When members of South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church gather outside at midmorning today for the ceremonial groundbreaking of their new sanctuary, count on them to get noticed.
Located on a prominent corner with frontage on Bryant Farms and Blakeney Heath roads, the church is smack-dab in the middle of a fast-growing suburb fueling its enrollment and building expansion plans.
Certainly foresight on the part of the church's governing body – which purchased the prime 13.5-acre spot in 1991 – plays a role in South Mecklenburg Presbyterian's success. But its growth isn't all about location, members say.
Innovative clergy leadership and an active congregation are making South Mecklenburg one of the fastest-growing churches in the 135-church Presbytery of Charlotte, the regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church USA.
South Mecklenburg has grown from 450 to 750 members in the last four years, according to the church. Membership includes founders, grandparents who followed their adult children and grandchildren to the area, young families, and singles. Average age is 42. The national average age for Presbyterians is late 50s, according to Sam Roberson, stated clerk and caretaker of official records for the Presbytery of Charlotte.
Prime land in a fast-growing suburb puts South Mecklenburg Presbyterian in a unique position in an area where many churches are meeting at schools, movie theaters and YMCAs.
Martin Waters Jr., 82, helped pick out the former farmland 17 years ago at the request of the Presbytery. The land went for $425,000. It's worth several times that now, said Waters, chairman of a commercial real estate company.
“The church, by its location and all, is destined for great things,” said Waters.
The church has raised $2.8million of the $6 million needed for its new sanctuary and will use a bank loan to cover what pledges do not.
South Mecklenburg Presbyterian has a following among families from other denominations and Charlotte-area newcomers looking for a sense of community, members say.
The church campus stays busy beyond Sundays. A Bible studies class gathered in one of the classrooms on a recent weekday morning. Clergy members of a Korean church chatted in an office; their congregation meets at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian. Scouts, a garden club, youth groups and choirs share space on the schedule as well. The annual free fall festival is open to anyone in the community.
A bulletin board touted the church's “Guess Who's Going Out to Dinner.” To get to know fellow members better, participants anonymously pick a restaurant among several listed. It all happens on the same date. No one knows who's showing up until they all sit down.
Jill and Mike Sisk and their 10-year-old twins will participate. They joined the church about a year ago, after spotting it on frequent drives to the Morrison YMCA. They thought all the children's activities – from singing groups to acolyte duties – would be good for their twins, but soon took to the social events for adults, too.
“That appealed to us,” said Sisk, 47.
Newcomers stay because they find a connection, said Dr. Matthew Brown, senior pastor.
Members come from all over the country and the world, Brown said. “There's been a …welcoming spirit.