By 2000 it was clear that religion was making a comeback. Name a religion and it had believers in the city, sometimes a lot of them. In our overview in New York Glory: religions in the city Anna Karpathakis and I concluded, “Conservative religions have found ways to thrive in New York City.”
Despite my expectations, church and ministry planting appeared to be accelerating. The average annual church planting rate was 2.25% If the church and ministry planting by evangelicals continue at this rate, they would plant at least 2000 more churches and ministries in New York City by 2020.
The church membership of evangelicals was also growing at a rate of 5-8% per year. (However, the overall growth rate obscures a wide range of sizes, growth and viability of churches and ministries. For example, a substantial component of evangelical growth in the city came from Asian immigrants and their children.)
The 2005 Billy Graham Crusade in Flushing Meadow Park captures some of the self-awareness of NYC evangelicals that they were in a different era. The crusade by Graham is close as one gets to a public definition of evangelicalism in New York City. Evangelicalism has no visible command and control center that defines the movement and gives marching orders. There is no denominational HQ called “Evangelicalism,” or evangelical pope. However, Graham is a sort of living history of modern evangelicalism. Many NYC evangelical leaders and lay came to Graham’s meetings to define who they are for the public. In introducing Graham, Reverend A.R. Bernard, the pastor of the largest church in the city (31,000 members), did just that. He proclaimed to the 90,000 people in attendance, “We aren’t storefront churches any more!”
Bernard represented the growth of evangelical churches in the boroughs. The Crusade was located at Flushing Meadow Park, right in the midst of this new spiritual firmament. This wasn’t exactly a new feature of the city. Former public schools chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola had famously located two New Yorks: the religious, conservative ethnic New York of the boroughs; and the secular, liberal more white New York of Manhattan. The rise of the borough evangelicals and the Graham crusade in Queens seemed to merely reinforce this longstanding division. However, the evangelicals, like a wave of a new era, lapped into Manhattan in a big way at the start of the 21st Century.