Covenant Community Church is like a partnership.

Apr. 23, 2013 @ 01:46 PM

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on storefront churches.

Wednesday Bible study at Covenant Community Church resembles a family reunion. People greet each other with hugs and linger after it’s over to talk about the kids, the new job and jury duty.

Apostle John Lofton stands out only because of his lime green button-down shirt. The pastor commands respect but rarely uses the raised platform up front and engages church members by offering transparent glimpses into his own life. He makes people laugh — a lot — but most importantly, they say, they are spiritually fed.

Member Richard Benton grew up Baptist, but got away from church until Covenant. He’s growing in his relationship with God and has prayed with people outside of church. “I never would have done that before,” he said.

Covenant, a nondenominational congregation, has about 100 members, called “partners.”

“Everyone has a part to play in helping the church go to the next level,” deacon and church administrator Takeeta Rogers said.

Latika Harris, 33, of Charlotte, serves as a greeter. She owns a salon and said Lofton’s wife, a client, invited her to church. Harris eventually went and committed her life to Christ.

“There’s a realness here. … My life has changed a lot,” she said, evident in her music and reading material at work.

Like Latika, most partners are local, but some have longer commutes. Benton and his family drive about an hour from Rock Hill, S.C.

Benton, an IT manager for Ally Financial, heard about Covenant through word of mouth. Others find out about it through invitation cards from partners, or because they see the church while shopping nearby. Covenant is part of Union Towne Center in Indian Trail, in front of Lowe’s off U.S. Highway 74. The shopping center includes a marketplace, tile store and piano outlet.

Lofton sits in a modern office neatly decorated by a partner who’s an interior decorator. She also helped decorate the colorful sanctuary. Again, everyone plays a part.

“When you give your heart to Jesus, don’t leave your brains outside the door,” Lofton said. “Bring your brains and your education and your people skills and your experiences.”

Covenant has mostly black, but also white and Hispanic partners of all ages. Most are married. Sunday services go “from 10 to whenever,” Benton said, typically lasting a couple of hours. Tuesday is prayer night, and events for youth are ongoing.

Covenant started with three people meeting in Lofton’s home. When attendance increased, Lofton and his wife, Elaine, moved meetings to Country Inn and Suites in Stallings. They later leased a building, but outgrew it four years later. The current location opened in 2007.

“We want to build our own church,” Lofton said. But not the traditional kind. “I don’t want just a church with a steeple that you come to on Sundays and Wednesdays. I want more of a community center where there’s activity going on all the time.”

Lofton plans to stay in Indian Trail. In five years, he sees Covenant having English and Spanish ministries and afterschool programs to teach leadership skills and biblical values. Covenant already tutors students and leads college campus tours.

“It’s easy to have the big church and then you have the big head. So we stay humble here,” Lofton said. “I see Covenant Community Church making a huge impact, but more in the shadows.”

Lofton, a former Marine and project manager for Bank of America, said he wants corporate people at church, but also the homeless. Partners will soon start visiting nursing homes and nearby neighborhoods, offering prayer and encouragement.