Tennessee congregation has a vision for making church ‘a more inclusive environment’
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ROCK HILL, S.C. — A quarter-century ago, the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ was at a crossroads.
The congregation in the Charlotte, N.C., suburb of Rock Hill, S.C., had a vision to serve its community and fulfill the Great Commission.
The church had a choice: It could expand its own facilities, or it could plant a new congregation in an area with incoming families, elder Steve Cox said.
Charlotte Avenue chose the latter, and that decision has resulted in three new congregations. Charlotte Avenue planted the Church of Christ at Gold Hill Road, and Gold Hill planted the Church of Christ at Clover and the Church of Christ at Indian Land.
“Acts chapter one, Jesus talks about how the church would grow in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the whole world,” former Gold Hill elder Brett Pharr said. “And that’s the way the church grew, by church planting. … So, reigniting a mindset of church planting is key.”
Charlotte Avenue bought the land for the original church plant from a member, Cox said. Volunteers and some members who lived close to Fort Mill were asked to go and help the church plant get started and succeed. Then the members informed the surrounding neighborhoods about the new congregation.
“There is a spiritual side of planting it, and then there’s a physical side,” Cox said.
After more than two years of planning, the Gold Hill congregation opened. Not long after the first service in 1996, leaders began to notice that members were driving up to an hour to attend services.
Moreover, the church had grown from about 50 members to more than 300. So discussions about planting a new church began, Gold Hill elder Eric Bitting said.
“We really believe that people should be worshiping and converting in their neighborhoods,” Bitting said.
Missions can take place not just in a foreign country but in a nearby neighborhood, Bitting and Pharr said. With that in mind, Gold Hill planted a new congregation in Clover, S.C., 23 miles northwest of Fort Mill.
The Church of Christ at Clover held its first service in an elementary school in November 2011. The church conducted its first service in its new building in February 2013.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Clover had between 80 and 90 people attending Sunday morning services.
“Our vision is to preach God’s word to anybody that’ll listen, anywhere, any way we can,” Clover elder Jim Hood said.
Hood’s wife, Glenda, noticed that many people were not attending service regularly and were not active in the faith. But when these individuals became a part of a smaller group, at the Clover congregation, they were more active.
“Our vision is to preach God’s word to anybody that’ll listen, anywhere, any way we can.”
“They were more willing to step out and take part, and a lot more people were active and took part in the services and in outreach, in classes,” Glenda Hood said. They were “just generally more active than what they had felt in a larger group.”
The Church of Christ at Clover has been able to reach areas that were not being served, Jim Hood said. Recently, the church has organized friends and family days, singing functions for the congregation and several ladies’ classes, which are open to any women interested in studying the Word of God.
Five to six years after starting the new church plant in Clover, Gold Hill bought land to plant the Church of Christ at Indian Land — the third plant stemming from Charlotte Avenue’s original vision.
Indian Land is not an official town. It’s a community located between Pineville, N.C., and Lancaster, S.C. The congregation began meeting on the first Sunday in January 2020 at a recreational center in Indian Land. The congregation moved into its newly constructed building at the beginning of 2021. On Sunday mornings, the attendance, pre-COVID, was between 70 and 75.
Like the original planting church, this newest congregation wants to fulfill the Great Commission.
“We want to see that carried out locally in the community of Indian Land,” minister Chad Garrett said.
The Indian Land church’s focus is to help the surrounding area. Garrett recently became involved in the Indian Land Chamber of Commerce as a way to strengthen the congregation’s ties with the community.
Garrett’s advice for church planters: Take care of the physical side. But don’t neglect the spiritual side.
Christians must invest time in talking to, spending time with and studying with people, including those who have been baptized, he said. Proper planning, prayer, vision, strong leadership and financial support are all essential to a successful church plant.
Also, having dedicated people to help with the new church plant is a huge asset, Jim Hood said. In addition, he believes that the heart and the mindset of the people are more important than the building.
Bitting believes that planting grows Christians in the church because of the mission work they are doing in their communities.
Gold Hill leaders noticed that through church planting, they started developing new talent, Pharr said. New skills were brought out in the members, and those members learned to grow because the congregation had to pull together.
But attention must be paid, too, to the needs of the planting congregation.
“Don’t lose sight of … how it’s going to be affected and how it’s going to look post-plant,” Bitting said.
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