CLEARWATER — Lakeside Baptist Church on Jefferson Davis Highway had some very special guests over the weekend: Gil and Kelly Jo Bates, who were joined by 17 of their 19 children.


“We never have a dull moment, I can tell you that,” Kelly Jo said. “The Bible says children are a blessing, and they really are. Our hearts are just as full as our house is.”


The Bateses live in East Tennessee. They were the stars of a reality television series, “United Bates of America,” which aired on TLC in August and September of 2012. Earlier that year, they were the subjects of a TLC special, “The Bates Family: Baby Makes 19.”


In addition, the Bateses have appeared on another TLC reality series, “19 Kids & Counting,” which is about the Duggar family of Arkansas. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar also have 19 children.


“It's a fun and exciting life, and I think people are kind of intrigued because we have 19 kids,” said Gil, whose family has been featured recently on the ABC television news show “Nightline Prime.” “But it's not about 19 kids. It's about finding God's will for your life, whether you have one kid or 21 kids. I believe in using whatever platform God gives you to further God's work.”


The Bateses founded the Bible Baptist Church in Clinton, Tennessee, and it keeps the family busy. Services are held in a hotel conference room on Sundays and Wednesdays.


Gil also runs a tree removal business.


“We don't travel a whole lot, but maybe eight or 10 times a year we go to other churches to sing and preach, and to encourage other families to live for the Lord,” Gil said. “We're here because we and Tad Marshall (Lakeside Baptist's senior pastor) have a mutual friend who is a missionary.”


At Lakeside Baptist, the Bateses led a family conference that had several events on Saturday and Sunday. During the Sunday morning worship service, the Bateses sang, and Gil delivered the sermon, offering some advice to his fellow parents and their children.


Gil encouraged youngsters to “let your parents in on everything you're in on,” and he told parents not to “blow your tops” when their children approach them for help.


The prevailing attitude, Gil said, should be: “We're in this thing together; we're a team.”


Gil and Kelly Jo's children range in age from 2 to 25 years old.


“We have two kids who were born on Feb. 1, and two who were born on Feb. 17, but they're not twins. We don't have any twins yet, but maybe next time we will,” Gil said.


Marshall reported that he and his congregation were benefiting from the Bateses' visit.


“We have been looking forward to this for a long time,” he said. “ A lot of our families need biblical instruction, and I'm a parent who needs encouragement and inspiration. Having them here has been a blessing.”


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.