Pursuit of the Miraculous: Concord First Assembly opens China Grove campus

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Susan Shinn
CHINA GROVE ó It’s not unusual for mega-churches to evolve into multiple campuses.
That’s exactly the case with Concord First Assembly.
With the grand opening of a new campus Sunday in China Grove, cfa ó as it’s known ó has three locations.
Its second location is across the street from the main campus at The Village in Concord.
Its newest location is in the former New Life Assembly building on U.S. 29 in China Grove: 29north.
Services have been held here since the beginning of the year, but the two years of refurbishing and renovating are now complete. The smell of new carpet and new paint was evident as finishing touches were completed earlier this week.
“It’s come a long way,” says Pastor Anthony Calvert, campus pastor.
Essentially, everything’s the same as it is at the main campus ó the same carpet, the same paint, the same chairs. The mission statement is also the same: Love God, Love People, Pass It On.
“What we’ve tried to do is have the same look here as at the main campus,” says Pastor Rick Ross, cfa’s lead pastor. “We didn’t add any square footage. We just upgraded.”
First Assembly’s theme for 2009 is “Pursuit of the miraculous.”
Ross began to see the church as a multi-campus facility four years ago. Three years ago, the China Grove location became available, and two years ago, he met Calvert, who is serving with wife Sheila at 29north.
Ross says he wants cfa’s ministry to “extend outward, not bring everyone to one location,” not unlike the spokes of a wheel.
The Calverts pastored the former Throne of Grace congregation in Kannapolis. They agreed to close their building and join the cfa family.
About 35 people from Throne of Grace and another 35 from First Assembly have formed the core of 29north.
“We built a relationship,” Ross says.
Attendance this past Sunday was 110.
At present, only Sunday services take place at 29north, but it will eventually become a freestanding location.
Along with Calvert, members from the cfa staff serving 29north include: Pastor Steve Hargett, music; Pastor Daniel Honeycutt, children’s ministries.
Mark Feltman, media director, is helping with promotional videos.
Because of its size, First Assembly has specific ministries for all ages.
In China Grove, Kidz World, or children’s church, takes place in a separate building. There are video games and a stage to engage children.
“That’s part of our schtick,” Ross says “Get ’em in, get ’em playing and then show them that living a Christian life is enjoyable. Our theme is the enjoyment of Christianity.”
The parking lot has been expanded to accommodate 100 vehicles.
The worship area can seat 200, with space available in an upstairs balcony that would seat an additional 100.
In creating the church’s brand, Ross says that the same sermon outline is used for all three locations.
Pastor Doug Witherup leads the suitefive campus at The Village.
“You have to make it your own,” Calvert says of the weekly sermon.
“The cool part is, with all of us doing it, you get more creative ideas than you ever thought,” Ross says.
A sermon at cfa may include movie or video clips, pictures and illustrations. Pastors may bring a ladder when talking about climbing the corporate ladder or another object on stage to illustrate a point.
“We want something that grabs people’s attention,” Ross says, “more than a talking head.”
All churches, Ross says, love God and want to win people. “What we do is all come up with our little twist. What we have at cfa is really exciting worship and practical preaching and taking care of families.”
First Assembly has nearly 5,000 people who call it home, Ross says. It owns a 180-bed assisted-care facility, as well as a school with almost 1,000 students.
In 2008, First Assembly celebrated its 50th anniversary. The church was founded by Tom and Betty Whidden in 1958.
“They were way ahead of their time,” Ross says.
Ross is carrying on the Whiddens’ vision.
“Our hope is to have five to 10 of these campuses in Rowan and Cabarrus counties,” he says. “Our desire is to touch this entire community.”Ross also points to the multiculturalism of cfa.
Calvert is black, as was the church he pastored. But the black population and the Hispanic population are well represented at cfa.
“You would see color at our church ó not just in paint but in people,” Ross says.
“We had reached the ceiling at our church,” Calvert says. “We were focusing efforts on becoming a multicultural church. Meeting Rick was divined by God. We were not becoming multicultural. We’re very excited about being a part of the cfa family.”
Calvert admits that there has been sacrifice in closing a church.
“In order to gain a lot, you do lose a little,” he says. “What we’ve gained in this process has been so powerful.”
Both pastors have noticed people are turning more to the church in hard economic times.
“It’s definitely a season for the church to shine,” Calvert says.
“We want people to know there is an alive group of people excited about sharing their faith,” Ross says. “Jesus was the most exciting teacher of all. We believe in high energy.”
In filming a promotional video that will be shown Sunday in China Grove, Ross says, “What an amazing journey it’s been, and how exciting for us to be here today.”
For more information about 29north, visit www.cfaconcord.com.