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High Rock turning former grocery store into church

By Noelle Edwards nedwards@salisburypost.com The folks at High Rock Community Church say God performs an “extreme makeover” with people. They do the same with buildings. That’s why a former Salisbury grocery store will become a church this fall. High Rock, which has three campuses in eastern Rowan County, Denton and Kannapolis, is renovating the former Winn-Dixie on Jake Alexander Boulevard to become a fourth campus for worship services and classes. That’s the modus operandi of High Rock; they choose a community to be part of, then find a standing building to move into. The church’s original building in eastern Rowan used to be a boat dealership. The Denton campus used to be a car dealership. The Kannapolis campus used to be an Eckerd pharmacy. “We just think it’s being good stewards of God’s resources,” said Ray Johnson, High Rock’s founding pastor. “We just believe the whole concept of restoring a building just fits Christianity. God takes our wrecked lives and does an extreme makeover.” The High Rock staff has been planning this move for a little over a year, but they’ve only had the building since August. They’re leasing with the option to buy. Johnson said he hopes to have the purchase completed by the end of this year, maybe as early as Dec. 1. “Usually we don’t mess around,” said Ronnie Pinyan, worship coordinator at High Rock. Johnson said church members plan to hold their first service there Nov. 1 because that’s when daylight savings time ends, so people get an extra hour of sleep. He said churches typically see high attendance on that Sunday. He is intent on filling the pews from the very first Sunday. Each time High Rock plants a campus, he said, the teaching pastor in charge of the new campus recruits a group of people who already attend an existing campus to start going to the new campus. At the Jake Alexander Boulevard location, that group will include ministry leaders so programming such as Bible studies and youth group can start right away. Jon Allen, who will be the teaching pastor at the new campus, said he has 100 to 150 people recruited already. Allen said he drove all around the western part of Salisbury looking for a building before settling on the Winn-Dixie. The building has been empty about four years but John Leatherman, the owner, was looking for a tenant that reflected his values. He found one in High Rock, he said. Allen said High Rock’s pastors originally wanted to put the campus further west in the county, but the Winn-Dixie building suits their needs. He said because it’s close to housing developments and a concentrated population, he hopes it will be easy for people to come. The building is on a major road, which will boost visibility, Allen said, and it already had a parking lot in place. Even so, the renovation will cost more than $3 million ó much more than $3 million, Johnson said. That includes the purchase of the building, which is 47,400 square feet for the entire strip. Pinyan said building a facility that size from scratch would probably cost at least $5 million plus the cost of land. When the place is finished, it will have a new facade and will include the space that used to be Eckerd. The main auditorium, which will seat 1,000, will be housed in the part that used to be Winn-Dixie. The Eckerd space mostly will be classrooms and a children’s area. The former Winn-Dixie will also house a multipurpose room, commercial kitchen, classrooms and storage, Johnson said. High Rock is buying the whole strip, which also includes what is now a salon and a dry cleaner. Both tenants will eventually move, Johnson said, and that space will house a Christian coffee house, open all week long, geared toward college students. For the time being, though, the congregation is focusing its efforts on turning the former Eckerd into a sanctuary and classrooms. It’s only 9,000 square feet, so it’s easier to get that part ready for the Nov. 1 opening. The expansion doesn’t stop in Salisbury. Johnson has a vision for 10 churches in 10 years. He started High Rock in 2004, so he’s halfway there, both in years and churches. Future campuses will be in Mooresville, Asheboro, Blowing Rock, Greensboro, and London. Yes, the one in England. Johnson said they’ll implement video conferences as a staff when that campus gets set up. He also hopes to one day add a campus in Richfield and is tossing around the idea of putting one in Myrtle Beach, too. “Half our church is in Myrtle Beach in the summer,” Johnson said. He said he keeps adding campuses to be near people all over Davidson, Cabarrus and Rowan counties, rather than expecting people to drive a long way to find High Rock. “People love options,” Johnson said. “For so many years, the church said, ‘This is your option; take it or leave it.’ And by and large, they left it.”
 

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