When Mark Braun and a group of other elders from South Louisville Christian Church met with elders from Southeast Christian Church in July to discuss the possibility of becoming a Southeast campus, he had one question: Why?
Why would Southeast want to come to an urban neighborhood where homeless people sleep nearby? Where not so “churchy” stuff happens?
Southeast Senior Pastor Kyle Idleman spoke up: “You just answered your own question. That’s exactly why we want to come here because we love those people.”
Before the meeting, Braun, who is chairman of South Louisville’s board of elders, thought there was no way South Louisville would join the Southeast family. After the meeting, he was convinced the idea to merge with Southeast was “providential.”
“It was obvious God was moving,” Braun said. “About a year ago, the South Louisville elders started praying harder than we normally did about how to reach our community. We found out that about the same time, the elders at Southeast were praying how to reach the urban community in that area.”
Prayer and more conversations continued in the months that followed, and on Sept. 13, the congregation of South Louisville Christian Church voted to become Southeast’s South Louisville Campus.
“May we all be united in praying that God will continue to build His church throughout South Louisville’s communities,” Idleman said. “We’re eager to share the hope and love of Jesus with everyone, meeting them right where they are, one person at a time.”
South Louisville will continue to meet at its building at 3845 Southern Parkway near Churchill Downs.
In a way, South Louisville and Southeast have come full circle.
South Louisville planted Southeast in 1962 when Pastor Olin Hay sent out 53 South Louisville members to start a church in an elementary school in southeastern Jefferson County.
South Louisville’s senior pastor left the church in June, and Family Pastor Brian Campbell has been serving as interim pastor. Before COVID-19, weekly attendance was about 125.
South Louisville’s launch date and campus pastor will be determined at a later date.
“It’s exciting to think about what could happen in our neighborhood,” Braun added. “South Louisville for 118 years has done a lot of good things, and now we are looking forward to doing great things through Christ.”
Joe Douthitt has been a member of South Louisville for 44 years and serves as an elder.
He said several area churches have moved to the suburbs over the years, but South Louisville did not give in to the temptation to move.
“We decided that we would stay there,” Douthitt said. “We felt like South Louisville needed a Christian Church.”
The church offers outreaches to the neighborhood such as Wednesday night community dinners and a food bank.
“It makes a difference when you get to know the homeless population,” he said.
Douthitt added that merging with Southeast will give the church more people and resources for outreach.
“I’m excited about the possibilities,” Douthitt said. “A good number of Southeast members already live in the neighborhood and have a heart for it. It’s like living on a mission trip. The community comes to you.”
Years ago, Douthitt used to sail a 20-foot sailboat on the Ohio River, and he compared sailing to how the wind of the Holy Spirit is moving at South Louisville Church.
“As a sailor, you have to be ready for the wind when it comes or you’ll miss it,” he said. “Suddenly, we have the hands on deck to raise the sails for the old sailing ship to carry South Louisville back out to sea.”
South Louisville history
Olin Hay became pastor of South Louisville in 1942 while the church of 600 was meeting in the basement of what would become the new sanctuary.
South Louisville’s Women’s Ministry had raised money to help purchase the land about a decade earlier.
Under Hay’s leadership, the sanctuary was completed, and the church grew to 800. South Louisville began planting churches in a time when planting churches was a new concept.
South Louisville helped purchase land and sent out a group of its members in 1952 to plant Shively Christian Church. In 1956, it helped purchase land and sent out another group of members to plant Okolona Christian Church.
Southeast Christian Church was South Louisville’s third church plant. Most Christian Churches in the Louisville area have some tie to South Louisville.
“It is amazing to look at the heritage and how many daughter and granddaughter churches we have,” Braun said.