Chris Dortch did not want to coast.
Sure, he’s at an age when many men look more for security than new adventures. He and his wife, Cheryl, have a married son, and they recently became grandparents.
Yet there they are in Mooresville, N.C., planting a new church.
For a pastor, some would say that’s like a trapeze artist working without a net. And even with financial support assured, it’s hard work. Add constant visitation and marketing to a pastor’s usual preaching and member care, and long hours are inevitable.
Dortch took time from his mostly frantic schedule and sat on a bench outside the YMCA in Mooresville to talk about the great church planting adventure he and Cheryl are smack in the middle of.
Both of them are from Kentucky. They moved to North Carolina in 2002 when Dortch accepted the position of student pastor at Christ Community Church in Huntersville, where he served for 13 years.
Dortch says he was twice called. First, he says he was called to the area.
“God doesn’t just call you to a church, but also to a community,” Dortch said. “I’ve grown to love this community and I still feel called here.
“We’ve developed roots here. This has become home,” Dortch says, indicating the Lake Norman area that lies along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte. It has been a boom area for years, mostly affluent, exploding with new housing developments, shops and the like.
Along with his call to a place, Dorthc also received a call to plant a new church.
“I’ve been in ministry since 1993, so I had an idea of what it takes to plant a church,” he says.
Christ Community Church helped plant many churches and Dortch was on hand to see the daunting process.
“I knew not to pursue planting a church without a clear call to do it,” he says.
The Dortches went through 40 days of prayer in which they asked God to show them the way forward. His answer came that they were to plant a new church in Mooresville.
Then, God provided a number of proofs that He was in the adventure. For example, Cheryl thought she might find a job teaching.
But this was in March, not the time teaching slots are usually open. During those 40 days of prayer, an assistant principal position came open, a job she had held before.
“She’s now serving as assistant principal. That’s a huge blessing — one we did not see coming,” Dortch says with a smile.
When Dortch told others about the call to church planting, one couple immediately gave them a sizable contribution to help with the transition.
“I’m not surprised God is calling you. We want to be involved in something that is kingdom-focused,” the man told Dortch.
Church friends, family members and others affirmed the call to plant a new church.
“Things just lined up. I knew it would not be easy, but we did have a clear call,” Dortch recalls.
“We want to be a church where the Great Commandment and the Great Commission come together. That’s a grace point.”
Help from many
As the Dortches prepared their move, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Church Planting team provided him more training and financial support, plus ongoing coaching to deal with issues. Dortch joined more than 100 other church planters the convention supports, using funds that North Carolina Baptists provide through the Cooperative Program and the North Carolina Missions Offering.
The Mooresville area is a huge missions challenge.
“A lot of times we talk about reaching the down-and-outs, but there are lots of people here who are ‘up-and-in,’” Dortch says. “About 280,000 people live around Lake Norman, and two-thirds of them do not identify with any local church. It is a pocket of lostness,” he explains.
Dortch uses Lake Norman as part of the new church’s address.
The Baptist state convention has identified 250 pockets of lostness across the state, where high percentages of the residents have no church connection and are most likely lost and without a relationship with Christ.
Dortch marveled at how Mooresville has grown.
“In 1990, about 9,000 people lived in Mooresville,” he says. “Now there are 90,000 people living here. And there are more than 60,000 people in Mooresville alone who are trying to navigate this culture without a church.”
Many people once active in a church have become disconnected from it, Dortch says, and they will require a different kind of outreach.
Dortch leaned forward on the bench as he emphasized that he is not criticizing local churches. Many area churches are growing, he says, and working hard to reach people. But there are just not enough churches to reach the high population numbers.
One leading pastor in the area told Dortch he was glad to see new churches planted.
“There’s too much need. We’re not here to compete, but to reach the lost,” he told Dortch.
The new church Dortch has planted is called Grace Point.
“We want to be a church where the Great Commandment and the Great Commission come together. That’s a grace point,” he explains.
Grace Point started with two families and prayer.
They held their first service in a rented movie theater. That first Sunday two visitors came in looking for a new church, because the church they had been part of had ceased to operate. They had been praying for a new church — the old one had been meeting in the YMCA.
That day, they found one in Grace Point.
Dortch soon arranged to meet at the YMCA, well-positioned near large housing developments full of families.
Numbers have grown because of the church’s constant outreach efforts, including knocking on doors, mailing postcards, focused prayer and a heavy emphasis on social media. Interestingly, they found yard signs to be very effective in telling people about the church.
“All those things are helpful, but the best results come from one-on-one conversations,” Dortch said.
They prayed for people to share Christ with. Dortch says he called a repairman to his house and the man was there for a while before Dortch realized that the man was an answer to prayer. Dortch got up and started talking to him about Jesus.
“We have to keep our eyes open so we can have gospel conversations with people,” Dortch says.
The coronavirus pandemic was a blow to Grace Point.
They had ordered thousands of printed door hangers for home visitation. Those hangers had to be thrown away, because suddenly home visitation was not possible.
Later they were able to resume worship services on the lawn outside the YMCA building — and now are meeting inside.
In these early days of life, Grace Point is still more hope and prayer than a growing church. Dortch knows the great adventure has far to go.
Much more work is ahead.
But Dortch does not plan on coasting — you can only coast downhill. He is determined that this new church will go up and up and up.