A lapsed Catholic’s take on 5 Charlotte megachurches

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2223
Photo by Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

Why should I apologize because God throws in crystal chandeliers, mahogany floors, and the best construction in the world?”

In the words of the infamous Jimmy Bakker, truer words have never been spoken when describing the megachurch scene in and around Charlotte. From Calvary to Team Church to any one of the 289 Elevation shopping center satellite churches, you couldn’t throw a rock in this city without hitting a baptismal pool full of the saved and a parking lot full of luxury SUVs.

As a lapsed Catholic, like the vast majority of Northerners who moved down here as a kid, this concept of church being a fun, flashy and BIG experience kept me from ever really trying out any of the dozens of churches that pop up in the area every few years. Fortunately for me, my other half happens to be a third-generation Charlottean, and as a result, my Catholic guilt and her Charlottean itch to find herself some Jesus led us to recently start seeking out a church that we could call our own.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some I tried:

Elevation Church

Broadcast location: 11701 Elevation Point Drive in Ballantyne. Find other locations here.

Pros: If you like your church-going experience to feel like you’ve just seen that “next-big-thing” band play before they became stars, this is the place to be. Their contemporary Elevation Worship band just got nominated for three top Billboard Music Awards in April. As a result, it’s not too surprising that the band and the charismatic pastors take center stage during the sermon. Also, people just seem to dress cooler at Elevation than anywhere else. Fitted jeans, a variety of piercings, new Jordans….you name it, that crowd was wearing it. Plus, the populist message from Pastor Steven Furtick is…not offensive!

Cons: If you’re concerned that the leader of your church is starting to form a cult of personality or you simply just want a bit more substance in your message, Elevation may not be the best fit for you. Congregants can be seen toting around Furtick’s published books, campus pastors at each location mimic his tone and his style, and the social media backlash for those who criticize the church can be swift and vigilant.

My final take: I felt like I walked into Kanye’s “Flashing Lights” video for an hour so…PASS.

St. Matthew Catholic Church

Location: 8015 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy.

Pros: Hey it’s a Catholic church and it’s not too far from home and it’s not even trying to be overly “progressive” or hip and…zzzzz.

Cons: I’ve never slept so well in my life.

My final take: Maybe I’m not quite ready to jump into the old school route just yet; gotta ease my way into the (baptismal) water first. With that being said, Father Hoare does lead a massive congregation that continues to grow, and while the sermon style is more traditional and formal, the church has a history in Charlotte as the primary place to go for Catholic transplants from the Northeast and the Rust Belt during the 1980s and 90s, myself included.

Disclaimer: While Catholic churches are not technically called Megachurches, this is a big Catholic church.

Central Church of God

Location: 5301 Sardis Road

Pros: It’s a traditional church with some history in the area and a sizable and diverse congregation. Pastor Livingston appears to have done a strong job building this church into the 21st century, as the Central Church of God has actually been in Charlotte since 1977, with its current primary location off of Sardis having been purchased in 1988. The emphasis on the Bible as the Word and on redemption for the people who visit has been keeping people in the seats at this new location for three decades now.

Cons: While I had planned to attend last month, I got there and suddenly decided that I was definitely going to be the only new person there and, to be fair, the actual church is a bit more consolidated than these other megachurches. I decided to make a run for it like a hero and watched a sermon from them at home online instead.

My final take: Central Church of God seems pretty nice, to be honest, but while I’m quick to critique these more “open” megachurches, I didn’t realize how appealing that sometimes can be for new people in particular. With that said, this church is fine, I am just a coward.

Church at Charlotte

Locations: 2500 Carmel Road and 855 Sam Newell Rd., Suite 100, Matthews, NC

Pros: The emphasis on service was a refreshing change of pace and the church has a much more low-key air about it than some of these other megachurches. It also happens to have a branch in the same office park that I work in, so…convenience! Since visiting, I’ve checked out the social media presence of the church and found that they really focus on connecting with the community and reaching out through service projects in particular — another plus.

Cons: The Matthews location is definitely going to have a growing presence in the community as it continues to turn into a destination neighborhood all its own. With that being said, it’s definitely a family-oriented environment, particularly at its SouthPark location, and for many young adults, this may be a choice to pursue down the road.

