EAST MANATEE -- Love changes everything, says Jason Smith, the personable young pastor of Good Life Church, which recently celebrated its first anniversary.
Smith, who takes a joyful approach to the ministry, provides an insight to worship at Good Life Church when he quotes 1 Thessalonians 2:8: "So we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well."
Smith and his wife, Beth, parents of three children who attend Bradenton Christian School, founded Good Life as a church plant of Pinelake Church in Brandon, Miss.
Smith, 34, served several years as a youth minister in Nebraska and in Mississippi. He was initially cautious about starting a new congregation.
"We loved our life in Mississippi. To plan and start a church was pretty scary," he said.
But after a year of prayer, they decided starting a new congregation was what they were supposed to do.
The Smiths are native Floridi
ans. Rather than returning to Miami or Clearwater, their respective hometowns, they settled on Bradenton, where they have relatives and good memories.
Another factor was the combined Manatee-Sarasota population of about 700,000. Fewer than half the residents are church members or regularly attend services. The area afforded potential for attracting new worshippers without pulling them away from other congregations.
"Bradenton was a great fit, not just for planting a church but for planting our lives," he said.
The congregation, which meets in leased space at Tara Elementary School, 6950 Linger Lodge Road, had about 200 attend its anniversary service.
"Even if just one person shows up, it's worth sharing the gospel," Smith said.
Marti King began attending Good Life services after the Smith's daughter, a member of her volleyball team, invited her.
"It was was a nice invitation from a 14-year-old," King said. "Tara is about 2 miles from my home. I love being part of a church in my neighborhood. It's an inviting place. Everyone I have met is so genuine. It's easy for people to come and feel accepted and want to come back."
As a tenant at Tara Elementary School, the congregation has taken an interest in the students and school staff by providing tutoring, school supplies and help in sprucing up the campus.
In recognition of its contributions, the church recently received a Business Partner in Education Award presented by the Manatee School District and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
"We have had kids failing or performing below level who are now flourishing. We would absolutely love for others to come to Tara to be part of that program," Smith said.
Good Life Church has a 10:30 a.m, Sunday service that is energetic, encouraging and exciting, Smith said.
Josh Smith, no relation, serves as worship pastor at Good Life, and is also lead singer of the group "Ashes Remain." Smith leads the music program at Good Life, which is uptempo and exciting, Jason Smith said.
In describing the church, Jason Smith could use the word informal, too. He prefers congregants call him Jason rather than reverend or pastor. Although the church is affiliated with Baptist congregations, it does not fly a denominational flag.
Too often, denominations become known for what they are against, he said, rather than loving and serving people.
Good Life also has a childrens' ministry for newborns to fifth-graders, a Life Group that meets in member homes, and a Journal Group that meets to read and discuss the Bible.
"What we do on Sunday is just part of what we do in sharing the word," Smith said.
Smith said his understanding of scripture deepened with the full realization and importance of the famous passage, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
If God loves all people, how could he do any less? Smith said.
The realization changed how he saw God, how he saw himself, and the way he looked at others, he said.
Then he quotes the following verse: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
There is a lot of bad news, Smith says.
"We give them the good news," he said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1