MT. COMFORT — One church was inviting people, but it’s mall location was making some would-be visitors hesitate.
Another church had an ample facility, but it was praying for a solution to better make use of it and welcome in more people from the community.
Now, leaders of both churches say they have each found a solution by having both churches’ services under the same roof.
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In early December, the Movie Theater Church moved from the Washington Square Mall space where it had met for six years and began having services at 3179 N. County Road 600 W, also the address of Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church.
“We have a beautiful facility that we really weren’t making the best use of,” said Tim Waymire, a member of the Mt. Comfort congregation.
That idea also was voiced in 2016, when Mt. Comfort embarked on the Fruitful Congregation Journey, a program that leads United Methodist churches through reflection on their ministry of years past and strategic planning for ministry in the future.
After interviews with members and visits from consultants, the Mt. Comfort congregation received three recommendations in November 2016 for charting its course. One of them was to invite another church to share its building.
In months following, a Fruitful Congregation Journey prayer team has met regularly at the church, asking for guidance about how to move forward.
“We just knew that we needed something that would get more people into the building and more of the community to recognize that they were there,” said Kathie Petty, a Mt. Comfort member and part of the transition team for the churches sharing the building. “When this opportunity was put into our laps, more or less, we kind of said, ‘How can we say no? It’s just what we’ve been asking for.’
“The prayer team itself felt like it was an answer to their prayers.”
The arrangement met needs for the Movie Theater Church, too, said the Rev. Ethan Maple, pastor of the church that turns 10 years old in March. It began meeting in a movie theater and later a funeral home’s community life center before settling at the mall site.
“(It) no longer provided us with the partnership we needed to fulfill our mission,” Maple said. “Our congregation was feeling less safe. We began to realize it was this millstone tied around our neck. …
“Ultimately, Movie Theater Church was at a point that this was going to happen or we were going to close our doors.”
Leaders at the United Methodist Church’s district level brought the pastors together and facilitated discussions between the two churches.
“This is a fairly new type of ministry that allows two unique congregations to take advantage of one space,” the Rev. James Bushfield, superintendent of Indiana’s Central District, wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “Mt. Comfort has exceptional facilities and were glad to welcome MTC into space not normally used on Sunday morning.
We have a theme we’ve used in Indiana that says ‘together we are more.’ That is a good summary of this new relationship.”
Denominational leaders also offered grants to each church for signage and other transition-related costs.
Movie Theater Church changed its service time to match Mt. Comfort’s 10:30 a.m. start. Mt. Comfort changed locks to a few rooms to carve out office space and storage areas for the Movie Theater Church leadership.
The Mt. Comfort congregation — which in 2018 marks 130 years of ministry — gathers in the sanctuary for a traditional service. It has a choir and handbells, while the Movie Theater Church offers a contemporary service with a worship band in the building’s gymnasium.
Before both services, it’s common for members of the churches to mingle, share refreshments and get to know each other.
The Rev. Alex Stone, pastor of Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church, said the arrangement also has been a good fit for multigenerational families whose members may favor different worship formats and can find them in a single location.
“We have people from the same family, some that come to Mt. Comfort and some who go to Movie Theater Church,” Stone said.
There are other ways the churches complement each other. Mt. Comfort offers Christian education classes before its service that Movie Theater Church members can attend. Movie Theater Church has a children’s worship going on during its service that welcomes any Mt. Comfort youth who want to come while their parents are in the traditional service. Petty said a Mt. Comfort youth has enjoyed helping out with Movie Theater Church preschoolers.
But both churches hope their collaboration can extend beyond Sunday mornings. Youth of both churches had a Christmas party together in December. Earlier, when Mt. Comfort made plans for a fall hayride, Movie Theater Church members asked if they could help. Both churches say more than 300 people came to the event, most of them from the community.
Movie Theater Church wasn’t meeting at the site yet, but “it was the one thing that pushed both churches to see this could be an amazing partnership,” Maple said.
“The possibilities are just limitless,” Stone said, also noting discussion of future events would take place this week.
Dana Voelkel, a former Mt. Comfort member who’s been part of Movie Theater Church for about seven years, thinks the churches will be effective ministering together.
“Sometimes there’s just strength in numbers,” Voelkel said. “I’m very, very happy with the direction we’re going.
“This is not a merger; it’s a partnership. We’re just utilizing each other’s strengths.”