Many of us have heard politicians and speakers talk about it "taking a village" to do X, Y and Z. Most of the times that comment is used in a self-promoting way or to make a statement of the need for volunteers and partners to step up. That is understandable.
But that is NOT what we mean.
Before I share the meaning of the title of this post, let me provide a reminder of church history.
When you look back on nearly any Medieval village or any original American colony, what was generally the first building built? What was at the center of the town? What was built to accommodate a host of cultural activities?
In many of the early American colonies, the church was called the Meeting House. A colonial meeting house was a meeting house used in colonial New England built using tax money. Can you imagine...tax dollars to build a house of worship? The colonial meeting house was the focal point of the community where all the town's residents could discuss local issues, conduct religious worship, and engage in town business. The colonial meeting house was the central focus of every New England town. These structures were usually the largest building in the town.
In modern America, the above is not generally the case. The "church" building is not the center of the village, town or city. It is not the cultural and business epicenter of our communities. In most instances, it is separated from the rest of culture and an outlier. Some of this separation occurred with the separation of "church and state" legislation. Further contributors to the erosion of the church being the center of culture can be attributed to local zoning ordinances as well as self-imposed separation by the church itself.
As many of you know, I have been assisting churches for over 34 years. During that time, most of the churches I served were isolated from community...whether intentional or not. However, our firm has been involved with a church revitalization project that will be the first of its kind in the USA. Not just Charlotte, but anywhere in the county.
SouthPark Church (formerly Sharon United Methodist Church) is the project I am referring to. We have been serving this congregation for over 5 years to make their dream a reality. What dream is that? Let me explain.
Sharon UMC found itself in a steady decline and had grown itself down from 500 to less than 250. The facility had several million dollars of deferred maintenance and no budget to correct those items or address any life cycle planning. They were in a NO WIN situation. The building was deteriorating. The congregation was dwindling. They had become irrelevant to the community. And with the annual budget declining, things were only going to get worse.
However...they felt God had called them to serve the SouthPark region of Charlotte, NC.
SouthPark is an area "edge city" in Charlotte, North Carolina. Its name is derived from the upscale SouthPark Mall, which opened on February 12, 1970 (the same year the church was built). At nearly 1.8 million square feet, SouthPark Mall is the largest shopping mall in Charlotte and all of North Carolina. By the way, the church campus resided on 7 acres of land directly across Sharon Road from the mall. Not a bad area to own property.
The area is geographically centered at the intersection of Fairview Road and Sharon Road in the south central sector of the city, about six miles south of Uptown Charlotte. In addition to being home to the mall, SouthPark is also a residential area and one of the larger business districts in Charlotte.
Economically, SouthPark is the home to the Fortune 300 company Nucor, as well as Dixon Hughes Goodman, National Gypsum, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, AmWINS Group, Carolinas AGC and Piedmont Natural Gas. Fluor, Bank of America Mortgage, First Citizens Bank, SunTrust Banks and CSX have major divisional operations located in SouthPark.
Back to the dream.
The church wanted to be the "Spiritual Crossroads" of SouthPark. There was a literal cross roads at the major intersection of Sharon and Morrison Blvd. But the vision and dream far exceeded a physical address. The church wanted to be the spiritual hub of a village within the "village" of SouthPark. They could have easily sold their land and moved out of the area...but that would not have fulfilled the vision.
The next steps were bold indeed. The steps they took are not for the faint of heart or for anyone that is not deeply convicted and committed to a vision.
The church decided it wanted to explore the concept of a mixed use development with the church being a central part. This lead to our team being retained in early 2014 to assist the church to navigate the process.
The first step was clearly articulating the WHY. Not the WHAT...but WHY would they venture into such a project? I can testify to you today that the church has NEVER backed down from the WHY. Every decision, every selection, every meeting, etc. were bathed in the WHY. That is critical to grasp. This initiative, like any other capital improvement, must not be a about a building. It must be solely about fulfilling a vision of ministry.
As of the writing of this post, the Apex development and the construction of the SouthPark Church facility is underway and going full speed with most of the multi-story buildings for retail and apartment use already topped off.
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing more about this project from the perspective of some of the "village" members that made it a reality. You will hear from:
- Pastor Kyle Thompson, SouthPark Church
- Childress Klein, Real Estate Developer of Apex
- Alan Wildes, Generis Capital Campaign
- Yours truly
In my 34 years of assisting churches, this has been the most impact, challenging, stretching, learning, invigorating project I have ever done. Stay tuned to learn more. In the meantime, check out these videos about the project: