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The Challenge of Planting a Church in NYC – Part 2

You can check out Part 1 of this series here.

In many ways, the challenges I will discuss in this series are issues that most church planters/pastors face in any context.

Living in NYC simply exacerbates some of these challenges (for instance the disproportionate cost of living here, as mentioned in Part 1).

For instance, when it comes to the financial pressures of any start-up, these anxieties exist for any entrepreneurial endeavor.

However, the pure financial costs are higher here, simply put.

One could talk about the “greater risk, greater reward” mantra to describe the merits of planting a church in NYC… but it’s exceptionally difficult to quantify the great “reward” of planting a church in NYC vs another city/context when ministry “success” entails so many different elements.

If one were to speak purely of numbers of people when it comes to church “success”, there are significantly larger churches and church plants around the country, a fact that can easily cloud the merits of investing significantly more money to plant a church here rather than say, South America.

But I digress…. (although you’ll see how church size will come up later in the post).

The next challenge I wish to write about is one that is ubiquitous regardless of context… and yet there are some peculiarities to NYC.

Here’s Challenge #2: Planting a Church in NYC is Awfully Lonely. 

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Non-profit management guru Peter Drucker once said that the four most challenging jobs in the US are the President of the US, the CEO/President of a Hospital, a University President, and a Pastor.

It’s already hard enough being a Pastor and navigating the different “hats” one has to wear (which, along with the other 3 vocations Drucker mentions, is why being a Pastor can be one of the most challenging jobs), but adding the element of being an entrepreneurial Pastor can make the task of Church Planting profoundly more difficult and complicated.

Both Pastor and Entrepreneur are inherently stressful positions, and adding NYC to the equation makes for a particularly combustible context.

I believe this to be true of most pastors/church planters I meet in NYC, but what makes the feeling of loneliness more acute here is the feeling that I’m never quite measuring up.

This goes back to the discussion about measuring ministry “success.”

If one were to go purely based on Sunday attendance (which is generally the standard measurement across time/place in church planting in the States – as much as people would hate to admit), then “success'” is difficult to come by in NYC when compared to one’s previous context (usually a mega-ish church in the suburbs of middle America) or even in the shadows of more established churches in the City (so many great, longstanding churches to name).

The above paragraph reveals even more nefarious messages that I often tell myself as a church planter – I’m measured against other Pastors/Churches.

All in all, the stress of financial worry, family adjustments, and the inescapable cloud of comparisons to peers or my past can lead me to isolate myself from feeling what is reality to so many of us:

Church Planting in NYC is financially taxing, a stress on my family, and not quite as glamorous as the big city itself.  

Yes, I’ve been there.

I suspect most of us have.

Solutions?

Thankfully, the above news is something that many have reflected on before, and as a result, ministry heroes of mine have tried hard to keep Pastors/Church Planters in NYC from isolating and growing cynical.

Here are a few folks I’d like to highlight:

1) Redeemer City to City & NYC Leadership Center – I link these ministries together not because of any official connection but because these organizations have long been advocates of resourcing and connecting church planters for decades now.

I’ve written about the spirit of leaders like Tim Keller and Mac Pier before, and I truly think these guys have been forerunners to much of the camaraderie and friendship enjoyed by Pastors in NYC today.

Also, shout-out to Parakeleo, a ministry of mutual support for church planting spouses that I’ve heard great things about.

2) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – I can’t emphasize this one enough.  My heritage obviously comes from New Life Fellowship, so it’s no surprise that I want to advocate for every pastor to learn from Pete & Geri Scazzero and Rich Villodas in living an emotionally healthy life that allows my marriage and family to flourish.  Church planters especially can use a healthy dose of EHS.

3) Christ Tabernacle – Ever since I’ve known the CT guys, I’ve been amazed at their hospitality and willingness to serve/connect church leaders in NYC.  Pastor Michael Durso is part of that wave mentioned above, and Adam Durso and the rest of CT are some of the most generous folks I know.

