NEW OREANS — When Shane and Jessica Booker first considered planting a church in New Orleans, they knew that this unique city would require a creative approach to sustainable church planting.
Poverty, a painful history and spiritual brokenness make church planting in the city challenging. “Building relationships is the only way to break through the pain and brokenness,” says Shane.
That’s why the Bookers’ first step after moving to New Orleans in August 2020 was to serve with local nonprofits. Consistent volunteering has helped them and their core team form relationships within the community, setting the stage for Garden City Church.
After several months in the city, the Bookers identified the Lower Ninth Ward as Garden City Church’s first missional focus. What started out as a runaway slave community in the 1800s still suffers from the absence of essential services such as banks, pharmacies and grocery stores following Hurricane Katrina.
It’s a place that Shane describes has always been “full of pain, brokenness and rejection.” The cumulative pain from the past creates barriers to trusting relationships – something only more time to show Christ-like love can break.
Using an entrepreneurial church plant model, Garden City Church aims to engage people through the marketplace and then utilize those relationships to disciple people and start a church gathering. “The marketplace gives us the ability to love people well and to stay there long enough for them to realize it,” says Shane.
Starting a business will not only help the church buy time to grow relationships but will also allow them to bless the community.
During neighborhood canvasing, the Bookers were surprised to discover one common desire among their neighbors — a coffee shop. These conversations sparked the idea for Telltale Coffee & Creams, a neighborhood coffee and ice cream café where people can share their stories. “You want to tell us your tale, and we want to hear your story and share ours. But ultimately, we want to tell you the greatest story ever told” says Shane.
The idea for a mobile café was born when a partner church donated their minibus to the Bookers’ ministry. Through their community relationships, the Bookers secured an outdoor space for the future mobile café at the TEP Interpretive Center – one of New Orleans’s first integrated schools that’s been turned into a community center.
Ministry teams have already helped create a welcoming outdoor area, complete with seating, greenery, and a pergola for the long-awaited mobile café. Local artist Kalli Padgett painted the first of what will be a continuing cycle of murals on the coffee truck. Her design intertwines coffee and New Orleans culture by depicting a coffee plant growing from New Orleans musicians’ musical instruments. Every six months, a new a new artist will be hired to redesign the coffee truck, giving them an opportunity to showcase their artwork.
“We’re excited for this vehicle for conversation and relationships that will sustain the way to share the gospel,” Shane says.
In the spring of 2023, Garden City Church hosted their first ministry event – a block party for the community. The church offered cotton candy and popcorn and neighbors brought their kids to play basketball and football.
“It was really beautiful,” Shane said. “The only objective we had was to say, ‘Hey, we’re Garden City Church. We’ve been here. We’re going to be here. We love you. Let’s get together and get to know each other.’ And I think people felt the authenticity of that.”
Shane points to months of serving the community and building relationships as the reasons for the event’s success. He says, “It’s been a slow progression into ministry. We had to build a foundation of trust first.”