“Church Planting” is what we call the development of new congregations of Christians in the city. Since its beginning, Redeemer has been committed to being part of a movement of new churches in the city. Fifteen years ago we developed the Church Planting Center as a department inside Redeemer. Eventually this became its own missions agency, Redeemer City to City, which has helped plant hundreds of churches in scores of the largest global cities in the world, as well as working with Redeemer to plant churches in New York City.
Why do we think church planting is so important? I believe that there is no more powerful way to reach a city with the gospel than to plant new churches in it. Here are some reasons that I think that is true.
1. New churches attract non-churched people on average of about 3-6 times more than older churches. Only one in 10 new members of churches over 15 years old are people who were not Christians or not churched previously, while in new churches it is one in 3 or even 2 out of 3. Why? New churches are much more focused on outreach and so are more sensitive to the questions and issues of those outside their walls. Generally older, vital churches grow by transferring already-Christians from weaker churches.
2. New churches are the best way to increase the generosity base for all the ministries in a city. All ministries need start-up capital in order to launch. But most ministries and charitable non-profits will need funding from outside themselves indefinitely. A new church, however, only needs start-up funding at its beginning. Several years later — or in some cases sooner — the church becomes self-funding from within. Even more, it begins to be a source of giving and generosity to other ministries beyond itself. In short, church planting is the best way to increase the number of new Christians, and therefore, new Christian givers in a city. It is the best way to help all the ministries and institutions of a city thrive and grow.
3. New churches are the best way to renew the older, existing churches. How so? Often older congregations are reluctant to try a new approach, sure it would "not work here." But when the new church, which has the freedom and incentive to innovate, succeeds with some new method, other churches take notice and are encouraged to try it themselves. In addition, as we have seen, new churches attract and produce more converts, leaders, and givers, many of which find their ways into the other churches of the city. They also partner with the older churches in outreach ministries, charitable organizations, and joint projects.
So, in summary, the only way to substantially and sustainably grow the Body of Christ in a city is to plant new churches.
Through City to City, Redeemer has been committed to church planting, but over 25 years it has only twice directly sent out a group of people out from the “mother church” to begin new churches. That is about to change. Redeemer is transitioning from one very large church to three large neighborhood based congregations, East side, West side, and Downtown. Each of these three will commit themselves to being church planting engines over the coming decade and beyond.
At one level, this means planning for each congregation to plant three new sites or daughter churches, each time sending out substantial numbers of congregants, with their own staff and pastoral leadership, to begin a new worshipping community. This way Redeemer may grow into a family of 10-12 churches over the next few years.
But at another level, it means our Redeemer congregations will have to develop a “church planting mindset” ... looking for every opportunity to help dozens of new churches begin in the city. They will give members and resources to encourage these new works at every turn.
For example, right now our Downtown congregation is in discussion with a new Presbyterian church getting started in Brooklyn Heights. Over a dozen Downtown attenders will be sent out with the blessing and prayers of the church to help start the new congregation. This church will not be under our control — it is not in our denomination. But that’s the vision. Our three congregations are not only going to triple the number of Redeemer churches, but will pour themselves out to help many churches of different Bible-believing denominations start across the city.
This means that church planting will become one of the ongoing, perpetual ministries of the church. Every week, month, and year we preach the Word, worship with music, and instruct our members and children. Now, with the same regularity, we will always be in the process of planting one or two churches. It won’t be a special event every so many years. It will be simply one of the things we do.
Next year we are planning to hold a capital campaign to prepare our congregations for the future. We want to not only raise enough money to start nine new Redeemer churches, but also be deeply involved in helping plant 91 other new churches in New York’s center city as well as 175 congregations across the rest of the five boroughs and metropolitan area. If we can do this, it will be the most ambitious mission plan and project to reach a single city that I’ve ever known. We pray for God to guide and bless us in this endeavor to glorify him.