First Baptist of Rock Hill's congregation took a leap of faith in hiring a 29-year-old preacher to lead them.
They needed a captain with vision, something they were not certain such a young man could do.
"We looked at a lot of résumés and listened to a number of different pastors' sermons," recalls deacon and member of 38 years Jim Davis. "We interviewed three or four."
One "just stood out from the rest," he said.
Betty Spradley, congregation member of 36 years, said that pastor was the Rev. Steve Hogg, recommended by Dr. Joe Brown of Hickory Grove Baptist in Charlotte.
"He (Brown) said Steve was well beyond his age in vision and leadership," she remembers, "and we should not worry about his age."
That was 20 years ago. On Sunday, the congregation will host a "Hogg Roast" to honor their pastor's leadership, vision and record tenure. The average term of pastors nationwide is three to four years.
New youth center to open
During that 20 years, the congregation grew by nearly 3,000 members and moved from Main Street to a 52-acre facility on Dave Lyle Boulevard, where they built a new, larger, $12 million church. On Sunday, the church's new youth center addition will open with a gym, multipurpose room with a stage, computers, video games and much more.
"Teenagers need all the help they can get today," Hogg said last week as he toured the facility, called "The Rock." A huge boulder sits in its foyer, moved there by a crane.
The $4.5 million addition includes new administrative space. Eventually, ball fields will be added to the site.
The younger children will occupy the teens' former quarters, redone in an aquatic theme. It's called "The Dock."
Hogg, today a laid-back, 49-year-old pastor with a lulling Kentucky drawl, said his ministry is not centered on growth but on "people finding their relationship with Christ and their place in heaven."
"When I reach the place where I'm not concerned about people reaching Christ, then I need to quit," he said. "That sometimes gets lost in our culture. If people are being reached, the church grows. We're not going to grow without buildings."
Davis said Hogg has "certainly been good for the church."
"I'd like to think we've been good for him, too," he added.
650 pounds of barbecue
Twenty-six deacons are cooking 650 pounds of barbecue plus baked beans and coleslaw for Sunday's fete. It's a 16-hour-a-day labor of love that began Wednesday and continues today, according to deacon board chairman John Rinehart.
They also plan a true "roast," requiring a sense of humor from the "roastee." Hogg is not short on that. He pronounces his ancient Scottish name just like early Kentucky farmers did: "hawg."
"I say the H-oh-ggs are the cowards in the family," he quips. "I decided early on to use my name to advantage because it's unique, and people would remember it."
Hogg describes himself as "a preacher."
It was his preaching that tipped the scales in his favor 20 years ago, Spradley recalls.
"We heard him preach on the husband and wife relationship," she remembers. "He presented it so well and so that no one of any age would be offended. We felt he could approach any topic."
Congregation members say he can become a firebrand when it comes to salvation. His delivery has the triplet repetition and rising cadence of Southern Baptist preaching, but its overall tone is gentle, inspirational rather than judgmental.
A sermon on listening to God can challenge the congregation, but another on families including spirituality in children's daily lives is more coaxing.
He often moves about as he preaches, sometimes into the congregation. He considers the music a vital aspect of the service, popular enough to be broadcast twice on Sundays on local channel 2. Not televised is another contemporary service held each Sunday.
"I'm a biblicist," he said. "I'm going to interpret scripture, but I want to illustrate the truth in the scriptures with stories from today's world."
His sermons are 35 to 45 minutes long, usually planned, researched and revised weeks before their delivery. He is very organized and sees projects through to conclusion with determination, co-workers say.
A sense of family
The congregation felt a sense of family with Hogg and his wife, Monieca, from the moment they arrived, Spradley said. The Hoggs raised their two children, now in college, in the church.
Hogg was not reared in the Christian faith. His father was a Kentucky coal miner, and the Hoggs sustained their physical needs on the family farm. Hogg was good at growing things, even in his youth.
"My peas were better than anyone else's," he still boasts of his childhood garden.
There was one Bible in the household, and he would sometimes take it to his room to read. An elderly lady with a flannel board sometimes came to his tiny school with stories about Jesus, and his uncle also talked about Jesus when he visited.
"My father had a generous spirit," Hogg said. "After a worker he supervised was killed in an accident, we loaded up and visited the widow regularly."
Hogg's first church visit was as a teenager at the invitation of a high school girl. He eventually joined that Baptist church. His calling came while delivering a talk as a youth minister there.
"When an invitation was given and I saw teenagers kneeling all around the altar, in that moment I knew what God wanted me to do," he said.
He went on to seminary and continued a youth ministry on the weekends. One weekend, he asked a childhood friend and fellow church member to help him do a seminar on dating. Her name was Monieca Adams.
"I went to her house to go over the curriculum, and then I asked her for a date," he said. "I thought that was pretty slick."
He ordered a steak at the Cliff Hagan Steakhouse in Hazard, Ky., and she ordered a salad. They've been married more than 25 years.
His largest church outside Kentucky and before Rock Hill came in 1984 at Bethel Baptist in Sumter.
He is proud of his ministries in the Rock Hill community, such as serving on the first No Room for Racism committee, the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast and his campaign to ban video poker.
Ministry also has grown inside the church.
"You hear us talk about being a family of faith," said church member Kerri McGuire, 31. "It truly is."
McGuire came to First Baptist six years ago while experiencing that post-college disconnect. She was seeking a singles ministry where she could fit.
"It is worship time with fellow believers," she said, "but it's also a way to become involved in ministries."
Hogg can't say whether he'll be with First Baptist another 20 years.
"One of the challenges of long tenure is making sure you're there because it's God's plan," he said. "Integrity requires I ask God's voice on this issue."
And he has. He's also had offers from elsewhere.
"I've never felt God release me from this place," he said.
WANT TO GO?
• The congregation of First Baptist Church of Rock Hill will celebrate the Rev. Steve Hogg's 20th anniversary with a Hogg Roast from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
• Guest speakers and community leaders also will participate in the church's services at 9:15 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
• Tours of the building addition will be conducted from noon to 1 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m.
• The public is invited.