Church ready for building upgrades

Five years after opening in a former elementary school, a Center Grove area church needs more space and wants to make sure no one mistakes how the building is being used.

The church still looks mostly like a school. That’s about to change.

Southland Community Church is planning a two-phase expansion, which will make more space for the church to continue to grow. The building, which formerly housed West Grove Elementary School, will start to look more like a church, senior pastor Steve Schellin said.

“When we’ve talked to people, they thought we’re just renting, setting up on weekends. We’ve been using it for years, but people say it doesn’t look like a church,” he said.

The church uses all the space in the 68,000-square-foot building, including the 32 classrooms. That will continue. The construction project will expand the building, Schellin said.

In the first phase of the project, which the church hopes to begin this year and finish by Christmas 2016, a 26,000-square-foot sanctuary, cafe and 400-space parking lot will be added.

The second phase, which the church will not do until the first $4.5 million phase is paid off, will include adding an indoor playground and offices and renovating the current sanctuary to be used as a youth ministry, Schellin said.

The project would not need special approval, since the land already is zoned for a church, but it would need approvals and permits for the construction plans. The church is seeking approval for site work, including the larger parking lot and doing other drainage and landscaping preparation for the addition, county planning engineer Allen Kirk said.

Since opening six years ago with Sunday services in a school gymnasium, Southland Community Church has grown to an average 450 people at weekend services. The current sanctuary, which formerly was used as the school’s cafeteria and gymnasium, seats about 420, Schellin said.

Families sometimes struggle to find a place to sit, and the auditorium always looks full, he said.

The new sanctuary, which would be added to the west side of the building, would seat 700 and could be expanded for 1,200, he said.

A cafe would be added as part of the new sanctuary. The addition would more than triple the current library space that is being used as a cafe, making room to seat more than 500 for gatherings, he said.

The current parking lot is almost always full during services.

Expansion is necessary in order to keep growing, Schellin said.

“When you reach a certain percentage of capacity, you flatten out. We’re not there yet, but we know that is coming,” he said.

The church began renting the building on Smith Valley Road, east of State Road 37, in 2010. Two years ago, the church bought it and the property for $670,000, which was paid off within a year by members of the church.

Since then, the church has grown to use the entire building for church offices, a preschool and day care that uses 10 classrooms, a ministry for adults with developmental challenges and a counseling ministry. Other groups also use the building, including the Men’s Southside Bible Study Fellowship, which uses the entire building Tuesday nights, and White River Home Educators, which uses the building as its host church, he said.

“Essentially, we use every bit of this building all the time,” Schellin said.

The church already has raised $2.2 million in a fundraising campaign for the first phase of the project and hopes to have the full project paid off in the next five to six years and start on phase two.

That second phase will include another addition to the east side of the building, which would double the office space and add an indoor playground for the children’s ministry. The church also would renovate the current sanctuary for the growing youth ministry.

The goal is to continue to grow in the community and offer families lots of space to gather and grow programs, Schellin said.

“We can communicate to the community that we are here to stay and we want to have a ministry for families,” he said.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2718.