4) Recovery House of WorshipTrinity Grace Church & “Network” Church Planting – I LOVE the RHOW folks. They are a church planting movement doing amazing work in the city and beyond, and are some of the most mission-minded church planters I know.  I learn so much from them about mission and discipleship whenever I’m around them!

TGC is another family of parishes all around NYC.  Their kingdom vision is really genuine and inspiring, and the ways they plant churches by 1) empowering/contextualizing and 2) serving with a Central Office is something that many church plants and churches have learned a great deal from (including Hope).

I LOVE how these folks fight against the isolationist spirit of church planters by creating a network of mutual support.

Brilliant.

And helpful.

5) So many Pastors/Church Planters in NYC who now embody the Kingdom Spirit – Reach out to any of us.  I think you’ll realize we’ll share the following:

– Church Planting is Hard in NYC

– Church Planting is Rewarding in NYC

– The City is Too Big to be Thinking So Small

– I Don’t Have to Do This Alone

– I Desperately Need a Gospel-Centered Approach to My Identity, Our Church, and Our City.

Together – and only together – can we be part of something significant in this Great City.  

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The Challenge of Planting a Church in NYC – Part 1

Now that my wife and I have been involved in church planting in NYC for almost 3 years (while living in the city for 15), we’ve had a chance to reflect on a lot of the unique challenges of planting a church in NYC.

As cliche as this sounds, God’s truly worked miracles for us to be where we are, especially as I reflect on my own folly and the other dynamics that make planting a church in NYC difficult.

Here are some reflections on the challenge of planting a church in NYC:

Everyone wants to live in NYC nowadays.

Everyone wants to live in NYC nowadays.

Challenge 1: Planting a Church and the Cost of Living in a Neighborhood 

Um, I don’t think I have to comment further on the exorbitant cost of living in NYC, but I’ll comment on what’s ideal for church planters in NYC and how it’s immensely difficult to meet that ideal.

What’s ideal for church planters is to live in the neighborhood in which you’re planting.

There seems to be a new wave of literature celebrating a parish approach to planting – one that is incarnational, neighborhood-based, and local.  I’ve found these books and perspectives to be quite helpful for ministry, especially in NYC where there are so many unique neighborhoods.

The idea of incarnational ministry is not a new one by any means, as heroes such as John Perkins and others from Christian Community Development urged Christians to live in the neighborhoods in which they were doing ministry long ago.

In my observation, the difference between Perkins and the newer voices engaged in an incarnational approach to ministry is that Perkins was advocating for Christians to move and settle into neighborhoods that no one wanted to move into.  

Back when Perkins and others were writing, people (and Christians) were fleeing the city.  John Perkins and Ray Bakke were prophetic voices in their call for Christians to root themselves in neighborhoods while the vast majority of people were leaving.

This reminds me of what Rodney Stark wrote about in the early church, when in counter-cultural fashion, Christians stayed in the cities when plagues hit in order to serve the needs of the sick and needy.

Today, it’s en vogue in church planting world to advocate living in the neighborhood in which you’re planting a church, especially if you’re an urban minister.

Of course this ideal, but I think the call to live in the urban neighborhood in which one is doing ministry has grown less prophetic and less realistic in our day and age.

1) Less Prophetic (in Christian-speak, I mean less counter-cultural)

The call is less prophetic than Perkins and Bakke and others because of urbanization and gentrification.

As a church planter if I say, “I want to plant a church in Midtown East (where our Midtown church gathers on Sundays) and I want to put down roots there to be an incarnational presence”, I’d be making a sensible and ideal statement of “moving into the neighborhood” (as Eugene Petersen translates John 1:14).

The thing is, in today’s day and age, the whole world wants to move into Midtown Manhattan. My statement above wouldn’t be all that prophetic.  Moreover, only the .001% actually get to live in Midtown Manhattan.

Please don’t misunderstand, the urge to do incarnational/neighborhood ministry is biblical and ideal.  

deeply desire for all of our pastors and church planters to live in the neighborhood in which they’re planting.  

