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‘Nothing is impossible with Jesus’ is growing church’s vow

EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press will release a feature story on each church on the itinerary of the national bus tour of Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP)–A young couple had separated. Hurt and disillusioned, the husband sought comfort one Sunday morning at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte.

His wife also had made her way to the church, where neither previously had set foot. But by the time the invitation ended, both had made professions of faith. They saw each other at the altar; their relationship was restored even before they were baptized.

“Nothing is impossible with Jesus,” pastor Joe Brown said. “That’s what we believe here at Hickory Grove.”

The North Carolina church, which was born in a dairy barn in 1955, was one of two stops on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour Aug. 30. Hickory Grove now spans two locations in Mecklenburg County.

Welch conceived of a national initiative as a means of generating a sense of urgency about evangelism among Southern Baptists. The bus tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

At Hickory Grove, about 7,000 people attend five services each week at the church’s two locations and about 5,000 participate in Sunday school.

So far this year, about 350 people have been baptized at the church –- and an estimated 6,700 since Brown was called as Hickory Grove’s pastor 20 years ago.

“I consider myself a spokesman for the people who are not saved,” Brown said. “If I don’t tell our people that those who aren’t saved need to be prayed for and loved, who’s going to?

“There’s unbelievable new growth in this area, including a lot of people moving to the U.S. for the first time,” the pastor continued. “We go from unbelievable wealth to unbelievable poverty; from degrees in English to those who don’t speak a word of English. What do we do for them? We stand up and preach, go out and knock on doors, welcome them and love them.”

Hickory Grove gives about $350,000 a year to Southern Baptist mission endeavors through the Cooperative Program while also budgeting about $1 million for local missions involvement.

“The big challenge is keeping Christ in the forefront and not becoming institutionalized,” Brown said. “You’ve got to continue to reach out and at the same time you’ve got to minister to the body of Christ. That’s part of the mission of the church, but you can’t become so focused on ministering to the needs, wants and desires of the body that you forget about the disenfranchised.”

Hickory Grove’s multiple ministries include Hearts and Hammers, a group of about 500 men who provide construction-related ministry in the area on a weekly basis. They might build a wheelchair ramp, paint a house, install new electrical components or whatever is needed for those without the means to do it themselves.

Other volunteers offer oil changes and diagnostic examinations of single women’s vehicles needing repair, while others –- using the FAITH strategy of evangelism through the Sunday School — help at a downtown soup kitchen, crisis pregnancy center and several other ministries.

The church’s outreach also includes a counseling ministry, local Hispanic and Brazilian congregations and Hickory Grove Christian Academy, which has expanded to 1,097 students in K-12 since its founding in 1995.

Several building projects –- together priced at about $4 million –- are in varying stages of completion. An additional 8.7 acres was purchased for Hickory Grove’s main campus; a children’s educational building recently was completed there. At the north campus, a multipurpose building the size of three basketball courts is expected to be completed in November. It was designed to be used for worship, recreation and fellowship. Overall, the church campuses encompass about 175 acres.

“Our north campus is right in the middle of a booming area,” Brown said. “And because of the completion of the 485 Beltway, a lot of areas near the main campus are starting to develop.

“The north campus is in the second-largest area for tourism dollars in North Carolina, because of a major mall and a NASCAR speedway,” the pastor continued. “We have to devise strategies for the families who are moving there.”

Probably the greatest community need at both campuses is daycare, a challenge the church is working on, Brown said.

“We have to at the main campus continue to define our vision and our ability to meet the needs of the surrounding community,” the pastor said. “And our north campus is not yet a complete facility. We’re going to have to build a permanent worship center there.”

The purpose of the construction is to better meet people’s needs, Brown said.

“This is where people can meet God,” Brown said. “They might meet Him in a sermon, a song, a child’s smile. Maybe it will be in a prayer room or a Sunday School class. Everything at Hickory Grove is designed –- and our whole purpose for existing –- is to have a place where people can come to meet God.”