children and adults were poor — I mean dirt poor. Most church members and bus riders were on some form of public assistance. Eating at McDonald’s was a special occasion for them, so we used our knowledge of this to our advantage.
On Hamburger Sunday, every bus rider received a hamburger and a small drink at the McDonald’s in New Lexington. I warned the restaurant that we would be bringing a hundred or so children to their store; that we would need a hundred hamburgers and small drinks. We arrived at the restaurant around the Sunday lunch rush, so I can only imagine the chaos that ensued when we put in our order. (I was a general manager for several fast-food companies. I personally loved big orders, especially when buses showed up. My assistants were not as motivated as I was. All I saw was $$$. All they saw was “work.”) Hamburger Sunday was a lot of fun. I like to think that the bus children had an opportunity to experience something that was normally unavailable to them.
Some Sundays we would run the Mystery Seat promotion. Prior to leaving for their routes, I would have the route captains take money — $1, $5, and $10 bills) and tape them underneath a few of the seats. Whoever sat in that particular seat won the money.
One of the favorite promotions we ran was Bicycle Sunday. This was a multi-week contest we used to entice children to invite new people to church. The goal was always the same: increased attendance and salvation decisions. We bought a new ten-speed bike for every bus route. Over the course of the contest, the bus worker would keep track of who brought visitors. On the appointed Sunday, we would call the winner before the church body, thank them for their hard work, and award them a brand-spanking new bicycle. This was a big deal for these children. Most of them, if they had a bike at all, had junkers. I know my children did. Getting a new bike was a special moment for them. I only wish, in retrospect, that we could have purchased a new bike for every child.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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