Moreover, I want to lead a church in Midtown because I love and cherish Manhattanites (yes, especially the .001%).

However, doing urban ministry this way is not quite as prophetic a call as it once was because saying “I love this neighborhood in NYC” or “I want to put down roots in this neighborhood in NYC” is a statement that I hear from Non-Christians in equal proportion.

In NYC in particular, I’d love to hear church planters talk about moving into neighborhoods and starting churches in places like East New York or Corona Queens as much as I hear folks talking about starting churches in Manhattan or gentrified areas of the five boroughs.

I should add though, there are plenty of churches and pastors serving and living in places like East New York & Corona Queens – they’re mostly the platform-less, servant hearted immigrant and ethnic Pastors who are truly living out their prophetic call in neighborhoods that aren’t quite cool enough yet for the .001%.

The above section may sound like a critique, but I have to share that every church we’ve planted is located in a gentrifying, up-and-coming neighborhood (Astoria/LIC, Roosevelt Island, Midtown East, & Nassau County).

I personally live on Roosevelt Island in what locals on the Island jokingly call “the rich part of town”.

I’m simply making an observation (and a self-critique) of the call to incarnational ministry I’m hearing in church planting circles nowadays, and I want us to also be part of a prophetic call to go where people generally don’t want to go.

2) Less Realistic

There are so many native New Yorkers who wish they bought brownstones in Park Slope 20 years ago.

Or better yet, Williamsburg.

The challenge of planting a church in NYC is that the ideal is to live in the neighborhood in which you’re planting, but if you want to plant a church anywhere in Manhattan, most parts of Brooklyn, growing parts of Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island, the cost of living is unbelievably high.

And if one wants to plant a missional, incarnational church (the two buzzwords that are most ideal for church planters today), the onramp toward financial sustainability is truly a miracle.

Unless a church planter has access to significant funding (either through fundraising or personal wealth), the feasibility of living in a neighborhood can be unrealistic in the long run.

Some have spoken of the merits of bi-vocational planting, but bi-vocational church planting is increasingly difficult in a place like NYC, especially if my money-earning vocation is one that can net a hefty salary but also demand the kind of time and energy for me to net that salary.

Hence, I think it’s often unrealistic for church planters/pastors to live in the neighborhood in which they’re planting.

We should aim for living in the neighborhood (and I truly covet those who are able to do this), but I’m not sure how long-term and sustainable this can be for a family that is interested in being in NYC for the long run.

Conclusion

In conclusion to this point, if you can live in the neighborhood in which you’re planting a church and 1) have the financial means to do so and 2) your family feels called and 3) can be there for the long run, then by all means, do it!

However, if 1, 2, and 3 are not feasible, then do whatever you can to live in a neighborhood that fulfills all three of the above, and build a sense of Christ-centered community and family on mission amongst people in the city (hopefully near where you live, but it doesn’t have to be this way), and be part of what God is doing in this great city.

So if you’re thinking of planting a church in NYC, it’s okay if you don’t live in the neighborhood.  It’ll be okay.  I promise.  It can be done.

Why I’m Thankful for Redeemer Presbyterian Church

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for awhile, but it seems most appropriate to write this following a weekend in which Redeemer Presbyterian Church celebrated its 25th anniversary.

As someone who has lived in NYC since 2001 (and first visited Redeemer in 2000), it’s been really cool to get a first-hand look at how Redeemer has impacted our city and world for 13 of those 25 years.

Much has been said of Redeemer’s influence over the years, and I thought I’d write my own list of things I’m grateful for from the perspective of a pastor/church planter in NYC.

1. I’m thankful for the ways Redeemer has resourced, blessed, and celebrated other churches in NYC – I sat down with a friend of mine in the Bay Area a few months ago, and he mentioned that the pastors in NYC all seem to know each other, which was odd to him.

But more than that, he mentioned that the pastors seem to speak highly of each other.

