The famous towel producer Charles Cannon built First
Baptist Church in Kannapolis when Cannon
Mills provided both engine and fuel for the aging textile town 27 miles north
of Charlotte. He wanted a good church for his workers, so he had First
Baptist constructed on the edge of the mill property.
First Baptist celebrated
its centennial in 2008 and has enjoyed its current red brick, columned building
for 75 years. It is imposing and regal, but because of how Cannon provided the
building, the church doesn’t own an inch of land outside the building’s
footprint; not a single parking space.
The textile industry has fled North Carolina like water
falls over Niagara, and in the past few years Cannon’s massive mills were
converted to Pillowtex, then that company and 2,400 local jobs were erased as
if they never existed.
Billionaire buyer David
Murdock rubbed out whole blocks of Kannapolis and on
that clean sheet is building a futuristic research facility of Georgian-style
red brick buildings. The buildings and the international workforce that is
beginning to occupy them are changing the face of this small southern town.
Tom Cabaniss, with 14 years in the pulpit of First
wanted to change the public face of his church, too. The church owns 11.5 acres
of land a half mile away, on a main drag in town, and had architectural
drawings in hand for a $20 million complex to be built in phases, including a
Then, at a staff retreat in the midst of an expository
journey through the book of Romans, Cabaniss asked: “What if we became the
place that people thought of when they thought of ministry in Kannapolis?”
That question began to drive deacon meetings, staff prayer
time, small groups and committee meetings within the church.
It also ate like a boll weevil through the extravagant plans
for a new facility and instead, prompted the church to ask the local Christian
community ministries organization what it would build for its ministry to the
area’s homeless and hungry.
First Baptist has always
sent money and people to distant lands, but they began to ask, “What if our
mission field is Midway?” — that 11.5 acres of sports fields and bare ground
the church bought in 2002. “What if God actually wanted us to ‘burst through
the bricks’ and make a difference here?” said Haven Parrott, minister of
When they considered ways to engage the community,
everything seemed to start with Midway. The fields are surrounded by easy
access highway and a transitional neighborhood of modest houses once occupied
by mill workers.
The church bought the land strictly on the basis of
opportunity and potential. They paid it off quickly and gathered their plans to
build. Then the economy hit a brick wall and the answer to their prayers was,
But “wait” didn’t mean “stand still,” and the compelling
question of ministry continued to motivate the church. For several years they
had sponsored a soccer league that developed into a comfortable, friendly,
weekly get together at the soccer field for about 85 Christian children and
“That’s not outreach,” said Cabaniss. When the coordinator
had to drop out the church went a different direction. They passed out flyers
in each elementary school — all of which are Title 1 schools with a high
percentage of poor students. The church “charged” just $5 but easily overlooked
even that “dignity fee,” and 200 rambunctious, excited children flooded the
About three dozen church members volunteered as coaches and
organizers, and other members came as cheerleaders for whatever team needed
some that day.
Long after the church had decided to scholarship the entire
program if necessary the Cannon Foundation responded with a $15,000 grant
because the six-week effort would contribute to healthy habits of children and
Participants 4 years old through fourth grade had one
practice during the week and games on Saturdays. Families received information
about the church and church members led devotions for the families. Coaches led
devotions for their teams.
A big season-ending carnival followed a recognition service
in the sanctuary. Parrott said families had to attend the service to
participate in the carnival, but the purpose was to break the barrier of
intimidation that often keeps strangers from braving entry into a large,
imposing, traditional church building.
Cabaniss said the soccer ministry gave his members a chance
to do something bigger than themselves. It connected them with people different
from themselves, gave them a chance to serve their community and helped them
grow in their own faith as they saw God at work and prayers answered in a
neglected part of town. They saw seeds planted that they intend to nurture and
to see God harvest “in His time.”
“What we do is relational,” Parrott said. “We didn’t go into
it thinking we’re doing this to get new members. We did it to be a presence in
that community, whatever that meant, but we knew it meant getting in their back
Now Parrott is the “soccer lady” in the local grocery store
and the church gets calls all the time about a new soccer season. The church is
holding three Saturday skills and devotion clinics in April.
If things progress on their current track, future soccer
teams will play in the shadow of an 11,000-sqare-foot, $1.6 million ministries
building that will serve the homeless and hungry in Kannapolis.
It will be the simple, functional building First
Baptist Church builds for others rather
than the new complex for itself it was considering. It will have a basketball
court, kitchen, a sleeping area and space for feeding and a clothes closet.
First Baptist will hold
Bible school there and have activities, “but it is such a far cry from the
really pretty building we were going to build,” Parrott said. “We will build it
for others, not for ourselves.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jameson is reporting and coordinating
special projects for ABP on an interim
basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.)
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