Forest Hill looking to expand
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Friday, Nov. 01, 2013

Forest Hill looking to expand

Forest Hill, a SouthPark-based mega church that draws 5,000 worshipers each weekend, is eying a fourth location in the Waxhaw area. And one church representative said they’d like to be under contract by the end of the year.

“At this point, as you know from the real estate market, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Max Baumgartner, Forest Hill’s executive director. “But I do think we could have something in serious negotiations and ending with a contract in the next 60 days.”

Baumgartner said the church has general locations in mind although he declined to comment further.

The expansion is part of an ongoing effort to become less of a regional church and more of a community-based church, said Baumgartner.

Under that model, satellite campuses become more involved with the surrounding community, whether it’s through sponsoring local schools or reaching out to individual neighborhoods, Baumgartner said.

Church spokeswoman Stacey Martin said in studying where to expand, church officials noticed that a “critical mass” of Forest Hill attendees live in Union County.

“By having a campus closer to home, it allows for them to reach out to neighbors and friends who don’t know Christ,” she said.

The large nondenominational church off Park Road, which Senior Pastor David Chadwick has led for 30 years, has satellite locations in Rock Hill and Ballantyne, which the church respectively established six and five years ago.

“We decided we wanted to move into a multi-site model, which looked like incubating campuses, finding a temporary location and letting it grow until it was ready for a permanent location,” said Martin.

Both the Rock Hill and Ballantyne locations began as temporary sites in local movie theaters.

In December 2012, the church opened a permanent location in Fort Mill after purchasing and renovating an old cubicle manufacturing facility.

Although that location has 25,000 square feet, the church is preparing to request permission from York County to expand by 12,000 square feet.

And on Sept. 18, 2011, Forest Hill Church opened the doors to its Ballantyne extension at the Morrison YMCA off Community House Road.

The church is hoping that any temporary location in Union County would be short-term and that members could move into a permanent location more quickly.

“Right now we’re in the very early stages but we hope to build a permanent facility somewhere between Waxhaw and Wesley Chapel,” Martin said.

Baumgartner previously said temporary sites are not ideal because people feel uncomfortable without a permanent church home. Set-up and tear-down for services also is difficult and often rushed.

Martin said the church is looking for a property 7 to 9 acres. Baumgartner said the new facility would likely have 35,000 to 40,000 square feet.

The expansion into Union County would likely be paid for by a mix of church donations and a capital campaign, although Baumgartner said any campaign would need to first be approved by church elders.

“Right now the church has zero debt, and we are committed to remaining zero debt,” said Baumgartner. “We would never take out a construction loan.”

Baumgartner said the church hopes to have its first service at the new Union County location by no later than Easter 2015.

For the most part, Chadwick will continue to preach live on Saturdays and Sundays at the SouthPark campus, although he will regularly visit satellite campuses to preach, said Martin.

His Saturday night sermon will be taped and broadcast to the sister campuses on Sunday mornings, she said.

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero

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