Planting in Hard Soil
The Southern Missouri District of the Assemblies of God is holding onto the truth that "nothing is impossible with God," (Luke 1:37), upon entering a season of church planting in St. Louis.
The city known as the Gateway to the West is in need of healing, especially in the inner city, according to Pastor Brian Schmidgall of MiddleTree Church. Schmidgall, who is preparing to help mentor and coach new planters, says the city is divided by economic challenges and racial tension. But local churches have the opportunity to be a healing agent, says Schmidgall who planted MiddleTree in 2012 in North St. Louis.
"The local church is the solution to all the brokenness," he says.
In the past, churches have struggled to take root in the metro area, especially in the inner city, according to District Superintendent Don E. Miller.
Officials are praying for a spiritual move by intercession as the district moves forward with the goal of planting at least 10 churches simultaneously within the St. Louis city limits, where 319,000 live, by the end of 2017. Currently, there are around only 4,500 AG adherents in the greater St. Louis area -- which has a population of 1.7 million.
Miller thinks several factors have hindered evangelism in the low-income, inner-city region in the past, including a lack of necessary resources.
"Spiritually, I believe there are a lot of strongholds there that have kept churches from rising up," he says.
The St. Louis church plants will be part of a larger district strategy to grow Sunday morning attendance to 100,000 on any given Sunday by the end of 2020, Miller says.
This God Given Great Goals (4G), designed in 2012, includes plans to raise up 100 new places of worship in the district during the same time frame, Miller says. So far, 28 churches already have started, including four in St. Louis.
Urban Islands focuses on ensuring that more congregations are being planted to reach people within various communities and "islands" in urban areas.
Pike's team will help recruit and assess 10 planters. They will also help raise funds for the plants.
In addition to Urban Islands, the district is collaborating with other regional AG districts for networking, recruiting, and resourcing purposes during the planting season, according to Jerry Harris, church planting and development director for the Southern Missouri District.
Once the planters are identified later this year and in early 2016, they will be required to move into specified neighborhoods within the city for one year before planting, Harris says.
"We want them to be saturated in the environment," says Harris. "We don't want someone to just go in and try to start something. They need to know what's there and be connected in the community."
Harris, who works directly with planters in the district, is familiar with the struggles in St. Louis. He is originally from the area and worked as a U.S. missionary planting churches in the late 1990s.
Since planting MiddleTree Church, Schmidgall says he has become fully cognizant of the challenges in St. Louis.
"I came to the realization that the soil is going to be much different," he says. "The resources are going to be different. I'm probably going to be bivocational for a while. It requires a stick-to-itivness."
It also takes a desire among churchgoers to reach out to reach out to those around them, Schmidgall says.
"A lot of people make the poor their mission," Schmidgall says. "Few make them their neighbor."