17 April, 2024

Traders Point Christian Church: 190 Years of Kingdom-Centered Service

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by | 1 March, 2024 | 3 comments

By Aaron Brockett 

Many people unfamiliar with the history of Traders Point Christian Church assume that TPCC is younger than it really is. It’s not uncommon for me to be asked, “When did you start the church?” The inquirer’s surprised look is almost predictable when I say, “Actually, our ‘launch Sunday’ was back in 1834!” This fact continues to amaze me every time I’m reminded of the history, legacy, and faithfulness of hundreds of men and women who came before us in central Indiana to make Traders Point what it is today.  

When I stop to think about all we’ve been through as a church in our nearly 200 years of history, it’s astounding. For example, we’ve been through multiple world wars, several recessions and depressions, as well as massive shifts in society and culture. I like to joke that most churches have endured only one global pandemic, but we’ve navigated at least two or three! 

The average “life cycle” of many churches is said to be roughly 40 to 50 years. That means if a church doesn’t make a concerted effort to contextualize the mission and ministry for a new, yet-to-be-reached generation, then it is at significant risk to plateau, decline, and eventually die. We see hundreds of churches reach the end of this “life cycle” every year and close their doors for the last time. Jesus warned us of this sobering possibility in his letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3.  

Traders Point has been a relatively small church for most of our existence. The past four decades of our 189 years of meeting together have brought about tremendous growth, change, and impact. When I’m asked why this is, I immediately think about the faith, boldness, and courage of so many men and women through the generations. The decisions they made and the sacrifices they willingly offered to restart the church’s “life cycle” has ensured the mission didn’t end with them. I’m so grateful for them and the DNA they’ve infused into our church.  

NECESSARY, NOT EASY 

For example, right after I was hired, one of the long-standing elders at the time took me to lunch. He’d been with the church for decades and had been in leadership through much of the initial growth. I asked him what he thought was the “turning point.”  

Early in his leadership, TPCC had a good man as their minister, he said. People liked him, but in this elder’s words, “He couldn’t preach his way out of a brown paper bag!” He said leadership made the painful decision to transition the minister to a role better suited to his giftedness. People were upset and the elders took a lot of flak for that decision. He looked at me and said, “That’s when things began to change, and we started to reach people.” Then he added, “We’ve always been willing to find the courage to do what’s necessary, not always what’s easy.”  

In many ways, the story of Traders Point is that of unsung and underrated leaders who God has used in incredible ways, who found the courage to do what’s necessary, not always what’s easy. 

For the better part of a century, Traders Point was a rural church on the outskirts of Indianapolis. The name came from an area of town where people stopped to trade goods before heading to Chicago or out West. Most of the pastors in those early days came and went, few of them serving for more than a couple of years. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the church had the size and resources to pay a full-time minister. During this time, Indianapolis was growing, inching its way closer to our church building northwest of the city. 

A NEEDED TURNING POINT 

In the late 1960s, Dave Roberts was hired as minister. Dave bucked the trend of the typical two to three years of ministry by staying and serving 14 years. In the early 1980s, Dave left to teach full time at Milligan College. He had been working on a paper for an academic degree he had just completed. In his last elders meeting, he handed them the completed paper. The thesis was on governance models for the church. (I don’t think this was a common subject in the 1980s!) It’s my understanding his last words to the elders were something along the lines of, “The city is growing toward us. If we want to reach the people coming this way, then we need to be ready for them. Part of being ready is reexamining our governance, our structure, and how we will go about accomplishing the mission in a changing environment.” 

Wow! 

The gift Dave gave to our church has never been publicly acknowledged, and it can easily be overlooked. So let me proclaim it now! Dave Robert’s 14-year tenure, as well as his foresight to challenge the elders to reexamine the structure and systems of ministry, were a turning point in the life of our church. It set us up for decades of fruitfulness when we could have been sucked into the vortex of apathy and tradition. He deserves more credit than he’s received.  

Dave may have teed things up, but God next brought the person who propelled our church toward the future we are experiencing today. 

A LEGACY OF TRUST 

Howard Brammer began his ministry at Traders Point in the early 1980s. At the time, we were a midsize (for that day) neighborhood church. “Class act” is the best way to describe Howard. His steady, pastoral, and unanxious presence impacted thousands of lives. Many of our current elders and long-tenured “members” met Jesus and/or grew exponentially in their relationship with Jesus under Howard’s ministry and direct influence. Of course, I can’t leave out his wife, Martha! If Howard was the steady bass drum, Martha was the snare drum and the cymbals! She was artistic, flamboyant, and warm. They were a dynamic ministry duo and the heartbeat of Traders Point for decades.  

The church grew at a steady and sustainable pace for the majority of his 24-plus years of ministry here. Howard gave our church consistency, faithfulness, and trust. In fact, that’s what Howard and I talked about in our very first conversation back in 2007.  

“Aaron,” he said, “never forget that trust takes years to earn and only a few moments to lose.”  

