Were they screenwriters, they would never have scripted it this way. Yet looking back, they find comfort in how the story turned out.
Members of the former North Eastwood Christian Church in Indianapolis have found a new church home by being enfolded into Community Christian Church in New Palestine. In each other, the two congregations seem to have found what fills the gaps for each of them. Together, the united Community Christian Church feels renewed and excited about future ministry.
North Eastwood didn’t originally seek to merge. It was simply looking for the next chapter in a journey that began in the 1920s.
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In the early 1970s, the former Brightwood Christian Church bought 13 acres in the 9000 block of East 30th Street. With two neighborhoods taking shape nearby, the site seemed like a good fit when the congregation moved from the Brightwood area and became known as North Eastwood Christian Church.
But one of the expected neighborhoods was not built, instead becoming an industrial site. The other neighborhood was built, but there was no road making a direct connection to the church. They were close as the crow flies, but the motor route was a circuitous one.
Still, North Eastwood grew over the decades that followed, welcoming Lawrence Christian Church in a 1990 merger, building a new activity center in 1999 and organizing a thriving youth sports ministry. But over the next 10 years or so, numbers dwindled, said Chris Walden, and it became more difficult for a smaller congregation to afford to stay in its large building.
The church still was having events and trying to reach out, said Chris Campbell.
“We just felt we weren’t being effective,” she said. “Despite our best efforts, we weren’t making much progress.”
In 2013, the congregation voted to sell the building. The plan was to plant a new church. With members in the New Palestine area, the church looked here, Walden said.
Then North Eastwood’s minister, Mickey Strong, moved to Idaho and became an admissions counselor at Boise Bible College. Without a minister, the group no longer felt able to plant a church and began seeking opportunities to merge with another church.
“We sort of felt that was the writing on the wall from God,” Walden said.
Meanwhile, Community Christian was trying to carry out its calling, said minister Todd Beale, but it was difficult for the small church to do all it hoped to in the community. There were also to-do list items at the facility at 3123 S. County Road 500W that remained unfinished.
North Eastwood members began visiting area churches in smaller groups, letting them know they were taking notes and pondering the best fit for merging. As they talked to Community Christian, they found unity in shared beliefs.
“They were the most like us,” Walden said. “People felt very comfortable going there.”
A final North Eastwood service on 30th Street featured a video devotional from Strong. He urged them not to have regrets but to look for the new thing God is doing.
That service was followed the next Sunday by a unity service with God’s Grace Community Church, which bought the building.
God’s Grace was excited about moving in. Community Christian was excited about welcoming new people. Amid that joy, the North Eastwood members felt the bittersweetness of the moment.
“The members of Community just opened their arms to us,” Campbell said, adding it felt like being enveloped by Christ’s love.
At home in the Community Christian congregation, these newest members said they would watch for a while, after navigating the sale and the move. But before long, they began pitching in. Electricians who had once attended North Eastwood fixed some wiring in their new church home. Funds left from the building sale helped repave the parking lot in New Palestine.
On the horizon: Hiring an associate minister to work with youth. The blending continues. Community Christian has taken on a couple more missionaries to support, ones North Eastwood supported. Women are participating in a secret sister program, once popular at North Eastwood, that this time around has matched a longtime Community Christian member with a transplant member to pray for each other and send cards. More elders and trustees have been named, with North Eastwood people among those appointments.
Families have gathered for dinner — two from each congregation — to get to know their new fellow church members. Beale remembers days when maybe four or five people gathered around the fire pit outside the church. Now, there may be 20 or more people show up, and that’s fun, he said.
“When they came in and brought that extra energy and extra people, it just blew everything off … (and) gave us the energy to start pushing again,” he said. Walden also sees the possibilities to minister better together than they could have separately.
“I think that you’re going to see more of a local impact,” he said. “You’ll definitely hear much more from our little church.”
Campbell looks back at the journey. Had North Eastwood decided upfront to merge, she and others probably would have felt resistance to that and maybe even dispersed here and there to other churches. For a season, the plan of planting a church kept them together. God knew their hearts, she says, and how to bring them to this place together.
“I think that’s a testimony to the fact that everything was meant to be,” she said.
1922: The Rev. B.L. Allen calls among residents of the Brightwood area of Indianapolis to gauge interest in starting a Church of Christ.
1923: The first meeting of Brightwood Church of Christ takes place Jan. 7 in the Red Men’s Hall at Sherman Drive and 29th Street.
1924: The church buys a lot at 2826 N. Denny St. and builds a 28-by-40-feet building for $1,600.
1936: The church buys two lots at the northeast corner of Station and 28th streets in Indianapolis and is renamed Brightwood Christian Church.
1971: The church sells its building to buy 13 acres at 9425 E. 30 St.
1971-1973: The church meets at Ransburg YMCA, 501 N. Shortridge Road, while a new building is built. Having moved from Brightwood, the church has a contest to rename the church. The winning name is North Eastwood Christian Church.
1985: Ground is broken on a new 400-seat sanctuary.
1990: Lawrence Christian Church merges with North Eastwood. Ministers of both churches remain until Lawrence pastor Paul Lubbers retires in 1991.
1999: Ground is broken for a new activity center with a gym, youth classrooms and a preschool daycare.
2013: The congregation votes to sell the building.
2016: God’s Grace Community Church closes on the building, and a group of remaining North Eastwood members become part of Community Christian Church in New Palestine.
The joining of North Eastwood Christian Church with Community Christian Church in New Palestine is one of several merges that have happened in the past year.
Also in New Palestine, Water’s Edge Baptist Church merged with New Palestine Bible Church. The churches began worshiping together in August 2015. A few years ago, New Faith Community Church had also joined with the Bible church.
In September 2015, First Church of God in Greenfield became part of New Life Christian Fellowship in Fortville.