Eddie Connell and Ron Loflin, who both work with High Rock Community Church, talk to Ray and Phyllis Safrit, the first members of High Rock Community Church. The Safrits have helped start several churches because they see a need to reach a younger generation.
Ray Johnson wasn’t sure if East Albemarle Baptist Church would really go through with it, and he wasn’t exactly sure about how his congregation at High Rock Community Church would react.
High Rock is a 2,000-plus member multisite church based in Salisbury that has launched five campuses since it began in 2004 with four families. Campuses have been started in renovated grocery stores, and car and boat dealerships.
East Albemarle is a congregation of about 26 that wants to grow, but is struggling to reach its community. Crippled financially with debt from a building program, the congregation thought they would have to sell.
“East Albemarle came and visited High Rock services, and it was a shock to them. But they recognized that although the contemporary style wasn’t what they were used to, they were willing to give it a try to reach people for Christ,” said Johnson, High Rock’s lead pastor.
One contemporary church, one traditional church, both used to doing things a certain way. But when decision time came, it came down to one thing: getting the gospel to lost people. Instead of launching campus number six as they had done the others, High Rock joined forces with East Albemarle to help the church reach its community.
Since Hal Bilbo became director of missions for Stanly Association six years ago he has seen three churches close their doors, and he didn’t want that to happen again. “East Albemarle had tried to do ministry, but they weren’t gaining any ground,” Bilbo said. “A leader told me he thought they’d have to sell. I knew then that they realized they were on a dead end road.”
Two of the three churches in the association that closed simply aged out. For one church, the youngest deacon was 79 years old. Churches will always be in the process of losing members, Bilbo said, whether because of death or members moving out of the area. “It’s a natural flow. But if churches aren’t gaining new members, then they are dying,” he said.
Bilbo had been talking with East Albemarle about what to do, and when he heard that High Rock wanted to start a campus in the Albemarle area, he called pastor Johnson. “It wasn’t the easy way to launch a campus here,” Bilbo said. “This reflects the heart High Rock has not to be in competition, but they are concerned about the Kingdom of God.”
In March, High Rock leadership will help with an associational training. They will share how to effectively welcome visitors in church. “They’re not in it for themselves,” Bilbo said.
Bilbo prays the merger will inspire other churches in the association to be more proactive in reaching the lost.
At High Rock the focus is the gospel. “It’s all about being able to take the church to the people. We take the Great Commission very seriously. We are taking the church outside the four walls and going into the surrounding communities with the multisite model,” Johnson said.
High Rock Community Church has a campus in Denton, Kannapolis, Lexington and two campuses in Salisbury. Although the Albemarle campus will not officially launch until Easter Sunday – Johnson said the church is already drawing a crowd, with 111 in worship on Jan. 15.
When Johnson helped start High Rock six years ago his goal was to target unbelievers and people far away from God. Now, he wants to help the East Albemarle congregation to do that too.
“One of our core values is evangelism. We want to do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ,” Johnson said.
High Rock leadership preached a five-week series at East Albemarle on the purpose of the church. They also devoted several months to talking with the congregation about what needed to change for it to effectively reach lost people.
“Often people say they want to change,” Johnson said. “The reality is, the change they want is that they want others to change to be like them.”
Eddie Connell is one who is truly ready to see change. Connell was called into the ministry at age 47, attended Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, and went to East Albemarle as a bivocational pastor.
Although the merger has been a learning process, the congregation knows it’s not about tradition, but about fulfilling the purpose of the church to evangelize and disciple people.
“The merger came together so easily it couldn’t have been anything other than God doing these things,” Connell said. He is serving bivocationally on the High Rock staff and is excited to see how God will work. “When God’s people come together for one purpose, God can do mighty things. I see great things happening at High Rock,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of that.”