Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City takes a strategic turn this summer. Beginning July 1, the church embarks on a large-scale vision aimed at growing the body of Christ from 5 percent of New York’s center-city population to 15 percent, and to do so within a decade.
As part of the plan, Tim Keller, Redeemer’s founding pastor, will step down as senior pastor. Keller will pivot into “the strategic role of teaching and mentoring more leaders to do evangelism and church planting in an urban context.” The new role is critical, Keller says, because even though the financial costs of ministry in New York are daunting, “The greatest need is leaders.”
Keller hopes to not only train leaders but to make room for them. “My stepping out of being senior pastor and main preacher creates a great deal of space for the growth of many other preachers and pastors who otherwise would not have the same opportunities,” he said. “It’s time for me — when I still have the energy — to teach others what I have learned about ministry over my lifetime.”
“Our vision is to see the body of Christ in center-city New York triple in the next 10 years.” That, Keller believes, may be the tipping point.
In a second major change, Redeemer will transition from one large church to three neighborhood-based congregations: East Side, pastored by Abe Cho; West Side, led by David Bisgrove; and Downtown, pastored by John Lin.
Those churches, according to the plan, will “become generative church-planting engines,” with each looking to plant three churches in 10 years.
An Inflection Point for the City
Keller notes that when Redeemer opened its doors in 1989, it was estimated that fewer than 1 percent of center-city New Yorkers attended a Gospel-teaching church; nationally, about a quarter of Americans attended such churches at the time. Today, 5 percent of New Yorkers attend a Gospel-preaching church.
“We feel as if we might be at a historic inflection point of a Gospel movement,” Keller says. “Our vision, then, is to see the body of Christ in center-city New York triple in the next 10 years.” That, Keller believes, may be the tipping point.
In a video presentation posted on the Rise Campaign website, John Lin, pastor of Redeemer’s Downtown congregation, stresses that when a segment of the community’s population hits the 10-20 percent mark, the community’s culture changes. “People begin to interact differently and connect in new ways,” Lin says.
The church won’t get there by transferring Christians from one congregation to another, Keller says. “We must intentionally welcome and serve people who don’t currently profess faith.”
Hence, the need for more churches.
Redeemer’s leadership team cites studies that explore the impact of new churches. New churches, they say, not only attract three to six times more non-Christians than established churches; they are also the most effective way to spark existing churches’ renewal. “Our hope, then, is to have more churches and more Christians in the city,” says Lin. “That way, we’ll see Christians affect the way life is lived here. The culture will change because of our presence, and neighborhoods will be blessed as Christians make them more just and merciful, and as God’s people meet their neighbors’ needs.”
The Goal: 90 New Churches
Redeemer hopes to play a role in planting 90 churches throughout New York City. This is the foundation of the plan, says Bisgrove. “If the Gospel changes everything, then it is through churches that the poor are served, that people will begin to think about serving and worshipping God — not just on Sunday, but on Monday morning at work.”
“It’s important for people to understand that we’re not just planting generic churches,” Keller says. “New congregations will be … mindful of mercy and justice, of faith in the workplace. This mindset will be a part of each church’s DNA.”
Lin believes the church must form people so they realize that meeting the needs of our neighbors is a critical part of Christian formation. The church, Lin believes, needs to create a desire within people to see renewal everywhere.
Churches Change the City
David Bisgrove recalls a Wall Street Journal article from a few years ago. In the article, he remembers that Keller rhetorically asked, “What would it be like if, instead of hiring a thousand new policemen, we planted a thousand churches? How would that impact the city? How would it change the way people interact? How would it affect the way people care for one another? Would it make the city safer? Would education be better? What would it be like if we were focused on reproducing churches that cared about the city?”
A church-planting strategy has always been a part of the Redeemer plan. “Our purpose was never to build a church for ourselves,” Keller says. “It was to build a great city, knowing that the Gospel is always the tip of the spear.”
The Gospel of Christ changes everything, Keller says — not just lives, but culture. When people know Christ, when they catch a glimpse of His coming kingdom, their views and attitudes change. They’re more inclined to advance the common good. They’re more generous, and they stimulate generosity in others. With a thorough understanding of the Gospel, there’s renewed concern for mercy and justice. Workplaces become more humane. Art becomes more beautiful. Race relations grow healthier. The Gospel changes people, and then people change the world.