Yet of all the patrons at the beauty and barbershop operated by Sean and Taquella Boone in metro St. Louis, one group stood out to the couple -- young African-Americans who wanted no part of the traditional church.
The Boones saw them every day. They needed to hear about Jesus, but most wouldn't have felt comfortable in the aging churches nearby.
"There's this huge generation of people who just have never heard the Gospel in a language they can understand," Sean Boone said.
So Boone started a church, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, three years ago to reach people no one else was reaching -- the kind of people who frequented his barbershop. Now a North American Mission Board church planter working bivocationally, he is one of a handful of church planters engaging metropolitan St. Louis with the Gospel in new and fresh ways.
St. Louis Southern Baptists hope to see at least 75 new churches started in the next five years through Send North America: St. Louis.
Send North America is the North American Mission Board's national strategy to mobilize and assist individuals and churches to get involved in hands-on church planting in 29 major cities and other areas throughout the continent. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in
church planting and help connect them to a church plant. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.
The community that New Beginnings Christian Fellowship calls home --- Hazelwood in the North County communities of St. Louis County -- has been in the midst of nearly constant change over the last seven years Boone has lived there. He estimates that the African-American population has grown from around 55 percent to more than 75 percent, with much of the increase stemming from the relocation of those living in public housing to the area.
"We still have some Anglos in the community," Boone said. "But they no longer are doing life with the African-Americans. Their kids no longer go to school with our kids -- they're either in private schools or homeschooled. We've experienced 'white flight' in our area. For the most part, North County has become an urban environment."
Boone believes the vast majority of the community doesn't attend church -- mostly because surrounding churches are speaking a different language and meeting a different set of spiritual needs.
"Established churches exist to meet the needs of established church people," Boone said. "A person who has a history of attending church wants to see things done a certain way and wants to have programming that meets their spiritual needs.
"For the unchurched person, none of those things are important. In fact, most of those things are unattractive to the person because they're seen as part of a system of religion."
Boone initially came to metro St. Louis to pastor a traditional church in the city. But he soon realized "I was trying to be this professional clergyman, this established church pastor. And it was costing me too much of my individuality to try to fit that mode."
Now at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, Boone has sought to make sure the church isn't doing anything that unnecessarily stands in the way of guests hearing the Gospel.
That includes changing a variety of terms for typical church activities. Instead of preaching a sermon, Boone teaches a lesson. Instead of having an altar call, he provides guests with a life-change opportunity.
Boone loves to tell the stories of people once far from God who've connected to New Beginnings and turned their lives over to Christ in the process. For example, Boone worked every day with Reggie Jackson at the barbershop. After a painful experience at a church, Reggie began searching spiritually and eventually joined a cult. Reggie frequently talked and sometimes debated Scripture with Boone and eventually the two started studying the Bible together regularly.
"Through that, he was able to hear the Gospel in his own heart language," Boone recounted. "He responded to it, and he and his family decided to come and be a part of our church plant. Now several other family members have responded to the Gospel just because the two of us had a conversation in the barber shop."
Boone believes church plants can be more effective when they're connected with strong partner churches. A partnership with Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., has been particularly helpful for New Beginnings, which has 50 people in attendance most Sundays. Second Baptist has come to St. Louis and helped the church with a block party, door-to-door ministry and mail-outs.
Since most of the people at New Beginnings are new believers, Boone said many don't fully understand their part in the church's ministry. That's why the partnership with Second Baptist has been so crucial.
"They're not only helping us with their resources," Boone said, "but they're giving our congregation an example of what it's like to live on mission."
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To learn of opportunities for involvement in Send North America: St. Louis, visit namb.net and click on the "mobilize me" button. The site includes videos that can be viewed and downloaded for church settings about the need in St. Louis and other major cities in North America.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net