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Empire State of Change. In the last 20 years, Christianity has grown in NYC

There’s so much religion here, the air is thick with it.

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Empire State of Change. In the last 20 years, Christianity has grown in NYC

By Kathryn Watson. Photos by Andy Barron. Relevant magazine


New York City churches tread the line between community center and place of worship; they are a mixture of ESL classes in the basement, bi-vocational pastors, after-school programs and co-op gardens behind project buildings. They are dinner parties on Wednesday nights, and artist collective meetings in recording studios.

Churches don’t announce their presence with sprawling campuses and freshly painted white steeples. Many of the city’s most prominent and influential churches don’t even have a permanent location—much less a sign tacked on the front. Church here is more bare than gloss.

But without these Bible Belt trappings, Christianity is exploding at unprecedented rates. You’ve heard of the key players, like Timothy Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian and Hillsong NYC. But the story of New York’s revival isn’t all about high-profile churches. Like the city itself, the real story includes a persistent, rich diversity.   ...

Christianity in New York City looks different than in other places, and urban religion expert (and Queens resident) Tony Carnes would be the first to admit that that makes the movement hard to quantify. To people from other areas of the country, the resurgence of Christianity here takes a shape that’s hard to see. But the lack of real estate, Carnes observes, doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of social capital.

“There’s so much religion here, the air is thick with it,” he says. “It’s a vast effervescence.”

He would know. Heading up A Journey through NYC religions, a non-sectarian, non-denominational organization with no direct religious affiliation, Carnes has been walking the crevices and alleyways of all five boroughs, street by street collecting data at every religious site that he and his group have come across since 2010. What he’s discovered is astounding: 40 percent of the churches in Manhattan below 125th Street were founded in the last 15 years. Church planting is up 2.1 percent across the outer boroughs. In a city of over 8 million people, that’s a movement.

The momentum that churches have gained in New York City is something that was gaining traction almost imperceptibly before exploding all at once. As the Church itself shifts toward ministry that kindles one-on-one relationships, it converges with a generation unique in its desire for connected and multi-dimensional community. It’s a critical moment; one where the rising tide of ideology is greeted by a host of practical concerns. The result is a dramatic shift that is recasting the role of Christians in New York City. ...

“It’s become very expensive to do church in New York City,” Fernando Cabrera of The Bronx's New Life International says. “Many pastors find themselves having to become bi-vocational. When you’re ministering to people who are in poverty, and 75 percent of them rent when real estate costs are only going up—it’s challenging.”

But with that challenge comes a creative solution. Many churches are addressing the problem of limited real estate by adopting a parish model.

Jon Tyson serves as pastor of Trinity Grace, a multi-parish church with over 3,000 weekly attendees. “New York is one of the most complex and multicultural cities in the world,” he says. “We are planting churches in the poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods at the same time, and learning about what it means to collaborate and humble ourselves.” ...

The other big catalyst for church growth? The presence of curious, authenticity-starved young people. ...

For the rest of this long article read it on Relevant.


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