Fit for service: Realife buys former wellness center site, plans to remodel into church

Layout of Realife Church’s new auditorium, depicted in this rendering, is meant to be similar to the layout and feel of its current auditorium, but with more seating. Image provided

GREENFIELD — Jake Hughes remembers the day he and his wife, Stephanie, first ventured into Realife Church and took a seat near the back. He remembers the man sitting nearby who introduced himself and his family, and he remembers the way the sermon resonated with him.

“The people are really inviting,” he said. “They make you feel welcome.”

Nearly seven years since that first visit, the Hugheses have seen Realife grow — so much so that the church has bought the former Family Fun and Fitness at 5151 W. U.S. 40 to remodel it as a new worship space for the church.

The church closed on the property at the end of 2020, and on Jan. 6, a volunteer crew was there doing some interior demolition on areas of the building the church plans to remodel.

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“Over these seven years, the church has grown exponentially,” said Jake Hughes, now a member of the church’s leadership advisory team. “I think having additional kids’ space will be huge. … There’s a lot of anticipation built up there.”

Lynde Smith estimates that the children’s ministry has tripled in the four years she and her family have been attending Realife. She and husband Aaron lead fourth- and fifth-graders on Sunday mornings in one of the modular classrooms south of the church’s current building at 971 W. U.S. 40 in Greenfield.

The Smiths and the four of their children still at home all attend one of Realife’s three services Sunday mornings and volunteer in various capacities during another service.

“It brings us so much joy to know that our kids are getting fed. It’s not just us,” Smith said. “(Realife Kids Pastor Shawna Banning) sees each one of my kids as a valued team member. She invests in them; she encourages them.”

Growth is happening; lead pastor Adam Detamore said more than 90 adults have taken the church’s membership class since the spring quarantine. That growth takes place, though, in a setting where leaders are making do.

“There are no bathrooms or running water on any of the mods,” the modular classrooms, Lynde Smith said. “There has to be a runner running people to the restroom and back.”

Church leaders have tried to maximize indoor and outdoor space at the current site. They’ve added a gravel area next to the parking lot and realigned the parking layout to fit more vehicles.

Hughes remembers seeing, pre-coronavirus, 50-60 cars parked at a local business down the street on Sunday mornings. Many worshiping and serving on Sunday mornings have joined the LOVE Club — Leave Our Vehicles Elsewhere — by parking offsite and riding a shuttle to the church to leave more spaces in the church lot available for visitors.

Detamore said a larger parking lot and a larger, in-building children’s space will be some of the benefits of the new site, but he hopes people will feel a similar ambiance when they enter a service there. The auditorium will be larger, but it will be laid out similarly: a flat floor with the same chair layout.

“It will not feel extravagant. I think Realife is appealing because of its authenticity and its down-to-earth feel,” Detamore said. “Our goal in moving is for it to feel exactly the same as it does now, only eliminating any of the tension points. Hopefully the atmosphere is the same.”

Having seen computerized renderings of the plan for the site, Smith thinks it will be.

“People enjoy this smaller-church feel … how intimate it is,” she said. “The new building seems to have kept the same footprint but just expanded it.”

Realife conducted a giving campaign toward a new facility that started in 2017. It had bought 17 acres at U.S. 40 and County Road 525W, roughly across the road from the fitness center site. Even after the campaign ended, and even during the 2020 coronavirus quarantine when Realife and many other churches had virtual services only, people kept giving to a future building above their usual church contributions.

“People knew we still needed a building, so people were still giving,” Detamore said.

Then, with Hancock Health moving from the site to its new wellness center at U.S. 52 and Mt. Comfort Road, the opportunity came for Realife to buy acreage at 5151 W. U.S. 40. What they bought includes the former Gem grain elevator south of the fitness center, but there are no immediate plans for it. The church will continue renting it to a farmer for now.

Construction-savvy church members are guiding a team of about 50 volunteers in demolition work, which is expected to take about five weeks. Detamore said doing demolition themselves will save the church about $250,000. Since the coronavirus has prompted so much uncertainty about timetables, there is no stated projection on when the church will occupy the site.

Detamore said church leaders considered the cost of site work at the 525W property, and then constructing a new 27,000-square-feet building for $5.5 million, what the price would have been several years ago. Compared to buying a larger facility — 45,000 square feet for the church, plus 40,000 square feet of gym space in the back — and then renovating the site, for a total $7.5 million, it made sense to do the latter.

Realife’s congregation gave about $250,000 in a recent Christmas offering, Hughes said, before the church closed on the property. Smith said her family, including her children, were motivated to contribute.

“(Detamore) talked about how the greatest gift that someone ever gave me was that they invested in a church that opened up a seat for me to fill,” she said.

“Our family invested in someone that will fill that seat and whose life will be changed. … That’s what that new building means to me — that there are more seats for more people for their lives to be changed.”