He asked me why this was the case, and I was taken aback by the question because I thought that’s how all cities worked together.  He assured me that this isn’t the case in other cities.

Much of this unity can be attributed to the tireless and prayerful work of Mac Pier, Concerts of Prayer, and the NYC Leadership Center, and I think that Redeemer embodies this so well.

This general positivity toward other churches has filtered down to all the church plants that Redeemer has had a hand in resourcing, and it’s truly a joy to see church planters/pastors celebrating the work of all churches around the city.

As a church planter I can’t articulate how beneficial this is.  Redeemer really does embrace the idea that it takes a movement (and many churches working together) to bless a city, and I’ve been greatly resourced by the folks at Redeemer City to City (Robert Guerrero & Mark Reynolds & their team come to mind most readily) and Redeemer without them asking for anything from me.

Love it.

Sounds like grace to me.

2) I’m thankful for Redeemer’s theological vision for all-encompassing urban renewal – Back in 2000 when I stayed in NYC for the entire summer, I was extremely refreshed to witness a church that had a vision for serving the needs of the disadvantaged in the city (Hope for New York), as well as the wealthy upwardly mobile class (Center for Faith and Work – although this center speaks to all classes).

Back in 2000, when people referred to “Urban Ministry”, I’m pretty sure people were referring to the ‘hood.

This makes sense because in 2000, cities were just in the beginning stages of becoming attractive areas again, so most of the models of urban ministry had to do with working with the least of these while so many had fled the cities.

Fast forward to 2014, and Williamsburg is now Williamsburg.

Redeemer has really introduced a new way of thinking about “urban” ministry as including service to the disadvantaged and service to “Center City” folks (I believe Tim is the one who first used the term “Center City” when referring to the large upwardly mobile urbanites that now largely inhabit spaces like Manhattan).

3) I’m thankful for Mike Keller – Mike currently leads City Campus Ministry in NYC, and he’s also a PCA Pastor who preaches at Redeemer from time to time. Mike grew up at Redeemer.

The I first met Mike in 2001 on a car ride to Nyack College.

We’ve been friends ever since.

Mike truly lives out what’s outlined above.

Not only does Mike LOVE this city, but he’s extremely supportive and generous toward other churches and works in the city.

He’s someone who thinks deeply about people in every sphere of society, and he has this unpretentious way about him that allows him to connect with people from various diverse backgrounds.

I love the guy, and I love watching the guy do ministry (especially when he has no shame playing basketball on asphalt courts while being good for 25 fouls/game).

He married up with Sara, too. 🙂  It’s really neat to see how much they BOTH love this city and want to see it flourish.

It makes sense that Mike and Sara possess so much of Redeeemer’s DNA, and they’re first-class people that I’m proud to know.

——

As a church planter, I would not be where I am without Redeemer.

As a church, we would not be where we are without Redeemer.

Thanks for the ways you’ve impacted all of us, Redeemer.

Solideogloria.

We’re Launching A New Church in Midtown Manhattan

Hope Midtown Launches October 2014

I’m really excited to announce that Hope Church NYC will be planting our third church in Midtown Manhattan in October 2014.

It’s hard to believe that in September 2012, we launched this church not knowing what to expect, especially with the challenges of starting anything new in a city like New York.

We hoped to become a movement of diverse, small/medium sized neighborhood churches where God could move throughout faith communities, and 20 months later, we’ve been able to start two growing churches (Hope Church Astoria & Hope Church Roosevelt Island) in remarkably diverse contexts.

Of course, we’ve had our challenges too, but in many ways those challenges have allowed us to press deeper into trusting that God is doing the work, while we’re along for the ride.

For the past year and a half we’ve had a group of folks journeying together in Manhattan, and this crew is now preparing to help us launch this church in the Fall.

I will be leading this new venture along with James Chi (you’ll hear more about James soon) and a host of awesome people that comprise our Midtown Community.

In addition, Craig Okpala will be overseeing the worship experience in Midtown while still being significantly engaged in Astoria.