My final take: I can vouch that the Matthews location is nice….and did I say convenient for me? It’s both! Wooden-pallet-focused interior design, Edison lights above the seating, and a location right outside of Downtown Matthews make this a location worth checking out.

Transformation Church

Location: 8978 Charlotte Hwy., Indian Land, SC

Pros: If you want a pastor who happens to be a former NFL player (Derwin Gray), enjoy seeing Panthers and Hornets players scattered throughout the crowd, and like a friendly but hardly intrusive experience, this may be the church for you! Gray and the other pastors at the church focus on an uplifting message that can apply different passages from the Bible with daily experiences we have in our own lives in a refreshing and candid way.

Cons: No major critiques here. But on a personal note, someone in the seats behind me ate several pounds of chorizo for breakfast beforehand or had recently returned from a trip to a gastrointestinal specialist because a symphony of flatulence and stomach anguish kinda dampened the rest of the experience.

My final take: Cautiously optimistic.

At the end of the day, Transformation checked off all my “church criteria” boxes ranging from not being too pushy for new visitors to having a positive message and even encouraging people to get involved. I’m sure that every one of these churches can probably offer something similar depending on what people are looking for, and it’s always a process, rather than something that happens overnight.

While we may not be quite the holy rollers that Charlotteans once were in the heyday of the Bible Belt, there’s still a lot to gain from the many churches this city has to offer and a sense of identity and history that you just aren’t going to find waiting in line for an hour for brunch instead.

Featured photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

28 COMMENTS

  1. Hopefully one day you will realize that Church isn’t all about YOU it’s about CHRIST and bringing your praise to Him.
    Biblical truth: you will find what you focus on.

    • It seems like you may be taking this person’s viewpoints personally and making assumptions. This actually is a way to praise Jesus. By providing this information from their specific background, this has potential to reach others like them to help give an honest viewpoint of what they have been through. There are many ways to find Christ, but one way to accept Him. Be joyful that this is God’s hand directing this work so that other’s might find salvation through this as well as His work being performed through this person. We should all be encouraging to one another and be careful with admonishment.

    • Another good church in Charlotte is Revive Church located at 6621 Beatties Ford Rd. It’s a non-denominational, multi-cultural church with a welcoming atmosphere and down to earth pastor who makes the word understandable. If you need a new church home, consider joining Revive Church.

  2. If you like Matthews locations please come visit Christ Covenant on Fullwood Lane. Starts at 10:45am. The pastor is Kevin DeYoung…who started gospel coalition. I hope you’ll consider visiting this church.

    • Hi Tracy!
      Not only have I visited Christ Covenant before but I have actually been there many times. I love your church and I love the roots in Matthews that it has. In fact, if I do end up back in Matthews (like I hope) after all is said and done, I will absolutely be returning! I didn’t cover Christ Covenant since you aren’t a “mega church”, but I am a huge supporter of what you provide to the Town and what you all represent in terms of an accepting and positive base for families in the area 🙂 I’ll be back soon!

  3. As a fellow recovering Catholic (ha), I recommend you also check out the Unitarian Universalist church in Cotswold. The sermons are very introspective and tied strongly to events happening in the city. It’s a very welcoming community to the Christian faith in addition to all others. And as a mom to two young kids, their youth program seems fantastic. Good luck on your quest! I know these things take time!

    • It certainly does take time! I’m excited about your suggestion and I think I just may be there this Sunday 🙂 I like the emphasis on the Transcendentalist message in particular!

  4. Going to church isn’t about making it fit you; you aren’t God and it isn’t your Church. Stop shopping for entertainment and get back to your roots.

  5. Elevation Church is well known for its community outreach. They are also a church that consistently encourages and provides opportunities for everyone to become involved. It seems to me that from your “review” of Elevation that you were likely already looking to find things that were negative instead of attending with a true open mind. So what if their music is up for multiple Grammys…why is that a bad thing? So much more I could say but why bother?

  6. I have visited all the churches you mentioned with exception of St. Matthew Catholic (I’m not Catholic, but did attend Catholic school for 8 yrs), plus several others over a 3 yr period including Forest Hill, Grace Baptist, Carmel Baptist, Mecklenburg Community, The Gathering, King of Kings Anglican, and at least one or 2 more. I could probably write a book myself.

