Dathouse: Innovative Approach Invests in Community, Fosters Flourishing
By Carl Stagner
The Bates-Hendricks neighborhood of Indianapolis is home for Pastor Brandon Mott, but it’s also home to an innovative ministry that’s intentionally investing in community—and the community at hand. Though Meridian Church of God is where you’ll find Brandon leading worship on Sunday mornings, you’ll discover his true sanctuary for worship is among neighbors, out on the street or at a park, in a coffee shop or at a Laundromat—especially at a place simply known as Dathouse.
The Dathouse website paints a broad stroke of what the unique ministry outpost not far from downtown is all about: “Our goal is to be leaders in healthy community development, and it is in this spirit that we operate the Lincoln Center, which includes an after-school kids program, various community-business developments (such as Lincoln Lane Coffee Company, Dat Laundry, and The Loft), and a variety of other programs.”
Pastor Brandon believes it to be his main ministry, but it’s not a church—at least not in the traditional sense. “We are a group of believers that does community work and encourages folks to join faith communities where they feel most at home. For me, that’s Meridian Church of God. But we have various community partners and staff who are a part of a broad range of faith communities across the city.”
Through these community assets, people connect with resources they need—for example, the laundry facility, which closed the gap following the closure of the former local business which provided that service. They’re offered inexpensive access to services and goods. They’re given a hand-up and leaders to walk alongside them with opportunities to grow leadership skills themselves. Families find friends, and dreamers find space to dream. Isolation is replaced with the hospitality of home for all, regardless of hurt or hangup. Through practical, everyday servant leadership, Pastor Brandon and those he’s recruited to come alongside him demonstrate God’s love way beyond Sunday morning—and Sunday settings.
“In the summer of 2006, I, along with Derek Abner, one of the other co-founders of Dathouse, were working on youth staff together at Meridian Church of God,” Brandon recalls. “We had been friends for a long time and were both feeling pulled to do a different type of ministry, one that would emphasize daily community involvement, loving and caring for our actual physical neighbors, and learning what it meant to live in a more deeply interconnected way. In 2007 Derek and his wife moved into the community we are still a part of and began Dathouse. My wife and I didn’t officially move in until I graduated from Anderson University in 2009, but were involved with the startup and some special events from the beginning.”
The name of the ministry, while certainly attention-grabbing for its uniqueness, is very important to the mission. “Dathouse is an acronym that Derek created,” Brandon explains. “We wanted something to call the house, which we all lived in communally at the beginning. The D.A.T. stands for three Greek words from the New Testament—Doulos (servant), Agape (love), and Tapeinoo (humility). Our model was inspired loosely by Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way, although we’ve always been quite a bit different. No one had heard of “Bates-Hendricks” at that time, and we didn’t necessarily choose that location specifically. We just knew we wanted to be near downtown and preferred the southside, as that’s where we were from. In 2010, after we began doing more and more in the community, we decided it was time to become more formalized, thus the beginning of our official status as a 501c3 not-for-profit.”
When asked how God has shaped Pastor Brandon’s heart for stepping out into the unknown to accomplish the dream God had given the two young men, he responds with introspection. “I think humility and grace are my two biggest lessons through it,” he says. “Learning that I’m not that great, and that’s okay. The primary way I see God at work in my heart and our ministry is simply by inspiring others, including myself, to become the best version of themselves. It has been such a joy to gather in community and share joy and struggle together, to deeply care about each other over a long span of time, and to try to spur one another on to be better. None of us takes the position of being better than the other, but rather with humility and good-listening skills, we simply try to build each other up, offering grace wherever needed.”
Brandon’s prayer for Dathouse going forward is that it would never be about him. He wants it to be about others, and prays that the Lord would help the accomplishments result from community working together, building bridges, and forging healthy relationships.
But asked about replication in other places, Brandon sees overarching principles—not specific methodology—as the way forward for those with likeminded hearts.
“I do not think Dathouse could be replicated exactly,” he explains. “I do, however, believe there are ideals, values, and concepts that could be carried by other communities. Being good listeners would be chief among them. Being humble is another. Having grace is a must. I think that our success has been in growing slowly, and leaning on community members who are passionate about the work they do. Forcing things to happen almost never works. Longevity is the key. We have been in this community for over fifteen years now, and I feel like we’re just getting started.”
Feature (top) photo: Brandon Mott (center) stands with staff.