FORTVILLE — There’s a new church headed for downtown Fortville, and its members arrive deeply grateful for a gesture of support from what some might consider an unlikely ally — another church on the same block.
Gateway Community Church plans to launch a Fortville campus on downtown Main Street.
Gateway, a United Methodist church at 7551 Oaklandon Road in Indianapolis, plans to offer a casual, contemporary service at 5:30 p.m. Sundays at 115 N. Main St. in Fortville.
Matt Lipan, Gateway’s lead pastor, said the gatherings will have a “coffeehouse feel” with chairs, tall tables here and there and a coffee bar. Children’s classes and childcare for the youngest attendees will be set up downstairs.
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Lipan is hoping the new Gateway site will be an accessible place for people who work on Sunday mornings, would like to sleep in on Sunday, and/or are new to church. He wants people to feel welcome to show up as they are.
“Life is messy, and we invite people to bring their mess, and we trust Jesus to show up in the mess,” Lipan said.
The building at 115 N. Main is owned by the established United Methodist church in town — Fortville United Methodist Church, which sits around the corner at 125 E. Staat St.
The Main Street structure was built in 1917 as one of the last Carnegie libraries in Indiana. It housed a public library until 1986, when Fortville-Vernon Township Public Library moved to its current site on Broadway.
Years later, a member of Fortville United Methodist owned the structure at 115 N. Main. After the parishioner died, the family approached the church about buying the site, said Loren Johnson, a Fortville United Methodist trustee.
The church bought the building, using it for a few youth meetings or as a backup site for activities when the church’s fellowship hall was already in use, Johnson said. A food pantry operates weekly out of the lower level of the building, and representatives from both churches said they anticipate it will remain.
In recent years, as restaurants, shops and other signs of revitalization have come to downtown Fortville, buyers have approached Fortville United Methodist about the building, Johnson said. Johnson had begun to think the church should sell to one of them.
But in November, Lipan approached the Rev. Dr. Joe Smith, pastor at Fortville United Methodist. Lipan listened to Smith tell about the church’s current mission and work, which in recent years has included weekly summer hot dog lunches for children in the park next door.
During that conversation, Lipan also shared Gateway’s vision to launch a Fortville campus. Though Smith could have seen Lipan as a competitor, Lipan said he found Smith receptive, with Smith inviting him to talk to church leaders.
Johnson admits he was originally opposed to letting Gateway use 115 N. Main. He thought his church should sell the building and “get out of the real-estate business.” But somewhere along the way, he made a 180-degree turn: With neighborhoods taking shape at the town’s edge and young families coming to Fortville, Johnson sensed that for some of them, Gateway’s format might be appealing.
“Young people today don’t care for traditional church,” Johnson said. “I feel the way (Lipan) is going to approach this would be a good way for the young families of the area to get their children into church.”
The change of heart was so deep, it’s hard for Johnson to get the word out sometimes. But it was deeply encouraging to Lipan, who distinctly remembers the moment in a meeting when Johnson voiced his support for letting Gateway use the building.
“I felt like in that moment, (he) changed the dynamic of the conversation,” Lipan said. “I like to think Loren was willing to hear God’s voice.”
Smith called the relationship between the Fortville and Gateway churches a collegial one, one that’s a new opportunity for ministry and outreach.
“This is just an experimental venture to see if we can reach new people with a contemporary format,” Smith said, “and see where the Lord might lead us.”
On Sunday mornings, about 200 people attend one of the two morning services at Gateway’s Indianapolis location. Some of them have helped straighten the space on Main Street and apply a fresh coat of paint inside, but Lipan has not recruited a group from that congregation to “seed” Gateway’s Fortville campus.
Lipan envisions a church of people from the community, who perhaps after attending a 5:30 p.m. service head down the street to eat dinner at one of downtown Fortville’s restaurants. Such moments, plus the open house set for 5:30 p.m. April 23, will be chances to learn more about the community and ways the church can serve it.
“We want to be a part of the community,” Lipan said. “We are not making any assumptions that we know the needs of the community.”
Gateway Community Church’s Fortville campus will launch with an open house at 5:30 p.m. April 23 at 115 N. Main St. Parking is available behind the building in the parking lot of Fortville United Methodist Church.
The church’s vision, as stated on its website, is “Living life together, learning to be like Christ, to love like Christ.”
Learn more about the church at gatewayindy.org/fortville.