Finding God in the Unexpected
By Ryan Carrell
For the past few months in the life of our very young church plant, The Southeast Project, we have been meeting one time each month for preview services at Fireside Brewhouse, a local restaurant in southeast Indianapolis. We began a relationship with the restaurant about five months ago as we were looking for a place to have an information meeting where we could share with potential team members our vision for this new church in southeast Indianapolis, Indiana.
However, as I started to think about our vision of reaching people who had stopped going to church and our goal of creating a safe place to come back to, I realized the potential of meeting at Fireside not only for an information meeting but also for our preview services. As I spoke with the manager, Amy, and shared our vision for this new church, she became excited and supportive of this vision, and said she would be willing to work with us. She allowed us to reconfigure the banquet room, bring in a band, hang a banner out front, and be the host to the first worship experience of The Southeast Project. The cost would be $150 for the one-day, Sunday, rental of this space.
Throughout the next few weeks I shared with my coach my vision for our first preview event. Our vision was to create a safe place where people who had stopped going to church would feel comfortable coming back to church. With that in mind, we realized the benefit of creating this event less as rental of a facility and more as a collaboration with Fireside Brewhouse. We called the evening on December 18 “A Fireside Christmas presented by The Southeast Project” and were granted permission to place a coupon for the restaurant on our invite cards.
That evening, in addition to our sixteen launch team members, we had forty-two guests attend our first preview service. We created a comfortable, fun atmosphere with a live band, snowmaking machines, and classic Christmas carols (albeit a little louder than the norm).
The next week I came into the restaurant to pay the rental fee and to thank Amy for allowing us to use the facility. It was a goal of ours to be as gracious as possible. After all, we were guests of their business. The evening of the event we gave iTunes gift cards to all of the employees to personally thank them for dealing with us all day as we took over a large portion of their restaurant. Amy was just as thankful to us as we were to her. I reminded her that I hadn’t received a rental invoice and I will never forget what she said next, “You aren’t getting one. You guys never have to pay for renting our space.” She told me that the evening of our preview service the restaurant brought in $4,000 more than their average Sunday and, in fact, that money had kept the restaurant in the black for the year.
Amy then invited me to attend a networking event for local businesses. At the networking event she introduced me, and The Southeast Project, to a room full of Southside business people and shared how great it was to work with a church, and praised the kindness and graciousness of our team (something as a leader I will never forget). We made many contacts that day, but beyond that, I realized that the biggest champion for our church wasn’t a launch team member, it wasn’t a staff person, it wasn’t even me. The biggest champion of our new church was a self-described part-time Catholic manager of a local brewhouse!
Since that week we have had two more previews. Our February service was the final preview at Fireside. While we love the location and the people there, we have the great problem that we need more space. Our move across the street to the Hilton Garden Inn will quadruple our space and enable us to create our full children’s ministry environment, a necessity since 0–8 years of age is the largest population group in our target area.
I try to be or eat at the restaurant at least once a week. I recently realized I was a regular as I sat with friends and didn’t have to order. I know the names of the waitresses, managers, and bartenders. In some ways, I think of Fireside Brewhouse as part of The Southeast Project.
After our final preview I sat and talked with Scottie, the night manager, and Amy. We all lamented the reality of our final preview service there and celebrated the necessity of moving to a bigger location. I shared with them that we want to continue to have dinners and other events at the restaurant. We dreamed together about having Financial Peace University, Alpha, or Theology on Tap in their bar. Amy reminded me that she would always be there to help us out. Some people might think the $4,000 dollars that they made had something to do with that, but then she said, “I want to help you out because you guys are doing something amazing.”
I learned some things along the way in my journey with Fireside Brewhouse. I realized how easy it is to miss God’s favor in our lives and in our churches. It would have been easy to simply think of our relationship with the restaurant as a business transaction. We often recognize the doors that God opens for us, but I also realize that when those doors open, we can’t just come busting through. In today’s world, it is essential to develop true, authentic relationships with people in our sphere of influence. I am so thankful for our relationships at Fireside and pray that each and every person in that restaurant will see our God through my life and the lives of our team.
Sometimes we just simply go through the motions and we miss the amazing ways that God is working in our lives and in our ministries. I am a pastor’s kid, and I know that God doesn’t just work in church plants; God is seeking for all of our churches to have an impact in our communities.
Are we creating places where God will do incredible things in our midst? Are we looking for him to move and do something amazing? Are we finding the place where he is and joining him there? Are we ready and willing to have people we wouldn’t expect become the biggest champions of our churches?
Ryan Carrell is the pastor of Southeast Project, a church plant in central Indiana.