In early 1989 a group of 15 people began meeting weekly in an Upper East Side apartment. Their purpose was to pray about starting 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, and 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. In 1992 Redeemer founded Hope for New York, an outward-facing mercy ministry focused on addressing the practical needs of the city’s population.
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 the church’s needs. 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 church services began there in March of 1993.
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 as well as supporting church-planting efforts in other global cities. Redeemer grew steadily in Sunday attendance to ~3000 per week by 1996 although it would be more accurate to say that there were about double that number who attended on a regular basis. Sunday services were held three times a Sunday at Hunter College auditorium and eventually services were added on the West Side of Central Park and many ministries were developed to address human needs in the city.
This addition of a West Side service in 1996 marked when Redeemer decided to become a multi-site 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 (later, three) 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 multi-site model and to found the Redeemer Church Planting Center.
From 1993 to 2006 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 1998 the Redeemer Church Planting Center has provided resources, including financing, mentoring, leadership and ministers, for these and many other church plants. Other daughter/granddaughter/sister churches planted include: the Teaneck, Hoboken, and Montclair churches in New Jersey, Grace Church in Palo Alto California, and Harbour Church in San Diego. Church plants in cities outside the U.S. included Toronto, Budapest, Sao Paulo and London.
By fall of 2003, the development of Redeemer’s multi-site model had taken shape with an East Side location for morning and evening congregations and two separate West Side sites for morning and evening congregations.
By fall of 2004 Sunday attendance averaged approximately 4200 people at four services weekly and the need to purchase property became unavoidable. So Redeemer conducted a Vision Campaign in the fall of 2005, the theme of which was “Serving our neighbors, changing the world.” Funds were raised to start new community-formation ministries, enable more churches to be planted, and to purchase property in Manhattan for the purpose of building Redeemer’s first community and worship center.
The Vision campaign resulted in pledges of $19.2 million and at the end of 2006 Redeemer entered into contract to purchase a property at 150 West 83rd Street. In addition, several ministries were started or grown as a direct result. The Center for Faith & Work has expanded—most significantly, by launching comprehensive professional development ministries for artists (The Arts Greenhouse), entrepreneurs (The Entrepreneurship Initiative) and an extensive mentorship program for young professionals (Gotham Fellows). In addition, the Redeemer Church Planting Center nearly doubled the total number of churches it helped start worldwide through the help of funding from this campaign.
In March of 2007 Redeemer grew from four to five worship services (offering an additional West Side evening service) and Sunday worship attendance increased to approximately 4800. 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 approximately 3,000 congregants who were involved in weekly Bible study and fellowship.
Redeemer began the process of transitioning from one centrally staffed church into three congregations—each with its own lead Pastor and local staff—with the launch of the East Side congregation in October of 2011. In March, 2012 with funds from the RENEW Campaign designated for building a new Ministry Center, the vision of having a 24/7 ministry facility came to fruition as Redeemer opened its first building in Manhattan—the W83 Ministry Center at 150 West 83rd St. The West Side congregation was launched in this new space at the same time. The W83 Ministry Center also provided all three congregations with ministry space to serve the city and our church community in ways that were not possible in rented space.
In October of 2012 the Downtown congregation was launched and averaged over 1000 people in Sunday worship attendance. By the end of 2012 Redeemer had multiplied into three generative congregations around the city. While one centrally-governed church body, the dynamic of the church became more engaged in neighborhoods located east, west and south of Central Park. As three "sister" congregations united by its preaching, under Dr. Keller’s senior leadership, each congregation served its neighborhood more distinctively and on a deeper, more transforming level.
In 2016 Redeemer had grown to a level where the three congregations held a combined eight Sunday worship services each week which together averaged over 5,300 people in attendance. In the fall of 2016 Redeemer began its most ambitious campaign to transform the NYC for the good of everyone—The Rise Campaign. The theme of the campaign was to accelerate a growing gospel movement in New York City to a tipping point of gospel influence over the next 10-20 years. The vision was to bring about this new level of gospel influence through raising up new leaders, new churches and new buildings for all to share. To see an entire city renewed by the gospel. Redeemer's churches were united in seeking to bring about a critical mass of New Yorkers who express gospel values—mercy, friendship, justice, hope—in their work, lives, and neighborhoods, in order to help the city flourish for everyone in it. But in order to reach this tipping point, it would not be through building a bigger Redeemer. Instead, Redeemer sought to grow a people-driven movement of New Yorkers in every neighborhood rising to embody the gospel in how they live, work, and serve.
Over three plus years generous and faithful supporters of Rise—both Redeemer congregants and friends of Redeemer (outside our church)—raised the funds needed to purchase a property on the upper East Side of Manhattan and build a new Ministry Center on the east side of Central Park at 91st St. and Lexington Ave. In addition, funds were distributed to help start new churches through Redeemer City to City, train new and existing pastors and provide training opportunities for new church leaders all across the city.
In May of 2017, our one large church officially became three smaller churches on the East Side, the West Side and Downtown while still remaining one corporation with some shared ministries. With each of Redeemer's churches fully staffed and established as individual churches ecclesially, on July 1, 2017 Redeemer's founder, Dr Timothy Keller, officially stepped down as Sr. Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and was named Pastor Emeritus. At that time he began working solely for Redeemer City to City training future pastors and church planters.
Each of the Redeemer's churches began functioning as a network of local churches united by the original vision and values of Redeemer, each with its own senior pastor, officers and leaders. Redeemer's churches looked forward with a movement mindset to plant more gospel centered churches as God provided the opportunities. As venues and leaders became available, Redeemer churches continued to work toward adding more local worship sites in new neighborhoods, and on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, the West Side launched a new worship site—Redeemer Lincoln Square. And in the fall of 2019 Redeemer East Side sent out a group from its congregation to start a new worship site north of Central Park—Redeemer East Harlem.
As of summer 2022 both the Lincoln Square and East Harlem worship sites have become ecclesially independent churches bringing the number of Redeemer "network" churches to five. After the effects of the pandemic, every Redeemer church went through a time of recalibrating to determine how best to return to "normal" ministry. All of Redeemer's churches are working hard to bring the hope of the gospel to a city that is in a state of transition with so many people leaving the city and many new people moving into it. On the East Side construction is underway to build the new East Side Ministry Center which is planned to open some time in 2024 or 2025.
Today and in the future
Each of the Redeemer churches is working to strengthen ministries and raise up more leaders with the hope that they will eventually multiply further into six to nine neighborhood-based churches within the next eight to ten years. Our hope is that this will bring about:
• Personal conversion for many New Yorkers who don't yet know the love of Christ.
• A movement mindset where our congregants are regularly living out the gospel — loving and serving the city in the places where they work and live.
• The influence of Gospel-based resources used by our churches to create changed hearts and form new communities of believing individuals and that unites them in serving the city with the love and hope of Christ.
• Neighborhoods openly welcoming and embracing the presence of Christian churches all across the city.
• Long-term community development in NYC that transforms poor communities into prospering mixed income neighborhoods.
• New university graduates who integrate their faith and work by receiving training and mentoring from Christian leaders.
• Affordable high-quality day care and after-school programs encouraging families to stay in the city long term.
• Churches that are resourced by world-class experts from agencies in faith and work, social justice, evangelism and community building.