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Forest Hills Wesleyan Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

By It is difficult to find the “good” when a church burns to the ground, but a spark of hope glowed from the charred remains of the 60-year-old sanctuary of Forest Hills Wesleyan Church in Evansville, Indiana.

The first blessing was that no one was injured. It was a close call.

During the early morning hours of January 2, 2011, when an electrical problem sparked a fire in the basement and spread throughout the church, the building was empty. The church had planned a youth retreat for that very weekend, but plans were changed just a few weeks earlier. Had the fire erupted when the church was filled with people, the outcome would have been far more tragic.

The other mixed blessing was that church leadership was aware that its building was aging and that renovating was likely the only option. 

“The old church was built on a site that had very poor soil conditions, and, as a result, major structural issues had developed over the years,” said Dan Carter, project developer for Kinetic Professional Church Builders, a firm based in southwest Indiana. “The ministry realized this was a serious problem and committed to build a new state-of-the-art facility. However, after several years of fundraising, they were still years away from being capable of funding a new building program.”

The fire, however, put those plans on the fast-track.

The fire had so devastated the building that the church had no choice but to level what was left of it. They decided the new building should be built in the same place.

In the interim, worship services and other church events would be held in the gymnasium, which is located in a separate building across the street and was untouched by the fire.

Church leadership decided to have multiple contractors and church builders complete the project.

“A scope of work and project budget was developed by the owner, but each contractor was free to develop their own architectural design,” Carter said.

An overwhelming congregational vote selected Kinteic for best design and value. Kinetic’s plan involved a new traditional-style building with modern-day amenities.

The 16,000-square-foot plan would house a sanctuary with 330-seat capacity. Much discussion focused on whether to slope the floor toward the sanctuary. When church leadership opted to have pews instead of chairs, sloped floors were chosen for improved line-of-sight to the platform and pulpit.

The plans also called for state-of-the-art audio and video technology.

“An emphasis on sound and quality performance was established early in the project development,” Carter explained. “A line array speaker system was selected for even sound distribution, and a subwoofer bunker was recessed into the platform steps in an effort to de-clutter the space.”

The building would also have a large foyer, four staff offices, ten classrooms, a nursery, choir room, cry room a nurses’ station, and a covered, drive-through canopy.

Because the old structure was completely destroyed, the building’s exterior offered a new palate.

“The (new building’s) exterior design is traditional in form utilizing an octagon-shaped roof at the sanctuary,” Carter said. “The pastor pulpit is directly beneath the steeple that adorns the peak of the roof structure and can be seen easily from the surrounding neighborhood.”

An interior designer was also hired to work alongside a church design committee to develop color schemes and carpet selections.

One year after the fire devastated the old Forest Hills Wesleyan Church building, the church welcomed members and guests into its new building.

“This sure is a lot better day than it was a year ago,” Senior Pastor Mike Stoelting told followers the day the steeple was placed atop the new building. “We’ve reached a milestone, haven’t we?”

Kinetic Professional Church Builders is established to help the thriving faith community in southwestern Indiana expand ministry spaces by use of the design/build process. The firm partners with local churches and provides design and construction solutions that align with ministry vision and goals, www.faithspaces.com.

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