One Chapel Liberty Hill seeks to bless community through church services, outreach
By Rachel Madison
For the last four months, One Chapel Liberty Hill has been hosting church services near downtown, but it’s the journey behind the church’s opening that really sets it apart.
Pastor Andrew Fortner and his wife, Karen, have been in ministry for more than two decades, primarily in Texas and Missouri. The two met while attending Baylor University in Waco, and after they married, they served as youth pastors for a couple of years in Marshall. The couple then moved back to Waco where they were associate pastors for about five years, and then they moved to Kansas City, Mo., where they started their first church.
The couple served there for seven years before moving back to Texas, where they started attending One Chapel in Southwest Austin. One Chapel also has campuses in Kyle and Lake Travis, and the Fortners felt called to start a fourth campus in Liberty Hill after realizing how many people in the area drove the 30 minutes to Southwest Austin for church.
“We were members there for about four years, and then just served there as volunteers, and we just really loved that church family,” Andrew Fortner said. “The mission of One Chapel is they eventually want to have 10 campuses all over the Austin area.”
Through the process of participating in several small groups outside of church services at One Chapel, the Fortners started to get to know people in Liberty Hill, Leander and Cedar Park.
“We have a discipleship group called Catalyst that we started in Cedar Park, and about the same time we started that group, a small group called Front Yard Friday started here in town,” Andrew Fortner said. “Once a month on Friday night, we get together for fun and fellowship. There were about 40 people at the first one, and one month we had up to 80 people. It was a shock to see so many people, and that’s when we realized this was more than just a small group.”
One month for Front Yard Friday, one of the lead pastors of One Chapel came to Liberty Hill for the event but ended up getting lost and wound up in what is now One Chapel Liberty Hill’s parking lot.
“The church had a for sale sign on it,” Andrew Fortner said. “That’s when this all came together. We realized we have 80 people here in Liberty Hill at this small group, we have a vision to plant new campuses throughout Austin, and there’s this cute old church house up for sale. Why couldn’t this be a new church?”
Things moved quickly after that. One Chapel purchased the building and closed on it in May 2019. From then until September 2019, when the church officially opened, major renovations occurred to get the church up and running.
“We got in here and saw the potential, but we knew it needed work,” Andrew Fortner said. “It’s a 90-year-old building. Fellowship Church had owned it but hadn’t used it for a while. They had rented it to another church, so we knew it had some good bones. We had this idea. Between the three existing campuses we had a lot of people, so we decided to have some work days where everyone would come and work on the building. It was like ‘Fixer Upper’ church version.”
As the Fortners and other members of One Chapel worked on renovating the building, they found several issues, like a lack of insulation in the walls and structural issues with the second floor, as well as the need for a complete asbestos remediation.
“What was going to be about four weekends of work turned into every day for three months,” Andrew Fortner said. “I spent a lot of late nights here, but many people did. We found some cool stuff. It was like an archeological dig. We started jackhammering the concrete steps and underneath one layer we started to find stones that looked different. They were tombstones. One of them was from 1891 and the other was from 1888. I think they were used as filler. And on a wall in the sanctuary, we peeled back paneling and there was shiplap. On the shiplap, there was a handmade poster still attached to the wall that had newspaper clippings of missionaries from all over the world. Somebody had written this poster for the church people to see. I don’t know how old it is, but one of the dates is 1948.”
The Fortners agree that the building was a lot of work, but it ultimately made their One Chapel family closer.
“We had some construction folks from other One Chapel campuses who came to help us, some who are new to the church and new to their walk with God,” Andrew Fortner said. “As we worked with them, we were able to talk and get to know them. We were working on a building to be a place in the community where people can gather to worship God, but that’s not really what we were doing. We were building people.”
Andrew Fortner said everything they do in their church is designed around the idea of helping people move from where they’re at to where God wants them to be.
“We always say three words: presence, relationship and mission,” he added. “Everything we do on Sunday morning is about being in God’s presence. Worship, songs, prayers, reading the Bible. Relationship is the idea that church should feel like a family. We do a lot of small groups so people can lean into each other and be real. Mission is the idea that we can’t just look inward. We have to look outward and care about the community. We have to be intentional in loving one another, so we look for ways we can be outside the walls of the church in practical ways.”
One Chapel Liberty Hill has Sunday morning services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. People of all ages are invited, and three groups for children based on age are also available during the services. The church also has several small groups for men, women and teens, some of which focus on the Bible and others that are just for fun, Karen Fortner said.
“We feel like you can do a small group around any idea,” Andrew Fortner said. “We actually have a group of guys meeting and watching sci-fi movies and talking about them. The idea is simple: We need to hang out and get to know each other.”
The Fortners also plan on hosting a monthly community brunch starting the first Sunday in April.
“We will be cooking free food for the community just because—there will be no strings attached,” Karen Fortner said. “As a church we can do these things to bless the community. We are always looking for ways to bless those in our community, from taking Girl Scout cookies to the staff at Liberty Hill Elementary to finding ways to bless our first responders.”
Overall, Andrew Fortner said he and his wife are excited about the future of One Chapel Liberty Hill, and they feel like they’re right where they need to be.
“We like to start new churches,” Andrew Fortner said. “It’s fun to gather a group of people around the vision of a new church and start a new community. It’s a lot of hard work but we love it. We’ve seen God do so many amazing things in such a short time.”
One Chapel Liberty Hill is located at 811 Loop 332. For more information, call (512) 729-6200 or visit onechapel.com/liberty-hill.