Planting a church in New York City
About three years ago, I left my job as an attorney to pursue the dream of starting a church in Harlem, NY, a neighborhood of hundreds of thousands of people in Manhattan. It’s hard to describe the mixture of prayerful expectation and anxiety of starting a new church. On one hand, I was convinced that God was calling me to plant a diverse church in West Harlem aimed at engaging unchurched and de-churched people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But on the other hand, I knew it would take God doing something special to see that vision become a reality. Throughout our journey, I’ve clung to a story from Scripture found in all four Gospel accounts, the miracle where Jesus feeds the 5,000.
Five thousand people needed to eat, and all the disciples had at their disposal were five pieces of bread and two fish—by all accounts, they didn’t have enough. What Jesus said next embodied our journey for the last three years. Knowing there wasn’t enough, Jesus told his disciples, “‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ And the disciples did so, and everyone sat down” (Luke 9:14b-15). Plainly stated, the disciples were commissioned to tell people that food was on the way, and they knew they couldn’t do it. The only way food was coming was if Jesus delivered supernatural growth. And Jesus did, he took what little the disciples had, broke it and blessed it, and there was so much food that not only did they feed the 5,000, but they also had leftovers.
Planting a church in New York City is sort of like telling people that food is coming even though deep down inside, we knew that unless Jesus grew our church from a handful of people with too few resources in an unchurched area like ours, it simply wouldn’t happen. But surely, Jesus has grown our church from a living room full of people praying to see the gospel explode in Harlem, to a thriving, vibrant, diverse community that engages people with the gospel.
The majority of people that come to Renaissance Church aren’t coming because they’re already following Jesus and like our music better than the church down the street. They are coming for the first time in a long time, or in some cases—ever, and people are responding to the gospel, community is being formed, and people are being baptized as followers of Jesus. We’re seeing Jesus do what only Jesus can do: multiply and bless.
Quite honestly, I’m in awe of what God has done in the first year of our church since public launch, and without a doubt, the only thing we can say about what’s happening in Harlem is “to God be the Glory!”
Even more special than the sheer volume of what God is doing is the make-up of the community. In my community group last year, we had people from Harlem, Liberia, Russia, Brazil, London, Romania, and all over the rest of the United States. One thing New York City affords is a great deal of diversity, and we’re seeing a diverse group of people come together, all under the umbrella of the gospel as family. People have put their differences aside to see the Kingdom of God happen in Harlem, and it’s incredible to witness.
Without a doubt, some of the multiplying that God has done, He has done through you at The Chapel. The generosity of your church and others who believe in seeing the gospel go forth, has enabled us to engage with unchurched people without the immediate pressure of supporting ourselves financially. We’ve been able to take our time in building relationships and trust in our community. We are extremely grateful for your continued prayers, love, and support.
- Jordan Rice, Renaissance Christian Church