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Whiteland church celebrates 20th with gala

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The small group of people gathered together for the first time in the living room of a Greenwood home.

They were looking for a way to affect their community through their faith, while avoiding the denominational dogma and politics that had tainted their previous church experiences.

Their mission was to bring the people of central Indiana into a meaningful relationship with Jesus and to impact the world for the cause of Christ.

What started as a congregation of about 15 people has grown to a church of 2,500. Vineyard Community Church was founded on a principle of inclusiveness, where people of all kinds could feel welcome, from businessmen to bikers.

Members have been involved in many outreach and service activities, including distributing free bottles of water at Greenwood community events and renting space in Greenwood Park Mall and set up free gift-wrapping stands.

The group has given away free turkeys to families for Thanksgiving and dropped dollar bills on the ground for people to find.

“We’ve found that kindness is contagious. One of our core values is to show God’s love in practical ways through acts of kindness,” said Jim Bricker, senior pastor of the Vineyard. “Small things done with great love will change the world.”

Some days, teams of church members ask permission from gas stations to wash people’s windshields for free while they fill up their tank.

“There’s no strings attached. We’re not trying to get them to do anything. That would take all of the fun out of this,” Bricker said.

The focus of the church is to be culturally relevant, Bricker said. That means adapting their sermons, music and overall atmosphere to better fit with what today’s churchgoers want to experience.

Bricker often gives his sermons sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage. A full band, complete with drummer and electric guitarist, provides music. People wear jeans and T-shirts or whatever they are comfortable in.

A coffee cafe, where churchgoers can sit with their coffee at high-seated tables, is equipped with television monitors so they can watch the service broadcast live. Others sit under umbrella-laden patio tables outdoors, where another monitor lets them enjoy the service inside.

“Some people, that’s how they do church. That’s what works for them, and we want to respect that,” Bricker said.

In August, Bricker led a 100-mile motorcycle ride around central Indiana that culminated in a dinner provided for any motorcyclists who took part.

All of it is meant to make anyone feel welcome.

“That’s one of our nuances. That’s one of the things we’re good at,” said Teaka Vest, director of the Kids Zone at the church.

Mark and Melonie Collings of Whiteland have been going to the church together for five years. For them, the draw was the laid-back atmosphere but also the focus on giving.

They have taken part in the water bottle distribution at the Greenwood Freedom Festival, distributed Thanksgiving turkeys and given clothes to the church’s neediness outreach.

“One of the church’s mottoes is, ‘Small things with great love change the world.’ I’ve been a part of so many of the outreach things through the years that I’ve seen it happen, inviting people to the church and seeing their lives change,” Melonie Collings said. “I’m proud to call Vineyard my church.”

The group started meeting in a Greenwood

living room in 1993, with a regular attendance of about a dozen people. As the church grew, they moved into bigger facilities that they leased — first at St. Andrews Apartments, then to a day care center, a former racket club on the southside and what used to be Big Red Barn Skating Rink.

The group has been meeting just south of Old Town Greenwood for seven years. Though it originally housed another church, leaders completed a $2.5 million renovation to help it fit with Vineyard’s alternative feel.

But church leaders were looking further than the next place they could lease and relocate. They wanted a church of their own.

Looking for a place to expand, they purchased 52 acres off Worthsville Road, near Interstate 65. At the time, the area contained little but farms.

Water and sewer lines to handle a church had not reached that land yet, so they put off building until the church had the funds and utility infrastructure was in place.

That hasn’t happened yet. But with plans to widen Worthsville Road and build a new exit off Interstate 65, development to that area is coming. When it does, Vineyard Community Church will be the hub of that area, Bricker said.

The hope is to break ground on a new building in 2015.

The church draws members from as far away as Columbus, Avon and Greenfield. That reach likely will expand with its new location, Bricker said.

“For us, this is really affirming and evidence of God’s providence and mission for us, where we’re strategically located to have access and visibility,” he said. “It’ll change everything for us here on the southside.”

To celebrate its 20 years of existence, the church will host a community celebration on the site of the future building.

Two 50-foot-long trailers have been set up in the field on Worthsville Road where church officials envision its modern worship space. That will serve as a stage for the anniversary ceremony, live music and teaching.

Children’s games and activities for adults will be set up throughout the field. Food vendors from Flying Cupcake to Some of This, Some of That to Johnson’s BBQ Shack will serve food.

The event is open to the public, and officials hope that it serves as a bridge between its heritage and where the church is headed.

“The 20-year anniversary is a chance for us, as a church, to celebrate the lives that have been changed over the years and to look at celebrating the future,” Bricker said.

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