By Allison Hurtado
Aaron Story and his wife Carrie were part of the team that launched Heartland Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2001. Carrie was hired to start the church’s Adventureland Childcare, and Aaron worked to make it profitable. At the time, he was a division manager for a large company and also using his skills for the church. Then founding pastor Darryn Scheske asked Story to be his first full-time staff person.
“I really had never been part of a church. I was a believer but had come to faith when I was 26,” Story said. “After a season of genuinely praying, I agreed to come on staff. For three years I did everything from financial business to operations and systems. I didn’t preach.”
In the growing church, Story led children’s ministry for a while. In that time, God put a burden on his heart for the next generation. So he began working with high school students. Story thought he had found his calling as a high school pastor, but Scheske and Converge MidAmerica executive minister Gary Rohrmayer thought otherwise. “Have you ever thought about planting a church?” they asked.
“That is so stupid. I don’t have a Christian background,” Story remembers saying. “I was doing a lot for the church, but I never thought of church planting. Their question was something I wrestled with.”
The more he thought and prayed about it, the more he realized how much he loved the local church and what it does for the community. Story knew how important it is for churches to be healthy, but he still didn’t want to start one. He said no for a long time. Although he admits to being afraid, at the time he was too young to have a long-term fear. He caved.
“I realized that they were right,” he said. “If I wanted to do more to reach this generation besides playing kickball and talking about Jesus for a few minutes, I needed to plant a church. I had a vision of moving north to Warsaw, Indiana, to try to reach 16-24 year olds.”
He and his wife went through the church planting Assessment Center and passed with two conditions: Aaron was required to finish seminary at Moody Bible Institute and to clarify his call. At the time, 2006, Heartland was helping plant a church, Indy Metro, in downtown Indianapolis, and the team suggested Story join them to get hands-on experience.
“I grew up in rural Indiana. I knew nothing about city life, but I was at the first meeting for Indy Metro Church,” he said. "God started to expose me to urban life and raised questions in my head about how to reach the next generation. I doubted I was to go up to Warsaw anymore. Ultimately it was God's vision that I could have a bigger impact on the next generation through planting in downtown but that took a season of wrestling and an old vision dying.”
Story trusted God and took steps he didn’t have a reason behind. They sold their suburban house and moved into the city. He experienced moments of clarity that proved he was following his calling. But he still didn’t see himself at Indy Metro long-term. The only thing he knew was that God released him from Heartland. He decided to resign from Indy Metro.
“I went to resign because, although I knew I was meant to be downtown. I didn’t think it was for Indy Metro,” he said. “I told the founding pastor I would stay as long as he wanted me to. But that’s when I found out he was leaving, and the church planting leaders wanted to transition the church to me.”
After a tough transition, Story stayed. He says it took him a few years to hone in on who the church was, but people saw God’s hand in all of it. With coaching from Scheske and Rohrmayer, Story and Indy Metro made it. Its location is part of a unique situation. In the center of the city’s cultural district sits the Athenaeum. A behemoth of a building, it was built in 1893 with the purpose to advance a sound mind in a sound body. Today, it serves the original purpose, acting as the epicenter for culture and the arts. Indy Metro took up a temporary presence at the aging building; plaster falling from the ceiling was just part of its charm.
Then, despite starting a building campaign for a permanent site, staff at Indy Metro didn’t feel it was right to leave their community. Instead they did something against the norm: worked out an agreement with the Athenaeum for the next decade.
“We didn’t want to be perceived as a transient church. So we decided to stay,” Story said. “Our decision ended up being covered by the local news: ‘A church makes a long-term investment downtown.’ If you make an investment in the community, they listen.”
The church put money into improving the Athenaeum, which benefits the other tenants in the building. Shared and upgraded office space, a new theater soundboard — it is all about the community, and that includes Indianapolis teachers. In August, Indy Metro invited the teachers from the Indianapolis public school system to church and presented them with cash to help outfit their classrooms. The amount given totaled $11,250.
“We don’t just say stuff. We do it. We have a great apologetic and defense,” Story said. “We love Jesus, and we love our city. We are not just a church. We are a community partner. We invest and act like it.”