Over the past decade, New York City has grown rapidly. In 2008, the population was 7.9 million; today, it’s 8.6 million. The city has about 6,000 churches, many of which have been planted over the past 10 years.
As church planting has gained traction in the Big Apple, I’ve been encouraged by the focus on previously underserved areas. Places of great gospel need are being reached by gospel-centered churches.
I often hear stories of the small group who met in a coffee shop and eventually led their barista to Jesus; the bodega owners coming to know Christ as they’ve been loved by their neighbors; and churches partnering with soup kitchens to provide a steady volunteer base.
I love these stories of the church at work. The people of God are a powerful apologetic for the gospel of God. In Christ, he reconciles sinners to himself. Now, as his ambassadors, the church implores people to be reconciled to him (2 Cor. 5:18–20).
This is why we plant churches: to declare and display the reconciling grace of God in Jesus Christ.
We should expect our churches to be agents of reconciliation. Indeed, this is why we plant churches: to declare and display the reconciling grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Don’t Overlook the Natives
New York is the second-most diverse city in America, which means there’s ample opportunity for churches here to showcase the gospel’s reconciling power. But in New York, the majority of church plants are led by non-natives, which generally means they attract people who fall into the same category. Though there’s nothing (necessarily) wrong with that, it’s a problem when these churches operate to the exclusion—implicitly or explicitly—of native people.
As a native Brooklynite, it pains me to hear people voice their love of and hopes for the city in a way that doesn’t include me. Pictures of New York are often painted only in the color of the white and upwardly mobile. This leaves behind the natives, who are often poor people of color.
If the blood of Christ is powerful enough to unite Jew and Gentile, it’s powerful enough to unite black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
For people of color, the experience of entering new churches hasn’t always been good. They often end up feeling alone, not cared for, and as though their voices don’t matter.
But things don’t have to stay this way. The church can and should be a force for unity unlike anything else in the world. If the blood of Christ is powerful enough to unite Jew and Gentile, it’s powerful enough to unite black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
If our church plants are to be agents of reconciliation, we should consider at least three things.
1. Reflect Your Area
If you’re after rapid church growth, this first point won’t help you. We’re often taught that the best way to grow our churches is to focus on a single people group. But a church plant that wants to be a unifying force will not limit its scope to just one set of people.
Be a church that seeks to actively engage the whole of your city, not just the people most like you. At our church in Brooklyn, we regularly encourage our members to join their neighborhood block associations and PTA boards, and to spend time at local recreation centers. These are often places of neighborhood life, and getting involved provides opportunities to meet a wide variety of people.
2. Be Outward-Focused
In New York City, nearly everyone lives in an apartment building. We often share buildings with natives who’ve been here their entire lives. Church-planting pastors—and their congregations—must be challenged to get to know the people around them.
One of our church members did just that. First, she moved across Brooklyn to Brownsville, recognizing the need in that area. Then, she befriended an elderly woman and began taking her to doctor appointments, helping her with groceries, and ultimately inviting her to be a part of our congregation.
Here’s what encouraged me about this sister’s actions: she didn’t wait for an “opportunity” to be presented to her; she went out into her city and found the needs already present.
3. Look to Glory
Heaven will be beautifully diverse. In Revelation 7:9, John sees people from all tribes, peoples, and languages worshiping around the throne. This is a sure and certain reality. Eternity will consist of a great multitude of people of every hue worshiping the Lamb who was slain.
So why not start this scene now? Yes, it will be messy and imperfect until we get to glory, but that’s no reason to disobey Christ’s call (Matt. 28:18–20).
Be a church that seeks to actively engage the whole of your city, not just the people most like you.
We show the world true unity when people—those who would never otherwise associate with one another—are seen worshiping together our risen King. There are plenty of diverse church plants out there, but the sad truth is that the majority of our churches are still largely homogenous. If we’re truly “for the city,” then that church has to include everyone therein.
By considering the voices and perspectives of natives, we will extend the reach of churches and the kingdom work we’re here to do.