Charlotte churches choose to change; choose to liveby BSCNC Communications
Every week on the way to the hospital for visitation Jack Homesley drives through the neighborhood where he spent his childhood. Only now when he drives by Hoskins Avenue Baptist Church, which he remembers as always having a full parking lot, it looks almost empty.
Church attendance has dwindled, with about 15 people present on Sunday mornings.
The community looks different, too. The once white, blue-collar neighborhood is now more diverse and home to many Hispanics and African-Americans.
The senior adult congregation of Hoskins Avenue is no longer reaching the neighborhood, which changed around them before they knew what to do.
About two years ago Homesley, pastor of Christ Community Church in Huntersville just 15 miles north of Hoskins Avenue, began praying for Hoskins Avenue. “I would stop from time to time and tears would fill my eyes,” he said. “That neighborhood desperately needs the gospel. I wanted to help revitalize the church.”
For nearly a year Homesley met with leaders from Hoskins Avenue and they prayed about what God would have them do. Their leadership also wanted the church to start reaching the people around them; they just didn’t have the resources or manpower.
Mary Hoyle has been at Hoskins all her life. Her parents joined the church when she was six months old.
“Over the years we realized we weren’t reaching the community and outreach wasn’t effective,” Hoyle said. “I’m stunned that we reached the point we did. We had no idea where to turn. We had to step back and say, ‘Lord, you’re going to have to handle this. We’re going to die as a church; we need for you to take over.’”
Hoyle and the Hoskins Avenue congregation decided the church must change or it would eventually die.
Homesley worked with the congregation to develop a plan to help turn things around. Homesley calls the plan a three phase “progressive partnership plan.”
“We’re building trust,” he said. “We’re helping out, but not taking over.”
Last fall the two congregations began phase one, which included pastors and staff from Christ Community helping preach on Sunday mornings. “This enabled Hoskins and Christ Community to build fellowship, trust and familiarity with one another in the process,” Homesley said.
In phase two, Christ Community began helping with Sunday morning music worship and provided ushers and greeters. Christ Community also provided additional pastoral care assistance and help with interior and exterior renovations and repairs.
Now, in phase three, the congregations are working together to develop and implement a strategy for community outreach, Bible studies, prayer gatherings and other ministries.
Homesley is prayerful that in a few months Hoskins will be ready for a full time pastor who can help the congregation continue moving forward in their efforts to share the gospel and make disciples.
Feeding the multitudes
Another unique partnership in the Charlotte area between Westmoreland Baptist and Eastside Baptist is now moving forward with strategic changes after six months of prayer, transition and adjusting.
Eastside Baptist merged with Westmoreland in an effort to not only keep the church doors open, but to care for the community. “I felt God wanted us to merge with another church because we were not being as effective in carrying out the Great Commission as we should have been,” said Eastside pastor Michael Snyder.
When Snyder became pastor the church averaged 25 in attendance for Sunday morning worship, and that’s how it had been for the past six or seven years.
For about three years Snyder attended a support group at Westmoreland when he met with Westmoreland pastor Todd Marlow and other area pastors. The day came when Snyder knew it was time to talk with Marlow about Eastside merging with Westmoreland.
Snyder and Marlow prayed for 30 days before talking to anyone else about a possible merger. “The more we prayed, the more in agreement we were,” Marlow said.
On both ends, the transition continues to be a smooth one. “I’m amazed at how easy the transition has been. That can only be a God-thing,” Snyder said.
When the churches merged the church name changed to HOPE Community Church of Metrolina, with a West Campus (Westmoreland facility) and East Campus (Eastside facility).
Marlow preaches at the West Campus Sundays at 9 a.m. and then drives 30 minutes across town to preach at 11 a.m. at the East Campus. He will continue doing this until a pastor is on staff for East Campus.
Although the back and forth travel has not been easy, to Marlow, seeing people in the community come to know Jesus makes it worthwhile. “We’re not loving people for what they can do for us. It’s not about saying look at us. We want to feed the multitudes with the love of Jesus,” he said.
The merger will bring facility renovations at Eastside, a worship pastor to help lead at both campuses, weekly home life groups at Eastside and community outreach. Snyder is now responsible for pastoral care and senior adult ministry at both campuses.
When talk of a merger began Marlow didn’t make many promises. “We just said we would love them and preach God’s Word,” he said.
In the last six months the Westmoreland campus has grown and attendance has nearly tripled at East Campus.
Next month a Hope Caring Center will be launched at East Campus so that the church can offer food and clothing to people, build relationships, and share the gospel.
“Everything is for His glory and not ours,” Marlow said. “Colossians 1:27 says we have Christ, the hope of glory, in us. That’s why we exist. That’s who we are.”