    Your honesty was very good, and I hope that this article will encourage folks to do the same thing. Sometimes it helps people to hear personal, truthful church experiences if they have been hurt, or felt unwelcome or alone. I do wish you had visited Central personally as I am confident there were more visitors than just you.

    Finally, without exception, my family felt welcome and had positive experiences at every church you visited. We loved some things and didn’t like others, but the experience of visiting each church more than once helped us appreciate the differences, and we were blessed to meet very diverse people doing life together. Our favorites were Church at Charlotte and Transformation Church.

    I hope readers, especially those who may have given up on church in the past, will take a step and go visit a few like you did, and go back at least one more time.

  7. I was “raised” Roman Catholic…which is why I totally understand that you really don’t know the difference between religion…and an intimate relationship with God. So I get the spiritual that you are serving up in your article. I am a REAL New Yorker(from one of the five boroughs…Brooklyn all day…everyday) and I moved to CLT in 2011. It took me six long years to find a church home…and I really did suffer because of it. Finally, my dear friend who lives in DC told me about Elevation church, I attended the Uptown campus and I knew it was home for me. First of all..all of the campus pastors do not sound like Steven and unless you have been to all 17 locations(well real New Yorkers do consider Buffalo apart of Canada and we only claim the Jets and the Giants…so there’s that) you can’t say that. If you really took the time, energy and effort to visit each campus, you would know immediately that each campus has its own DNA so to speak. Furthermore, you need to understand in the midst of your Roman Catholic swag….it is about being led by God(because after all…is not about God….oh I forgot you Catholic….nevermind) to what church you should be attending. When I lived in Brooklyn, I attended an AME church in Jamaica, Queens and never thought that I would be going to church worshiping next to white people because I thought…you have your Jesus….and I have mine but here I am….sharing the same Jesus with folks that do not look like me. So while I know that you were trying to be cute, funny and whatever in this article, you really need to take the challenge of finding a church home a little more seriously and stop being lazy with….but I forgot you Catholic.

    • I don’t think that it’s fair, or very representative of Charlotte, to admonish people who are Catholic, or from Buffalo. With that said, I definitely respect your opinion on Elevation Church but I would love to know more. Thanks for giving me your own personal experience as it sounds like you really gained a lot from it and I’d love to understand that and try and perhaps give things a new perspective!

    • Thanks for the positive feedback! I definitely am not equipped to judge any congregation. Overall it has been a positive experience 🙂

    • Perhaps? Give me some insight and I’ll be happy to try digging deeper! This was just a quick review but I’d love to hear feedback!

      • Not to speak for Dawn, when I read her comment, actually before I read the comment, I thought to myself, “If this article is about churches, why didn’t he speak on the messages at each church?” I mean, proximity, edifice aesthetics, music, etc., are nice, but church is more than the physical for most churchgoers. What was the spirit of the congregation like? Was there actual Bible teaching or was it a “feel-good” message? How active in the world did the church seem to be outside the doors?

  8. OK, I saw some of what I mentioned sprinkled throughout in a second reading, but the other stuff overshadowed the substance. It just didn’t feel like you took the search seriously. I like the idea of the article, and perhaps I’m a little biased as I have been an active congregant my whole life. Also, I’m likely a bit older than you (Gen X), and I’m married with children, so my perspective will just be different.

    • Different perspectives are always good to consider and I definitely appreciate the feedback. You certainly aren’t wrong and even as I approach 30, I’m certainly reconsidering things about my own values and what I am looking for. I’m glad you could provide me with a new look at this matter, if nothing else!

  9. Excellent article! Appreciate the insight. I’m a non-practicing Catholic who wants/needs to get back to Sunday services (I have two little boys and I think attending the right church will help provide a solid moral foundation for them). Your article will help move this process along. Thanks, buddy!

  10. Thanks for the feedback! I agree that it should have gone more in-depth. That’s something that I should have touched upon but I try to keep things as concentrated as possible for this format. I’m happy to hear a Gen X perspective either way as the Boomers and the Millennials can be a bit quick to speak before thinking 🙂

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