Interview with Pastor Brian Schmidgall

What’s the history of the church in St Louis?

In the sixties, St Louis reached its peak population of over 900,000. Today it has shrunk to a third of that size at 330,000, so you can imagine the vacancy and abandonment throughout our city. Unfortunately, when the people fled the city, the churches followed and the Assemblies of God was no exception.

 What are the unique challenges of being a church planter in St Louis?

The decline in the population of St Louis naturally led to a decline in its tax revenue. Public services like education and law enforcement are underfunded and anemic. A prejudiced history has left St Louis a sharply divided city both racially and socio-economically while crime rates consistently rank it as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S.

Because of these divisions, we’ve intentionally located MiddleTree on the street that divides the city in two believing that the Church is the one organization with the ability to heal the heart of a city. The biggest challenges we’ve faced are a result of our diversity. Navigating topics like Ferguson or politics can be a bit more challenging than with a homogeneous church.

How important is it for urban planters to move into the neighborhood where they’re planting?

If you want to reach a community that’s hurting, I don’t think there’s any other way to plant a church than to live among the community you’re serving. For too long the Church has created a comfortable distance between us and those we want to minister to. We’ve made people our mission instead of making them our neighbors—there is a strong difference between those two approaches to ministry. When you’re a neighbor, their problems become your problems, their hurts become your hurts, and their joys become your joys.

The greatest decision we made was purchasing a home in North St Louis. We chose to live in a portion of the city that nobody moves into. Our decision to live in poverty in an all-black neighborhood has communicated to our community that we’re not here to give answers, we’re in this struggle with you.

What has been the key to the success of MiddleTree Church in St Louis?

One thing that has marked our success is the diverse makeup of our leadership and congregation. In a city so divided that each side has their own parks, libraries, and grocery stores, having a place where the two sides come together to worship is unnatural; it’s supernatural, really.

We get to see people who have completely different life experiences and look nothing like each other, come together to fellowship and break bread in one another’s homes. Hearing them refer to each other as brother or sister is transformative… Jesus makes us family.

So, we not only get to witness the transformation of the individual, but also the healing of the city.

What is it going to take to see the re-establishment of the church in St Louis?

Selfless, sacrificial leaders, full of the Spirit, who will commit to the city and prioritize the Kingdom over their comfort. The type of leaders who aren’t looking to grow the biggest church but are looking to change a city.

Since the challenges are so great in St Louis, the Church at large needs to make a concerted effort to support church plants and other Kingdom efforts. I’m working with an organization called Reach Missouri Network that is looking to partner with and plant 20 churches in the next three years.

Reach Missouri Network is a ministry organization that seeks to strengthen ministers and their ministries by fostering healthy Relationships, providing Resources and encouraging Kingdom Initiatives so they can effectively fulfill their call to reach St. Louis, Missouri for Christ. 

Pastor Brian Schmidgall and his wife, Mary, moved to North St. Louis in 2009 and planted MiddleTree Church in 2012. He has served as an area presbyter for the German District and as the Under 40 Executive Presbyter to the General Council. In 2015, Brian was named the Director of Inner City Ministries of St Louis, now known as Reach Missouri Network, a city-wide church planting initiative. Brian & Mary have three girls, Adela, Talula, and Esme.


This article originally appeared in Influence Magazine and has been adapted with permission.