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Community groups fuel church plant’s mission

ST. LOUIS (BP) — Murders had become too frequent in the south St. Louis neighborhood where August Gate church meets.

Neighbors were fed up — including a few August Gate members who were leading a small group in the church’s Tower Grove East neighborhood. When they called to ask the three-year-old Southern Baptist church plant for help, August Gate community pastor Todd Genteman urged the young adults to get involved.

“You’re the Gospel Community in the neighborhood,” Genteman said, referencing the name by which the small group is known. “You should do something.”

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 people might show up, but more than 100 did.

The outreach echoed what the church plant’s lead pastor, Noah Oldham, has been teaching to the church which draws its name, figuratively meaning “harvest the city,” from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. 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 coordinator for Send North America: St. Louis. “God calls us to be missionaries in particular places.”

Oldham is part of a team of church planters in St. Louis with a passion for penetrating lostness through Send North America: St. Louis. The city has just one Southern Baptist 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 friends nearby who had a similar passion. Together the three men and their families formed the team that eventually would 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 the city’s Tower Grove East community.

“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. 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 extensive 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 August Gate in the summer of 2012. The young church 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. On Easter of 2011 the church had about 100 in attendance. That number had tripled by Easter 2012. Additionally, August Gate was able to plant its first church across the Mississippi River in Illinois last year. That church now has about 80 in attendance on a typical Sunday.

All this happened because August Gate became a hub for the community and beyond, Oldham said. “Every time we held a work project at the church and in the community we met our neighbors” and learned how to serve them and relay the Gospel.
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. 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.

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  • Tobin Perry