In five years, Mike Boulware hopes the Waxhaw community will be glad he came.
Boulware is the campus pastor of Forest Hill Church’s expansion congregation in Waxhaw, which is holding its grand opening on on Aug. 17. The new congregation, which has averaged more than 225 people in its preliminary services, meets at Cuthbertson High School.
Boulware said he’s looking forward to getting to know people in the community. He and his wife live in Ballantyne, but they would like to eventually move just a bit farther east to the Waxhaw area, he said.
The Waxhaw campus is part of Forest Hill’s longtime move to decentralize from a megachurch to a group of campuses that operate like local churches around the Charlotte region.
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“(Forest Hill) has ministry and outreaches all over the world, but we really want to remember that God loves people and he’s given us the local church as the most effective way to reach and care for and develop communities of faith,” Boulware said.
Forest Hill’s original campus is in SouthPark, and leaders realized that when people drove long distances to attend they often weren’t compelled to invite friends who lived near them to church.
The church decided to build campuses in areas where concentrations of church members lived. Forest Hill now has campuses in Ballantyne and Fort Mill, S.C., which both began meeting in movie theaters before moving into permanent church buildings.
About 6,000 people attend the weekend services at Forest Hill campuses.
Forest Hill Senior Pastor David Chadwick provides the sermons for all of the campuses most of the time. He preaches live at the SouthPark campus on Saturday nights and Sundays, and the Saturday sermon is recorded and broadcast to the other campuses on Sundays.
Each campus has its own pastor, who oversees pastoral care for the congregation and occasionally preaches, and a staff that provides similar worship music, children’s programs and small group ministries as those that are at the SouthPark campus.
The campuses also each partner with a local school or nonprofit.
Stacey Martin, Forest Hill Church director of communications, said church leaders have noticed a difference since the church has opened additional campuses.
“We’re seeing a real boom in evangelism,” she said. “We’re seeing more people attending because of word of mouth.”
Boulware, who is from Lakeland, Fla., began as a two-month intern at Forest Hill Church in 1996. Other than three years he spent out of state when his mother had health issues, he has worked at the church since.
He will lead five staff members at Forest Hill Church Waxhaw, including a worship leader, children and youth leaders, a student ministry leader and a hospitality coordinator.
“(Boulware) has a heart for caring for people and a deep desire to see people connected in the Biblical community,” Martin said.
The Waxhaw campus already is offering children’s ministries that are similar other Forest Hill campuses, and leaders are working with Cuthbertson High School and looking to partner with a school that has a high number of students who receive free or reduced lunch.
Forest Hill has plans to stay in Waxhaw. The church has 10.25 acres in Cureton Town Center on the corner of Providence and Kensington roads under contract and hopes to open a permanent campus there by early 2016.
“(The Waxhaw campus) is going to allow us, like it has in Fort Mill and Ballantyne, to be neighbors and friends to the community,” Boulware said. “My hope is that five years from now, people in Waxhaw and Weddington and Marvin will say, ‘We are so glad Forest Hill moved into the neighborhood.’ ”