I will also remain significantly engaged in Astoria (I’ll still be attending and preaching at Hope Astoria regularly, for the most part) as Hope Midtown will gather in the evening.

One of the clearest ways this has all been possible has been because of the standout leadership of people like Kristian Hernandez (Hope Astoria & Preaching Team Lead – Kris will be a regular preacher in Midtown), Dan & Amanda Sadlier (Hope Roosevelt Island), and our Transitional Leadership Team (Darryl Romano, Christine Okpala, & Tony Thottukadavil), and a stellar staff team at our churches.

They, along with so many of our leaders, volunteers, and attenders – have been a joy to serve alongside.

And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my wife Tina is as supportive of this as she’s ever been.

I’m excited about all that God is doing in NYC, and I’m so glad to be along for the ride.

Hope Midtown has begun meeting weekly on Friday Nights in Manhattan as we prepare to launch in October, 2014.  If you’d like to find out more or if you’d like to get involved, you can email me at drew@hopechurchnyc.org.    

A Powerful Song I’d Love for You to Hear

This came as a short announcement on facebook, but it was so exciting for me to see the release of the song Here’s My Life, written and performed by Craig Okpala, pastor at Hope Church NYC (and produced by the the ever-talented Paul Kim).

We’ve been singing this song as a congregation for the past few weeks, and it so aptly captures the heart cry of so many of our people.

Many were surprised when they heard it was an original song written by Craig.

Craig also shares the story of this song in the sermon below.  Powerful.

Thank you, friend, for creating music that touches the heart. May it bless many!

Hope Roosevelt Island’s First Preview Service is This Sunday, November 24th

When we first started Hope Church NYC a little over a year ago, our dream was to begin a movement of churches where honest, diverse communities of people would discover Christ.

Hope Roosevelt Island hosts its First Preview Service this Sunday, November 24th

Hope Roosevelt Island hosts its First Preview Service this Sunday, November 24th

This Sunday, November 24th, Hope Roosevelt Island (our 2nd church) hosts its first preview service followed by a Thanksgiving Community Dinner.

It’s hard to believe this is all happening!

Dan & Amanda Sadlier have done an amazing job leading this community, and there are so many unsung heroes who are part of this launch (Jim Bates and so many others).

I’m really excited about this Sunday!

If you’re free to join us, we’d love your support in helping serve some food.

More so, we’d love for you to invite any Roosevelt Islanders you know who are not connected to a church.

And above all, we’d appreciate your prayers so that Hope Roosevelt Island can be a true blessing to Roosevelt Island.

Some Pastors/Leaders You Should Get to Know

There are tons of great pastors/leaders that you should know, and I really appreciated this blog by Donald Miller about why pastors are important.

I wanted to introduce you to three relatively new Pastors/Leaders at Hope (they’ve been around since the summer), three of whom have made a significant impact in our community already.

Many of you have already met these folks, but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce them on my blog.

1. Kristian Hernandez – Kristian is a good friend whom I’ve known since 2006, and he’s one of the warmest, funniest, preach-like-nobody’s-business pastors I know.  We were so blessed to have the great folks at Resurrection Churchbless Kristian and his family to join our church plant, and he’s done an amazing job preaching, pastoring, and leading in our community.

Find out more about Kristian here:

2.  Dan & Amanda Sadlier – Simply put, the Sadliers are awesome.  I love this family.

Dan is leading Hope Roosevelt Island, a new church on Roosevelt Island that I’m absolutely giddy about, and he’s added so much in terms of leadership, strategic missional thinking, wisdom, and fabulous teaching/preaching.

Amanda is leading our Hope Tots/Kids Environments, and she’s done a phenomenal job with them.  Amanda is a catalytic leader who Joseph Longarino described by saying, “she could be president.”  She’s really a stellar leader as well.

On top of it all, the Sadliers have five great kids.  Meet them all below.

New York City is blessed to have pastors/leaders like these folks!