By Jim Nieman
On June 24, the Fairfax Christian Church family in inner-city Indianapolis celebrated their final weekend of worship together under longtime minister Tom Richason, and on July 1, the church became the newest site of Mount Pleasant Christian Church’s IMPACT Ministry.
Chris Philbeck, senior pastor of Mount Pleasant—a church of about 4,700 located in Greenwood, Ind., about a dozen miles south of Indy—says MPCC hopes to “bring renewal to this new ministry opportunity.”
Fairfax voted unanimously to transfer ownership to MPCC on Feb. 25, but no ministry changes occurred until the first of this month.
Like many urban churches, Fairfax’s attendance had been declining for years, and recently had dipped into the 20s and 30s, according to Greg Wooden, a member of the church since 2004. FCC had experienced “all of the classic struggles of an inner-city church,” Wooden wrote on Facebook: rising crime, declining neighborhood, and attendance that has been slipping gradually for 50-plus years after interstate highways arrived and people began moving to the suburbs.
But now, with this new paradigm, ministry to the neighborhood around Fairfax not only will continue, the plan is to invigorate it.
That’s exactly what the leadership of the former Fairfax Christian Church told Mount Pleasant they wanted to see happen, said Matt Goodpaster, church administrator with MPCC.
Goodpaster said FCC’s leadership recognized the 100-plus-year-old church, located at 602 N. Berwick Ave., was no longer able to carry out ministry to their neighborhood the way they wanted to, and so they discussed their situation with various Christian entities.
“Their goal was to keep an independent Christian church in the neighborhood,” Goodpaster said. “We laid out our vision,” and it turned out to be the one FCC’s leaders were most comfortable with.
“It’s been fantastic to work with such humble people who are willing to let us take the reins and do it the way we think it should be done,” Goodpaster said.
In a blog post from last November, Philbeck described the goals of MPCC’s IMPACT sites: “Once we identify communities in need we want to do three things. We want to LIVE in the community . . . , LEARN about the community and we want to LOVE the community. This isn’t the traditional multisite model embraced by most megachurches today, but it’s the model that we have embraced.”
MPCC is located about 12 miles from the Fairfax Christian Church building, which is located west of downtown Indy.
MPCC’s other IMPACT site is in Old Southside, which is immediately south of downtown Indianapolis. A building is being renovated on South Meridian Street that will house a church and various other services that will be offered there, such as food and clothing ministries. Jed Fuller serves as pastor of IMPACT Old Southside.
Fuller moved into the Old Southside neighborhood and is overseeing certain ministries (VBS and a July 4th cookout, most recently) and helping with other community programs, such as a summer feeding program for children.
A pastor for IMPACT Fairfax, meanwhile, is yet to be hired, but programming will gradually increase over the next several months, Goodpaster said. Ministers and worship leaders from among the MPCC staff began leading Sunday services at the Fairfax building on July 1.
Interestingly, MPCC’s first IMPACT operation was the IMPACT Center on the church’s Greenwood campus. It was developed because of the persistent encouragement of a church member about a dozen years ago.
Early on, the food and clothing ministry served about 150 families a week, Goodpaster said. Growth continued, so a 15,000-square-foot facility was built in the parking lot at MPCC, and it now serves 350 to 400 families.
“It opened our eyes to the need,” Goodpaster said. About three years ago, the church began discussing, “Maybe we need to go to the people in need . . . to go into the communities people were moving out of.”
Philbeck wrote that the food and clothing operation “draws hundreds of people/families onto our campus each week, giving us the opportunity to share with them the love of Christ. And the success of our IMPACT Center has caused us to expand this ministry beyond our campus and community.”
“No matter how much we plan,” Philbeck wrote, “God presents us with ministry opportunities that we didn’t expect. And those opportunities become, not just new ways to reach people and make an IMPACT, but a part of our vision as well.”
With the new IMPACT sites (Old Southside and Fairfax), and any subsequent sites, “food and clothing will be a component,” Goodpaster said, but each site’s needs will be assessed independently. “We want to meet the physical and spiritual needs in those communities,” he said.
“I am thankful that God is using Mount Pleasant to continue His ministry in this area,” wrote Wooden, the longtime member of Fairfax Christian Church. “[I] look forward to their new ministry ideas (and much needed help) and whatever role I am asked to play in this endeavor.”
Jim Nieman is managing editor of Christian Standard.