CELEBRATING GROWTH

Daily Reporter staff writer

INDIANAPOLIS — When a work relocation brought Steve Butler and his family to New Palestine in 2009, they began looking for a church.

A couple of years in, they had been attending church but still hadn’t found what felt like quite the right fit. But a friendship between first-graders soon changed that.

One of Butler’s daughters had a friend at Sugar Creek Elementary School whose father was the youth pastor at Church52 Family Worship Center, a congregation meeting on Brookville Road not far from the Hancock-Marion county line.

“We decided to try Church52 because she would at least feel comfortable in the youth ministry, since she had a friend there,” Butler wrote in an email. “After the first service we attended, we decided we didn’t need to try other churches, because the experience was fantastic.”

Church52 began in 2007, meeting each Sunday at the Harrison College campus on Brookville Road. In 2009, the congregation moved to a storefront in the Brookville Shoppes, also on U.S. 52 with a parking lot east of the college.

Last month, the church expanded into a larger portion of the shopping center and plans to celebrate this step with a community event, C52 Fest, from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot at 8220 Brookville Road.

The Rev. Perry Meade, the church’s lead pastor, said the expansion nearly tripled the facility in size, taking the church from 5,400 square feet to 16,000 square feet.

Since that expansion in mid July, “We have already grown (by word of mouth and experience) over 100 people weekly on Sunday worship experiences,” Meade wrote in an email.

The expansion into an eastern storefront made for some musical chairs in the center. Now the Hot Heads hair salon and a nail salon with spa are next door to each other, with a Pizza Doughmain in between them and the church.

Meade’s wife, Melissa Meade, said it seems to have been a good fit for all tenants because the hair and nail salons refer customers to each other. Also, when Hot Heads was next door to the church, the church tried to be sensitive with its music during Wednesday evening services; now, at the other end of the strip, the hair salon has a quieter setting.

Inside the church’s space, expansion meant the former sanctuary could be split, making more room for the church’s children’s ministry.

“The children’s ministry is really what triggered the overall expansion,” Melissa Meade said. “We needed more room for kids.”

The move also gives the church a 500-seat auditorium, quite a change from the small group years ago loading and unloading equipment for services each week at the college.

“We started with 14, and now we’re averaging 450,” Melissa Meade said.

Of those 450, she said some are driving from as far as Fishers, Martinsville, Shelbyville, Westfield and Knightstown. Some are closer, from Franklin Township or New Palestine.

New Palestine was an original target area for the church, part of the Assemblies of God, which Perry Meade describes not as a denomination but as a “cooperative fellowship” of churches.

But the congregation struggled to find land there. It continues to have a presence in the community, though. Perry Meade has sung the national anthem for a New Palestine High School boys basketball game, for example, and the church has supported the New Palestine High School athletics department.

The church still owns land on the south side of U.S. 52, between Kitley Road and Carroll Road, the Hancock-Marion county line. But instead of building there now, the storefront expansion “just seemed like for this phase of our church the best money spent,” Melissa Meade said. “We just felt it was better stewardship. …We’re trying very hard to not put debt on the church.

“We know that we need to be outside the church reaching the community.”

With that desire to reach out in mind, the church began planning the C52 Fest.

After services at 9 and 11 a.m., new service times that begin Sunday, the family-oriented festival will begin in the parking lot at 1 p.m.

It will feature live music, rock climbing, bounce houses and a visit from Silly Safaris, an educational program with live animal. Food vendors will sell concessions, but all other attractions are free. Neighborhood businesses have also been offered free booth space to promote their work.

The grand reopening open house should have “almost like a carnival feel without the rides,” Melissa Meade said.

Church leaders are hoping the expansion and the festival will allow the church to introduce — or reintroduce — itself to people looking for a church.

“Our goal is to continue to reach people and the community through effective tangible ministry and community evangelism,” Perry Meade wrote.

Butler, now a member of the church’s deacon board, said he hopes people will try the church he found so welcoming and spirit-filled years ago.

“The church is a very unified church body, is not judgmental and understands the struggles everyone goes through …,” he wrote. “This is not a church were you will get showered with ‘religion.’ Rather, you will encounter a holistic, relational experience where worship, prayer, discipleship and growth in your faith is paramount.”

C52 Fest

Date: Sunday, Aug. 16

Time: 1 to 4 p.m.

Place: Church52 parking lot, 8220 Brookville Road

Features: free family activities such as rock climbing and bounce houses, live music, informational booths by nearby businesses, food vendors