Cross Park Church will open its doors for the first time Sunday at Smithfield Elementary School in south Charlotte.
Pastor Jeff Hardy, 36, is planting Cross Park as an offshoot of Uptown Church on Elizabeth Avenue, which he has attended since 2001.
During the past 10 years, Hardy worked for Campus Crusade for Christ and attended Reformed Theological Seminary. He completed seminary in May and was ordained in August. He became Uptown Church's assistant pastor for church planting, in addition to preaching and teaching Sunday school. Hardy is married with three daughters, ages 6, 2 and 1.
Uptown Church was planted by Christ Covenant Church in Matthews 16 years ago. Since then, Uptown Church has planted four churches. The planning for planting Cross Park Church began about three years ago.
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While Uptown Church initially will assist Cross Park with finances and oversight, the goal is for the new church to grow, become independent and eventually plant another church.
"Uptown identified this part of town as a place where they had a lot of people who were saying things like, 'I'd love to invite my neighbor to church but it's a 10-mile drive each way to Uptown.' If we could plant a church here locally we think we could be much more effective at engaging the community, friends and neighbors, and caring for people well,'" said Hardy, describing how Cross Park was conceived.
Hardy wants to encourage his congregants to help the community, both locally and internationally.
"We want to help people think about the world differently," said Hardy. "We can bless other people with some of our resources, and we can be blessed by our interaction with people in other parts of the world who see God at work in circumstances that are very different than where we live."
At Smithfield Elementary, where Cross Park will rent space for Sunday services, church members will have opportunities to tutor and mentor students, pray for teachers and assist with projects such as school beautification days.
"We have realized that church planting is the most effective way to reach a community," said Hardy. "Reproducing multiple churches in different areas of town with different demographics of people is an incredibly effective way to, over time, reach a metro area or a culture."
Hardy sees church planting as a way for people to grow both spiritually and as a community, where people can hear and live the Gospel in everyday life.
"One of the weaknesses sometimes of American evangelicalism is we do a lot of big events and that's where it stops," said Hardy. "It's hard sometimes to connect people to fellowship and get them involved in a local church where they can grow, have their hardships and struggles rub up against other people's hardships and struggles and start to see how the Gospel actually speaks to them.
"They can have people care for them in tangible ways that they've never been cared for before."