The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention hopes to found 75 new churches in the city of St. Louis, Mo. – a city that many evangelicals have abandoned.
For every 7,037 people in St. Louis, there is only one Southern Baptist Church, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. Only 14.8 percent of residents identify themselves as evangelical.
The urbanization of St. Louis and its rising crime issues, as well as a preexisting racial divide made worse with time, have forced many churches to leave the city, Jason Zellmer, pastor of Peine Ridge Church in Wentzville, lamented.
"When crime in the urban core began to rise, many Caucasian Christians moved to the suburbs. This left a gaping hole in the city for church planting and expanded the racial divide," the church planter told The Christian Post.
"Instead of proclaiming Christ to the city, many SBC churches and churches from other denominations chose comfort in safer communities."
Zellmer is hoping to bring the Gospel back to the city.
The St. Louis church planting effort is part of Send North America, a project of NAMB that focuses on church growth for several cities in the United States and Canada.
Zellmer clarified, "The SBC doesn't plant churches, churches plant churches in partnership with the SBC."
"We preach church planting, we pray for church planters, and we talk about places in Saint Louis that need a church plant," he added.
His church offers a yearlong internship program to help assess and prepare men to plant Gospel-entered churches.
"During this internship," he explained, "potential church planters do the work of a church planter by actively fundraising, planning worship gatherings, preaching the Word, sharing the Gospel with the lost, and weekly witnessing our elders/pastors oversee the affairs of the church."
The Wentzville pastor is optimistic about the efforts of the SBC and NAMB. He sees the church plants working provided that they are well equipped and preach the Gospel.
"If the churches are founded upon God's Word," said Zellmer, "then the city of St. Louis will be greatly changed for the glory of God by 75 new church plants."
"However, if 75 new churches get started by uncalled and unequipped men who lack proper assessment or see the Gospel as a means of gain, we'll be no better off than when we started."
Pastor Joe Costephens of The Passage Church in Florissant, Mo., commented to CP that he is "excited and encouraged" by the drive to plant new churches in St. Louis.
"The biggest need in planting churches in St. Louis is called, and qualified leaders who have a burning desire to see people meet Jesus," said Costephens. "Seventy-five churches started that in turn start more churches means exponential growth. That is the goal for men and women, boys and girls to find freedom in Christ."