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Fresh Plants in the City
Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian are making New York an urban church planting center.
January 1, 2005
Vincent Salonia is planting a church in Staten Island, New York. He hopes to build a base that will plant several more churches in the years to come. He's not having to do it alone. He's found a New York City church eager to assist in urban church planting. Salonia looks forward to the classes, which involve church planters from Baptist to Pentecostal, as rich times of networking and practical insight.
Redeemer Presbyterian, "one of Manhattan's most vital congregations," according to Christianity Today [12/04], started a Church Planting Center in 2001, and its phone has not stopped ringing since.
"Redeemer is talking Kingdom and doing Kingdom," says Salonia, age 52. "They're sharing resources and whatever they have. It's meant a great deal to help me realize my dream." Redeemer (www.redeemer.com) is serious about New York becoming known as a place where the gospel transforms believers into servants "until the city rejoices" at the presence of Christians. Many are partnering with Redeemer, spearheading a city-focused, church-planting movement called the Church Multiplication Alliance that spans more than a dozen denominations.
In 2005 this alliance will help launch 125 new churches across New York City and in crossroads cities internationally.
Redeemer was started in 1989 and averages 4,000 in attendance in its four Sunday services, all in rented facilities. Founding pastor Tim Keller misses few opportunities to emphasize the importance of loving and embracing the city. He often references Scripture's injunctions about the city, such as to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you" (Jer. 29:7, NASB).
A cultural center like New York can be changed, says Keller, if it can produce two types of new churches: churches that reach new immigrants and new residents, and center-city churches that help professionals function as Christians in a pluralistic culture.
To reverse the polarizing effect of Christians who have sought to change the culture through political domination, both types of churches have to understand their role as servants for the common good of the city.
Redeemer's Church Planting Center is building a network of city, regional, national, and international church planters. In 2004 the Center worked with 25 churches, from Assemblies of God to Southern Baptist to independent. Only three were associated with Redeemer's denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. The approaches differ, from a Bronx church targeting the hip-hop culture to a church targeting government staffers in Washington D.C.
"Our task is to start churches in neighborhoods among various ethnic groups with the ultimate goal of launching mini movements of church planting," says Terry Gyger, the Center's director. Part of the Center's success, according to Gyger, is its avoidance of focusing on a certain model.
Coordinating a center on this scale requires a huge commitment from Redeemer.
"If our vision is really to fill the city with churches," says Keller, "it will take some radical commitments." Today its Church Planting Center is the church's largest department in terms of budget, but because many funds come from outside donors, other forms of the church's outreach, such as Redeemer's commitment to serve the poor, have not been diminished.
Gyger says new churches are the best way to reach out to the unchurched and transform a city spiritually, socially, and culturally. "We'd like to see New York become the city of God, a place of peace, racial reconciliation, and prosperity for the arts, with churches ministering to people in all their needs," says Gyger. "Training is often absent for the church planters who come here. If we can make an indigenous church-planting movement work in this city, I think it can be reproduced in other cities of the world."
Warren Bird, for Leadership Network
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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