Every church plant has a unique story of how it came into being. The story of Dwell Church actually began in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2004, when I was managing a coffee shop. One of my regulars was a friend who had recently returned to Michigan after an 18 month stint in New York City. I had only visited New York once, and enjoyed listening to his stories.
Two themes emerged: loneliness and economic disparity. In fact, I remember him saying that his experience of New York was as a city of “8 million lonely people.” He had never lived anywhere else in which he found it so difficult to connect with God or others. He named competition and the fast pace of life as the major factors contributing to this. He also spoke of the incredible wealth disparity in Manhattan, in which you find so many very wealthy people rubbing shoulders with the very poor.
I was captivated by these conversations and began to pray about one day serving Christ there, although church planting was not on my radar at that point. As I continued to pray and dream, I began to see myself at the jazz clubs and museums of New York. I began to see myself training for marathons at Central Park. I began to see myself sharing the gospel with New Yorkers.
Later that year, I met my wife Lily. In God’s providence, she had many family connections in New York. An aunt and uncle have lived on w 83rd st since 1968. She has nine cousins who live in Brooklyn or Manhattan. God used these family relationships to open doors for us in New York and to teach us much about the culture and context from the very beginning. I took these and many other answers to prayer as signs that He was calling us to this great city.
After several years in which I needed to grow in the gospel and as a leader, we moved to Manhattan in the summer of 2010. I interned at another church in my denomination, City Grace, in the West Village. The lead pastor had previously trained with Redeemer City to City. This provided a valuable residency year for us and helped us form the core group to launch Dwell in 2012. God is using Dwell Church to bring redemption in the two areas that he first brought to my heart nine years ago: connecting people to God through Christ and bringing together both rich and poor people. More on this in a future post.
Frequently, people ask us how we came up with the name Dwell Church. During the season in which we were discerning the name of the church, the word dwell seemed to show up everywhere. My wife was in Architecture school at the time and one of our favorite magazines is dwell (a modern design magazine). We even lived in a condo called Dwell Roosevelt in Seattle. At one point a friend commented that Dwell would be a great name for a church.
Once I had that name for a church in my head, I could not get it out. I began to see Dwell not only in the culture but in the Scriptures as well. It is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments frequently (e.g. Exodus 29:45, Psalm 27:4, Ephesians 3:17) but I was particularly captured by Revelation 21:3 – “Now the dwelling of God is with people, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” This is where history is heading: to a city in which God dwells with us. Incredible. At Dwell Church, we want to point people to this story through our lives and take part in the renewal of all creation that will find its apex in the New Jerusalem.
We’ve found that the story and name resonate with people in a fast-moving, transient city. People often interpret it in two ways. First, it encourages the believer to dwell in Christ. To avoid looking to the idols of the city for meaning and to dwell in the gospel. Second, it speaks of our calling to New York City and especially to the Bowery. Living into the name reminds us that God is calling a people to dwell in the city for the city. Instead of taking from the city and moving on when it no longer satisfies, we dwell, we persevere, we abide because God has called us here. We are dwelling in Christ for the city.