Churches trying to keep up with area’s growing flock
by Staff Writer
by Mark Zenow
HUNTERSVILLE - If you passed Mike Moses on the streets of Huntersville, you would probably never guess he was on the cutting edge of a revolution that took hold in the area a little more than 10 years ago.
He appears mild mannered, speaks with a polite Southern accent and blends in effortlessly with the bankers and corporate executives who comprise what he calls “the Lake Norman tribe.”
But the driving force behind this husband, father and son has nothing to do with quarterly reports, increased market share or breakthroughs in medicine.
Moses is passionate about leading the people of Lake Norman to God.
“We were the first of the new churches with an outreach orientation, speaking the musical and technological language of the culture,” Moses said. “It’s rock-and-roll worship.”
While the demographic of Charlotte tends to be a bit older and, consequently, more traditional in worship preferences, the families and individuals who have been moving to Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville since the late 1990s trended younger and brought a new spiritual mindset.
“Music is the language of the soul, and rock and roll is the predominant musical language of today’s adults,” Moses said. “We felt like there was a group of people in the Lake Norman area who would respond to this type of worship.”
And respond they did.
What began in 1998 as a congregation of 42 worshipers “planted” from the congregation of Forest Hill Church in south Charlotte, has turned into a population of around 2,000 at the Lake Forest Church campus on Gilead Road in Huntersville.
Along the way, Moses held services at Northcross Lanes bowling alley, a roller skating rink and then the YMCA in Cornelius.
While Moses and his tribe may have organized one of the first contemporary worship churches, they certainly were not the last to enter these lake waters.
As the population of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson has increased from about 47,000 residents combined in 2000, to nearly 80,000 according to the 2010 census, the number of new churches opening their doors has increased as well.
Planning department records indicate that in Huntersville, between 2000 and 2002, nine churches filed applications for commercial site development, allowing for construction of new churches.
Today, the Lake Norman Convention and Visitor’s Bureau lists more than 50 places of worship on its website, and other on-line resources list as many as 100 within the borders of the three towns.
Many of the pastors who minister at these new churches get together once a month for what they describe as a “church-planters fellowship group,” designed to share success stories and encouragement.
One member of this group is Jeff Watson, lead pastor at Ardent Faith Christian Fellowship in Huntersville. The church holds Sunday morning services at Torrence Creek Elementary School.
Watson moved his family here five years ago from Orange County, Calif., after visiting Lake Norman and noticing a need for new places of worship stemming from the surging population.
“It was apparent to me that Lake Norman was going to be the OC of NC,” Watson said, referring to the well-to-do southern California communities in Orange County that have been portrayed in popular television shows such as “The OC” and “Melrose Place.”
“We saw a lot of change coming to the town in terms of affluence,” he explained, “and while we saw a positive side of that affluence, we also saw the other side that could be a trapping of sorts.”
Concerned that some citizens might be overshadowed or even displaced by the new prosperity, he walked into town hall and essentially said: Here I am, and how can I help?
In the five years since, his church has organized neighborhood clean-ups and outreach programs designed to distribute food or clothing to those in need.
Watson’s approach has been to develop close working relationships with neighborhoods in the community, as well as with town officials who often call upon on him when a local resident is in need.
“We may help a widow on a fixed income get her home back up to community standards or maybe send in volunteers to help a homeowner do what they can’t do for themselves,” he explained.
Town officials have proved “a real blessing” in the way they assisted him and his church help high-risk neighborhoods to which Watson finds himself drawn. Local code enforcement officers and others in town government are “people who really care,” he added.
Before moving from Phoenix to Lake Norman four years ago, Pastor Kyle Wallace preached at a church with 12,000 members, rotating five services in and out each Sunday.
Once here, he met Mike Moses and a handful of other pastors, hoping to gain knowledge of the local spiritual scene.
Now, rather than leading a mega church like the one he left in Phoenix, he preaches to about 120 people each week at Church of the Good Shepherd, which meets inside the Lake Norman YMCA.
“The church planting that is taking place here in Lake Norman is part of a movement that has really taken hold in the past 10 to 15 years,” he said, “and it’s refreshing to see. I really like the idea of taking it to them, rather than hoping they’ll come to you.”
To that end, Lake Forest’s Moses is preparing to do what the elders of his parent church, Forest Hill, did back in 1998.
“We are sending forth a group of parishioners from our congregation, along with Associate Pastor Michael Flake, to plant the seeds of a daughter church that will practice our community-outreach philosophy and rock-and-roll style.”
The sister church begins services Aug. 21 at Davidson Elementary School, a location chosen because many in the Lake Forest congregation live in Davidson, Moses said. Plus, the student population is a growing portion of his congregation, and Flake is a graduate of Davidson College.
“It will also return us to our roots by taking us back to the neighborhood near the YMCA,” he added.
Moses believes his ministry has grown because people regularly invite friends and neighbors to attend. “They know that every week we will deliver the timeless message about Jesus in today’s musical and artistic language,” he said.