Spiritual Entrepreneurship

Hamilton County Churches seek opportunities to serve our growing population

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

Hamilton County is on population growth steroids.  You probably know this unless you live in a cave, and if it’s a cave in Hamilton County, it’s probably a nice one.  It’s the fastest growing county in Indiana according to recent census statistics, and is projected to be second only to Marion County within a couple of decades.  That growth is not only in people and the businesses that serve them but also in churches. 

A count of “religious bodies” and their number of congregations from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) finds there are 190 congregations in Hamilton County.  This ranges from the Catholic Church with eight congregations and a total of 40,251 congregants to Zoroastrian with one lonely member who must meet in his own garage since there are zero congregations listed. 

While those churches are all shapes and sizes, many of them are huge.  On one short stretch heading east from Highway 37 to just past Olio Road in Fishers there are eight, and at least two of them are building bigger structures or additional campuses. 

 The Same Team

Among them is the non-denominational Heartland Church, which was started in Fishers in 2001 by Pastor Darryn Scheske, and now has four locations, three in Hamilton County, including the original at 96th and Hague Road. 

Heartland COO Tom Branum says in a business environment we might be at a saturation point, but churches are different.  “There are a lot of people who identify as a person of faith but they don’t go to church.  Even though there looks to be a lot of seats, there’s still a mass number of people who aren’t there,” he says, adding that Heartland, like other churches, makes room for returning churchgoers and first timers, as well as new people coming to the area.

Branum says there isn’t a competition among churches.  “It’s not that people are adding churches and saying ‘well the only place to get people is from other churches’.  That wouldn’t make any sense.  We’re all on the same team, so to speak.  Our objective is to see how we can better serve our community.”

The fact that Hamilton County has the highest per household income in the state had no bearing on the decision to establish here, Branum says.  He notes that there is a lot of need in Hamilton County.  “I can only speak for Heartland, but there are lots of churches out there trying to be more than just a set of walls with chairs inside.  We work really hard in our community to support the projects and needs that have been identified here and all our members are looking to see how they can make a difference and reach out in the community.  And not with strings attached but with just the wish to be of value and make our community a better place.”

Branum says Heartland gives back to the community at least ten percent of its budget every year.   “We have a very generous church.  Hamilton County I believe is a very generous place.  But I don’t think we are naïve people that give to a church because it’s there.  It has to be doing something of value.  And I think that is what is happening.”

Mega Churches

Grace Church, another non-denominational church, with two of its three campuses in Hamilton County, could be defined as a “mega church” with weekly attendance of four to six thousand people.  Senior Director of Communications Tyler Bender says the church has an active outreach program with the Care Center at the campus on 146th street in Noblesville providing about 600 families a week with food, referrals for jobs, and educational programs, to mention just a few services. 

He says his church recently did research in the community and found there was still great need.  “There is still much work to be done in terms of offering ministry to people who need it, serving the poor (even in Hamilton County!), and helping people understand they were made for more,” he says.

Northview Christian Life Church first held services in 1980 and now has seven campuses around the state, including three in Hamilton County; one of them the imposing hilltop campus at the corner of Hazel Dell Parkway and Main Street in Carmel.  Another non-denominational mega church, Northview has average weekly attendance of around 9000 people.  Communications Pastor Lauren Wright says it’s not surprising there are so many churches in the county.  “Hamilton County is an area with many families and rapid growth. It makes sense that a lot of churches would want to be in places where there is growth, in a family-oriented community.”

Mental Health

One of the most stunning church buildings in Hamilton County is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Indianapolis Temple which opened in 2012 at 116th and Spring Mill Road in Carmel.  Jeanelle Adamak, the Indiana Area Public Affairs Director, says the temple is not a meetinghouse like a church but, rather, serves congregations in Indiana and Champagne, Illinois.  She says many factors played into the decision to build the temple in Hamilton County, including central location for the 40.000 members who utilize the temple, available acreage and accessibility.  There are six Mormon congregations in Hamilton County and Adamak says they have seen growth in recent years.  “We have seen great support for our church and members,” she says.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness thinks the growth of the religious community is just a natural progression of the population in Fishers and Carmel and all of Hamilton County.  “A lot of these churches might have started here back in the ‘90’s and are now reaching such a size from a congregation perspective that they’re needing to expand and grow.  We’re seeing a number of those whether it’s Grace, Heartland, iTown; those are all churches that really have grown,” he says adding that others may have been in Marion County and wanted to start branches in Hamilton County for the very same reason, which is that there are a lot of people here. 

Mayor Fadness says he thinks having a strong faith community is positive for many reasons.  “They can continue to be very helpful on the mental health front and which a number of them have stepped forward and been active participants in those initiatives.  But it also helps stability in the sense of communities.  People who have connections to their faith community, I think that’s a healthy part of one’s lifestyle and I think it also helps to foster a greater sense of community as a whole,” he says adding, “In general, I’m excited to have a strong and vibrant faith community here in Fishers.