Classical learning: Advent Lutheran Church in Zionsville expands elementary school program


What began as a plan to expand a preschool program into elementary school options has grown exponentially for Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zionsville.

Now, with its second year in the books, the elementary school is planning for additional growth at 11250 N. Michigan Rd., on the border of Zionsville and Carmel.

Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church opened its elementary school in 2022 with a combined first- and second-grade classroom. Prior to that, the church hosted preschool and kindergarten classes for more than two decades.

“Starting a private school on the Carmel-Zionsville border is a bit of an undertaking, because people tend to move up here for the high-quality public schools,” school board chair Keith Mundrick said. “But we think we offer a product that exceeds those and is Christ-centered and offers classical education, which is not something you can get in Zionsville or Carmel public schools. It’s really an in-demand educational model that kind of goes back to the basics.”

Mundrick said classical education is a model of teaching that emphasizes critical thinking, logic, reason, the study of classic literature, history, and philosophy and the development of moral character within its curriculum.

At Advent Lutheran, the expansion into elementary school in 2022-23 included only five students in a combined first and second grade classroom. But interest in the school led to an increase in the last academic year, with 15 students in the 2023-24 from first through sixth grade. Enrollment for 2024-25 is at 30 students.

“We’re seeing huge demand,” Mundrick said. “We’re in the middle of a capital campaign to expand our school facility.”

The expansion will add 30,000 square feet on 20 acres east of the church and school. Pastor Marcus Mackay said the intention has always been to build a school to complement the church.

“We had a feasibility study, a committee that met and got the school started, they raised a lot of that initial money,” Mackay said. “Now we only have one classroom left that is empty. So, as we continue to grow, we’re going to be out of space within two years. Thus, the capital campaign.”

The expansion is expected to cost $7 million. So far, the capital campaign has raised $3 million. Church leaders said they are debt-free and want to limit the amount of debt they incur during expansion.

Lutheran school is the second-largest private, parochial system in the United States behind Catholic schools. Mackay said Advent Lutheran is the first Lutheran church to open a school program on the northside of Indianapolis.

“We recognized a void in this area, and obviously a lot of Lutherans and other Christians who desire not just an excellent education, but also one that is Christian,” Mackay said. “The classical side is just a bonus. When we look at what our curriculum is going to look like, methodology for teaching, really what we’re doing is returning back to how Lutheran education really started.”

Parents said the curriculum means exposure for their children to classical literature such as “The Hobbit” and “Treasure Island,” which influences the children’s imaginations and their ability to narrate and follow the contours of a story.

“The teachers are careful with the details of a classical education with teaching penmanship, spelling and phonics but also give the kids plenty of space to explore nature and build friendships with time outside,” said Jill Duck, whose daughter recently finished first grade. “My daughter grew leaps and bounds in the ability to recite and memorize. She also took huge steps forward in mathematics.”

Kelly Porter, whose son will enter third grade in the fall, echoed those sentiments.

“Advent has given our son — and our family — a balance and a peace we didn’t have in previous schools,” Porter said. “Instead of centering technology, Advent centers Christian teaching, being outdoors, building community, and reading great stories, all things that have built up our son’s character and his love of learning.”

Mackay said the plan is to be able to build and open the additional space by fall 2026. The school also plans to stay small — capping each classroom at 10 students.

Advent Lutheran School ended the 2023-24 school year with three classrooms: a combined first and second grade; a combined third and fourth grade; and a combined fifth and sixth grade. The school also continues to operate its popular preschool program.

“The need is there,” Mackay said.

Church officials said the long-term goal would be to eventually have a high school on-site. But for now, plans for expansion include a gymnasium and around 12 classrooms to serve first through sixth grade.

The school hopes to break ground on that addition in 2025.

For more on the church’s expansion plans and the capital campaign, visit


Advent Lutheran Church has roughly 300 households in the congregation and has seen a 15 percent increase of congregants over the past several years. But Pastor Marcus Mackay said the available education at Advent Lutheran is not limited to members of the congregation, or even to Lutherans.

“We place a really strong emphasis on the role of the parents and the family,” Mackay said. “We don’t see what we’re doing here as trying to usurp or tell the parents the what, the why and the how, but rather to work with them and facilitate that.”

The school program is open to anyone seeking a classical education. Mackay said the only caveat for those who are not Lutheran or even Christian is to know that religion is part of the program.

Advent Lutheran School is accredited as a Lutheran School and a Classical School through the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education and the Lutheran Education Association, both recognized by the Indiana State Board of Education.

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