I believe the biggest reason there is such a high level of trust in leadership in our congregation is because of Howard. It’s in our DNA because of him. I’ve told him countless times, “Thank you for letting me stand on your shoulders. They trust me largely because they trusted you.” It’s a responsibility and privilege I don’t take lightly. 

During the last few years of Howard’s ministry, he led in casting a huge vision that fundamentally changed the scope of our ministry and the number of people we potentially could reach with the hope and help of the gospel. A relocation effort started that took nearly a decade to play out. After numerous closed doors, God opened the right one that featured 90-plus acres of land on the northwest side of Indianapolis. On it, the church built a 2,600-seat auditorium (the average weekend attendance at the time was around 1,600) and relocated there in April 2007. Two months later, in June, Howard announced his retirement. 

The elders contacted me that summer, and I joined the staff in November. I was 31 years old and immediately felt the weight and responsibility. What I lacked in experience, I tried to make up for in authenticity and passion. We set our focus on trying to speak to and serve those who were disconnected from or disillusioned with the church. John Stott’s classic book on preaching, Between Two Worlds, was one of the foundational works in shaping my view and understanding of the role of biblical preaching. Build a bridge from the secular to the sacred and walk people back and forth from the “text” of Scripture to the “context” of their everyday lives. By God’s grace, and in ways I don’t fully understand, we began to grow rapidly.  

Within a few years, our leadership noticed a couple of things:  

1. Our new location expanded our reach regionally.  

For years, we had largely been a neighborhood church, but our new facility sat right off I-65, a major interstate connecting Indianapolis to Chicago. As a result, we saw hundreds of people driving 30, 40, even 50 minutes to attend. 

2. We began to max out our new facility when it was only a few years old. 

For several reasons, we didn’t think the answer was to build an even bigger facility. We also wanted the people who were driving more than 20 or 30 minutes to join a group, serve, and invite their friends. That was unlikely for people driving such significant distances. Multisite was relatively new and somewhat untested as a strategy, at least for us. At the time, there weren’t many (if any) churches in central Indiana with more than one campus. We ultimately decided to decentralize by launching campus locations around the city where we already had a high concentration of people engaged in the life and mission of our church.  

In 2016, we chose to be “one church in multiple locations” and started our first campus. Today, we have six locations around the city with plans to start numbers seven and eight. Here are a few things I love about multisite: 

• We have expressions of our church in various parts of our city because we love every part of our city!  

• Every time we start a new location, we “deepen the bench.” People who were previously unengaged become engaged in the mission by serving and leading. 

• The reach of our church continues to expand. 

• Healthy things reproduce. The best way to breathe new life into aging movements is to start new things.  

When the dark, looming clouds of COVID-19 started to lift a couple of years ago, we began to ask the same question as many others, “What’s next?” Personally, my entire tenure at Traders Point up until 2020 was a rocket ship of growth and faith. I’d lie awake at night and wonder, Are our best days behind us? It was a question mainly born out of insecurity. I should have known the pandemic caught everyone but God off guard. Through that season, our leadership leaned on Ephesians 5:14: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This passage was literally a wake-up call for us to realize God wanted to do something new.  

A TIME OF AWAKENING 

In April 2022, we started working on the next two- to four-year vision for our church. We call it “Awaken.” We started gathering with small groups of people in early 2023 to share the vision and solicit feedback. Late last year we wrapped up a six-week series of messages on it, followed by the entire church making financial commitments toward what God wants to do. The response has been incredible! The stories pouring in from people who are confessing they’ve been spiritually asleep and need to be reawakened to the voice of God so that he can do something in them and through them has been inspiring. 

It feels like we’re witnessing another pivotal moment in the history of our church. It quite possibly could be a moment we’ll look back on and say that God breathed new life into our old church once again so that his work of redeeming and restoring what has been lost to sin and brokenness will continue for generations to come. The next chapter in our long history is just beginning, and I can’t wait to see where God takes us. 

Aaron Brockett serves as lead pastor with Traders Point Christian Church, with locations in and around Indianapolis.

3 Comments

  1. Bob Kitchen

    This is a great article. Impressive leadership. I hope and pray that many will read it and be encouraged to pursue innovative growth and maintain attractive, helpful programs within Biblical guidelines while avoiding psychological impediments to cogent reasoning. Looking back on my experiences as a church leader and consultant in about 5 cultures, I’ve too often said to myself, “If only we had—-“

  2. Bob Sartoris

    I would encourage you to write a follow up article detailing Dave Roberts’ thesis and the action steps which TPCC followed as a result. That will help others to assess where they are and perhaps guide them toward similar changes!

  3. David Roberts

    As I said to Aaron Brockett in thanking him for his kind words about our time at TPCC, there are many others who deserve much more recognition than I do.

    Several previous ministers laid significant groundwork for the later developments, but during our time there the Elders of the church were by far most responsible for the wonderful spirit and openness to the guidance of God which have been so evident in recent years.

    All of the growth and outreach of this current era were clearly beyond our imagination in “the old days,” but the wonderful spirit of Christ has worked wonders through that ever-renewing congregation.

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