The suspect, who was linked to a pair of armed robberies, later was shot and killed by a police officer in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center.
"I felt he thought I was an easy mark to get some money," Pastor Larry James of the South End Presbyterian Church told Fox 46. "When he said he was going to kill me, I said, 'Not today!' I never believed that was going to happen."
The suspect, identified as 32-year-old Michael Daniel Kelley, reportedly rang a doorbell to the church before he encountered the pastor, and asked about becoming a Christian.
James said the two prayed together, but as they walked out, "He turned to me with the box knife, and said, 'I will kill you, give me the money, give me your telephone, give me your car and your keys.'"
So, the pastor said he fought back.
"I looked at him and didn't know what his intentions were. I wanted to hit him with my right hand, but the way he was positioned, if I would've swung, he might have cut me. So I got my left hand, and I popped him in the jaw real good."
James received treatment at the scene to cuts in his face; Kelley took off.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the suspect later robbed a Family Dollar store. Once police rushed to that scene, the man ran toward one officer and ignored his commands, prompting the police shooting, a department statement said.
The statement also said investigators recovered a knife at the scene of the shooting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.