In early 1989, a group of 15 people began meeting weekly in an Upper East Side apartment. Their purpose was to pray about planting a new church in the heart of Manhattan for professional New Yorkers. One of their concerns was that new believers were finding it difficult to locate a church they could attend, a church that was open to people who were seeking answers regarding their faith, a church where they felt secure in bringing their friends who were skeptical about matters of faith. Because Dr. Timothy Keller had already been designated by the Mission to North America Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America to investigate the needs of New York City and the possibility of church planting here, he began meeting with this prayer group.
Although Dr. Keller's schedule was already full due to his teaching commitments at Westminster Theological Seminary, he continued commuting to New York regularly to meet with the prayer group to discuss the possibilities of church development with them. Before long, as Dr. Keller learned more about the spiritual needs of New York City, he began to feel a call here.
By the spring of 1989, this movement had taken on such urgency that an evening service was begun on April 9, 1989, at the Church of the Advent Hope, which was home to a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation. In June the Kellers moved to New York with their three young boys. By the end of the summer the congregation had grown to such an extent that the decision was made to add another service. A morning service featuring classical music and a more liturgical form of worship was added on September 24, 1989. By Christmas, attendance at the church numbered approximately 250; by its first anniversary Redeemer had added three staff members to work in administration, small groups and Christian education.
While no one had doubted God's direction in establishing a new church in Manhattan, neither had anyone expected an authentic revival. But so it seemed. New believers were being added weekly, skeptics were thronging to the services, every decision seemed blessed, and God provided for every need, sometimes before we even knew we had it.
By early spring of 1993, Redeemer had outgrown the Adventist Church, even though it was holding four services each Sunday in a building that seated nearly 400. With extraordinary timing, Hunter College Auditorium became available and we moved our services there in March of 1993.
From its first morning worship service, Redeemer has grown to an average Sunday attendance of around 4,500 per week, although it would be more accurate to say that there are about double that number who attend on a regular basis. Sunday services are held in different locations around the city and many ministries have been developed to address human needs in the city. In 1992, Redeemer founded Hope for New York, an outward-facing mercy ministry focused on addressing the practical needs of the city's population.
Since 1993, Redeemer has not only continued to grow as a congregation, but has also begun working to plant churches in and around New York while also supporting church planting efforts in other global cities. In 1996, Redeemer decided to become a multisite church rather than continue growing in one location into a "mega-church." This model was formed around the idea of setting up worship service sites for four distinct congregations around Central Park instead of one large congregation meeting at Hunter College.
In the autumn of 1997, Redeemer concluded its first Capital Campaign and used the funds to initiate the development of the multisite model and to found the Redeemer Church Planting Center.
From 1993 to 2003, Redeemer planted daughter churches throughout the New York metro area. The first two were in Greenwich Village (The Village Church) and Rye, New York (Trinity Presbyterian). In partnership with others, New Song Fellowship in Harlem and North Shore Presbyterian in Oyster Bay, Long Island were established. Since its founding in 2000, the Redeemer Church Planting Center has provided resources including financing, mentoring, leadership and ministers for these and many other church plants. Other daughter, granddaughter or sister churches planted include the Teaneck, Hoboken and Montclair churches in New Jersey, as well as Grace Church in Palo Alto, Calif. Church plants in cities outside the U.S. include Toronto, Budapest, Sao Paulo and London.
As of fall 2003, the development of Redeemer's multisite model had taken shape with an East Side location for morning and evening congregations and two separate West Side sites for a morning and evening congregation. Even so, by the fall of 2004, Sunday attendance averaged approximately 4,200 people at four services weekly. The need to purchase property (instead of bequeathing the instability of renting to the next generation) became unavoidable, so Redeemer conducted a Vision Campaign in the fall of 2005. The theme of the campaign was “Serving our neighbors, changing the world.” Funds were raised to start new community formation ministries, enable more churches to be planted, and purchase property in Manhattan for the purpose of building Redeemer’s first Community and Worship Center.
At the end of 2006, Redeemer entered into contract to purchase a property at 150 West 83rd Street. In addition, several ministries have been started or grown as a direct result. The Center for Faith & Work has expanded — most significantly by launching comprehensive professional development ministries for artists and entrepreneurs, as well as an extensive mentorship program for young professionals (the Gotham Fellowship).
In March of 2007, Redeemer grew from four to five worship services, offering an additional West Side evening service. And by the end of 2008, congregation-wide involvement in weekly fellowship groups had increased dramatically, more than doubling in a three-year span to about 3,000 congregants who were involved in weekly Bible study and fellowship.
Today and in the future
In 2011, Redeemer began the process of multiplying into three generative congregations around the city. These congregations, each with its own lead pastor, will be unique in some ways, but Redeemer will remain one church body located east, west and south of Central Park. As three "sister" congregations united by our preaching, under Dr. Keller’s senior leadership, each will develop plans for serving their neighborhoods more distinctively and on a deeper, more transforming level. The hope is that the three congregations will eventually multiply further into 6 to 9 neighborhood based congregations within 5 to 10 years. We hope this will bring about:
- Long-term community development in NYC that transforms poor communities into prospering mixed income neighborhoods.
- New university graduates who receive training and mentoring in integrating their faith and work.
- Affordable high quality day care and after school programs encouraging families to stay in the city long term.
- Neighborhoods across the city openly welcoming and embracing the presence of Christian churches.
- Churches that are resourced by world-class experts from agencies in faith and work, social justice, evangelism and community building.
- Churches that are using gospel-based resources designed to change hearts and form new communities of believing individuals united in serving their cities with the love and hope of Christ.