Missionary Focus: Church plant reaching South St. Louis

By Tobin Perry

“ST. LOUIS – Murders had become too frequent in the south St. Louis neighborhood of Tower Grove East, where August Gate church meets. Neighbors were fed up—including a few August Gate members who led a Gospel Community small group in the neighborhood. When those members called the church to see if the 3-year-old Southern Baptist church plant could help, Community Pastor Todd Genteman urged them to get involved.

You’re the Gospel Community in the neighborhood. You should do something,” Genteman reminded them.

So they did. The Gospel Community group organized a pancake breakfast at the church, bringing in community leaders, business leaders and residents to start a conversation about change. Organizers thought 10 to 20 might show up, but more than 100 did.

The event echoed what the church plant’s lead pastor, Noah Oldham, has been teaching. For August Gate members, Gospel Community groups play a critical role in living out the teaching that every member is a missionary. These neighborhood-based small groups commit to learning the Bible, being a family and living on mission together.

“We want the vast majority of our congregation to be living on mission,” said Oldham, who also serves as the North American Mission Board city missionary for Send North America: St. Louis. “God calls us to be missionaries in particular places.”

Oldham is part of a growing team of church planters in St. Louis with a passion for pushing back lostness in the city through Send North America: St. Louis. St. Louis has just one SBC church for every 7,880 people.

Oldham first began to sense God’s call to plant a church as a college student in Southern Illinois. Seeing students his age walk away from church without ever engaging the gospel concerned him for his generation. Even as he served as a student minister—a ministry he loved—after graduation, he couldn’t escape where God was moving him.

“As my wife and I began to pray about this burden. He called us to move to the city to reach the unchurched and de-churched people in their 20s and 30s,” Oldham said

Oldham talked and prayed with two other nearby friends that had a similar passion. Together the three men and families formed the team that would eventually become August Gate.

After spending a year as an intern at a young church plant in St. Charles, Mo., Oldham and his family moved to inner-city St. Louis. Eventually, the other team members joined them, as the team focused on one particular neighborhood in the city.

“We really took the angle that seminaries and Bible colleges often take when teaching foreign missionaries,” Oldham said. “We went in as learners

A Lutheran church allowed Oldham to use an abandoned elementary school they owned for the church—called August Gate— to meet in on a regular basis. In time the Lutheran school could no longer hold the young church.

At first Oldham and the other church leaders struggled to find another affordable meeting place—until their local Southern Baptist association pointed them toward a nearby building that needed much repair. A leaky roof, inoperable boilers and a flooded basement were just the start.

But Southern Baptists throughout North America came to St. Louis to help the young church in the summer of 2012. August Gate provided the parts needed for the repairs. Volunteers brought their time and expertise.

“It’s what the Cooperative Program is all about,” Oldham said. “Churches that wanted to help us get the gospel to our city came to serve St. Louis, fix our building and help us become a better hub for ministry.”

Both because of the upgraded facilities and the leadership that was catching a vision for missional living, the church began to grow even more. On Easter of 2011 the church had about 100 in attendance. That number had tripled on Easter 2012.

“That happened because we had a space that was ours,” Oldham said. “We became a hub for the community. Every time we held a work project at the church and in the community we met our neighbors and served our neighbors.”

Last year August Gate also planted its first church across the Mississippi River in Illinois. That church now has about 80 in attendance on a typical Sunday.

To watch a video about Oldham and his ministry in St. Louis, visit namb.net/video/empty-on-the-inside. For more information about Send North America: St. Louis and to find out where new churches in the city are needed, visit namb.net/stlouis.

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

Published January 15, 2013