ST. LOUIS – Volunteers from August Gate Church here cleaned nearly 30 alleyways in the neighborhoods surrounding their building, Oct. 26, in an attempt to transform St. Louis’ sixth ward through the gospel.
The team of 70 people who helped during this outreach event not only cleaned alleys, but they also welcomed neighbors to a block party near the church filled with games and food. According to Noah Oldham, lead pastor of August Gate Church, the alleyways in the community, which contained public dumpsters, were “disgusting” before members cleaned them.
“No one ever takes ownership for their own trash, and a lot of people don’t clean back there,” he said. “We decided that this is a tangible way that we can do something for our neighborhood. This is something that no one else wants to do. We’ll serve like Jesus does, and we’ll do it with the gospel intention to build relationships with our neighbors.”
Oldham added that the effort was a part of “Engage South City,” an outreach initiative to “love and serve people, schools and public places with gospel intention.”
According to residents in the area, God has wrought change in the community as the church has pursued this goal. Oldham said that non-Christian neighbors often email the church to express gratitude, saying, “We know you are a blessing from God to our neighborhood.” He recalled, for example, that one elderly woman and her husband moved to the neighborhood two years before August Gate was planted, but they soon considered moving.
“There was a lot of crime. There were drug deals that were going on. People were getting shot on the block,” Oldham explained. But, according to this elderly woman, everything began to change as August Gate started reaching out to the community.
“She sent us an email after our last block party over the summer,” Oldham recalled. “She said that over the last two years, there has just been a transformation of the neighborhood to the point that finally it feels like a neighborhood. They are considering staying and not moving because of it. And she gives God the credit for it. She said, ‘I believe God brought you here to help change the neighborhood.’”
Oldham agrees. For this reason, he contacted Christine Ingrassia, alderwoman for St. Louis’ sixth ward, to find out how the church could serve the city. Astonished to hear someone ask this question, she told them about the disarray in the city’s alleyways and offered her support as the church organized the clean-up project and block party.
“We want to make the city a better place for everybody,” Oldham said, but meeting “felt needs” in the community is not an end in itself.
“We love people and serve people so we can tell them about Jesus,” he said. “It is not just relational evangelism. It is not just servanthood evangelism. ‘EVANGELISM’ has got to be in capital letters.”
According to Mark Snowden, missional evangelism/discipleship strategist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), the gospel-centered servanthood evangelism exemplified by the work of August Gate Church portrays the impact that “Light Up Missouri” could have in the state. “Light Up Missouri” is an MBC initiative that promotes servanthood evangelism. Churches can find resources and ideas for sharing the gospel in this way on the MBC’s website at www.mobaptist.org/light.