By: Kyle Thompson, Senior Pastor SouthPark Church
The Love SouthPark initiative is a foundational part of the relaunch of SouthPark Church (formerly Sharon United Methodist). The goal of the relaunch is to reach the church’s community for Jesus.
Sharon UMC launched in 1966 in the emerging Sharon community in Charlotte, NC. The congregation flourished for the first 16 years, plateaued for the next 12, and lost 47% of the membership over the 18-year period ending in 2012. The church effectively reached the surrounding Sharon community for Christ. When the Sharon community transformed into the SouthPark community, Sharon UMC did not make the necessary adjustments.
In 2011, God gave Sharon a new vision: to be the spiritual crossroads of SouthPark, leading people to life rich in Christ. In 2013, God added clarity to the vision; specifically, that it was time to relaunch the congregation in the SouthPark community. The relaunch project was known as Dream Big SouthPark.
The relaunch includes overhauling the ministries of the church to be relevant to the current and evolving community of SouthPark; changing the staffing and lay leadership models; updating the brand of the church including a new name; and partnering with a land developer to raze the entire campus in order to build a mixed-use development, with the church serving as the anchor.
Dream Big SouthPark has given way to Love SouthPark, as the construction phase of the campus is underway.
The key biblical inspiration is Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4. The woman went to the well to do an everyday activity (get water), not to find God. While there, the woman encountered Jesus. Her life was forever changed for the better.
The Love SouthPark initiative is an effort to dig wells. The campus will be a 24/7 village, including apartments, shopping, restaurants, office space, and a hotel. The church will be in the center. Over 12,000 people are expected on campus per week, compared to the 700 previously. The campus will be a tool which will allow the church the opportunity to develop relationships with the community.
An historical inspiration is early America, in which towns were built with houses of faith in the center so the churches and community could intersect and do life together. A modern inspiration is First United Methodist Church in Chicago, which owns and resides in a skyscraper that also houses residences and businesses.
Sharon UMC owed 7 acres of prime property in the heart of Charlotte’s SouthPark community. Much of the space was underutilized, while the iconic “ski slope” building had millions of dollars in deferred maintenance. The congregation believed it could be more faithful with the property entrusted to it.
The church retained 1 acre and sold 6 acres to development partner, Childress Klein Properties. SouthPark Church will own retail space in its new building, the proceeds of which will help to fund the ministry of the church. The church will also own a large “Times Square-type” electronic screen, leasing screen time to businesses and also generating additional income for ministry.
The church set aside $2.5 million from the proceeds of the property sale in a capital reserve fund to pay for future building maintenance. This will allow more of the funds donated to the church to be used for ministry, rather than for brick and mortar.
The church plans to share its facilities with the community, including a performing arts center to be built in the second of two planned building phases. Additionally, the former six acres will be developed by Childress Klein for over 350 apartments, an upscale hotel and about 150,000 square feet of retail allowing more people to use the space and significantly adding to the tax base of the city.
At the outset, the congregation felt led to provide a model for other churches blessed with location to engage their communities more effectively for Christ. God is using our story to connect with and to inspire other churches. We have been invited to speak at conferences around the nation and have been contacted individually by church leaders from around the US and even Belgium.
At SouthPark Church we talk about the triangle and the square. The triangle represents the church’s biblical mission to do three things: 1. Love God, 2. Love people, and 3. Make disciples. The square represents four things that support the mission of the church: 1. Staff, 2. Facilities, 3. Leadership model, and 4. Programs.
It has been incredibly difficult to make the many changes over the past six years. We lost over 30% of the congregation in doing so. We think the triangle is so important, however, we are willing to make whatever changes are necessary to the square.