Sharon UMC looks to ‘be bold’ in SouthPark

Leaders and members of Sharon United Methodist Church are taking their vision and mission of being “the spiritual crossroads in SouthPark” to the next level. And they’re asking residents, developers and business owners to get involved.

Inspired after attending a summer meeting with the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, Sharon UMC senior pastor Kyle Thompson took Bishop Larry Goodpaster’s message to “be bold” to heart.

Thompson was reassigned to Sharon about a year ago, jumping in at a time when the church was working to partner with its commercial-heavy community. Located across the street from SouthPark Mall, the church, with the help of community business volunteers and sponsors, built a Habitat for Humanity House on the church’s front lawn before it was moved to an area neighborhood for a local family.

Thompson was confident “being bold” wouldn’t be hard for Sharon UMC, since the church was already practicing connecting with the community in innovative ways.  But his bold plan takes the church to a different level, and could one day become a new model for 21st century churches, he said.

Thompson asked the congregation in September to start with a new slate, proposing to level the church’s current 47-year old facility in order to build a new multi-use facility on the church’s seven acres.

“We have a lot of unused space and many spaces could be better utilized,” Thompson said. “We thought the best way to be the ‘crossroads’ would be to start over and bring partners into our community.”

The vision, Thompson said, is to return to the early church model, where ancient Roman basilicas not only served as places of worship, but included shops, courts and public meeting spaces. Church leaders hope to build a development anchored by the church, but also including restaurants, coffee shops, office space or fitness centers.

“It would just be a chance to involve the community in what we are doing,” Thompson said, adding the church’s SouthPark home is the perfect location for the vision.

The church has formed a planning committee, but is still in the early stages of the project and hope to get some feedback from area residents and businesses about what they think should go in the new facility. They’ve launched a website, www.dreambigsouthpark.com, in which they hope to get feedback and questions from the community.

Church leaders don’t currently have a specific shape or model of what the new facility would look like. Thompson said the planning stages will last at least a year before they have a definitive plan to take to Charlotte City Council for rezoning of the property. Church leaders will do other site visits at churches with model facilities – one in Chicago and possibly another in Maryland – for ideas.

“We think one of the first steps will be meeting with developers to see who is interested. They can really help facilitate moving forward. And then we see this phase as doing site visits, learning from what other churches have done.”

Thompson said the new model hopefully will help continue moving the church forward. In a society where everyone is connected, the goal of the project is to find ways for the church to be even more connected to the community.

In addition, while the church is known for being mission-minded, many corporations and local businesses also hold community service in high regards. The church hopes to create more partnerships like the Habitat for Humanity build in the future, and feel the multi-use facility could move that dream forward.

“Corporations and businesses are certainly not all going to join our church, but we can partner with them to make our community better,” Thompson said.

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