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 in March of 1993.
From its first morning worship service, Redeemer has grown to a Sunday attendance of approximately 5000 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.
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. In 1996 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. include 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 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 (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 it’s own lead Pastor and local staff—with the launch of the East Side congregation in October of 2011. In March, 2012 the RENEW Campaign funds designated for building a new worship 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 provides 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 now averages over 1000 people in 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 our preaching, under Dr. Keller’s senior leadership, each congregation serves its neighborhood more distinctively and on a deeper, more transforming level.
Today and in the future
In 2016 Redeemer held eight Sunday worship services each week averaging over 5,300 people in attendance.
In May of 2017, our one large church officially became three smaller churches on the East Side, the West Side and Downtown. Each of these churches has its own senior pastor, officers and leaders. As venues and leaders become available, we are adding even more local worship sites, and on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, the West Side launched a new worship site—Redeemer Lincoln Square. In 2018-2019 Redeemer East Side and Redeemer Downtown plan to launch new worship sites as well.
Each church is now working to strengthen ministries and raise up more leaders with the hope that the three churches will eventually multiply further into six to nine neighborhood-based churches within the next eight to ten 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 expertsfrom 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.