I began attending Redeemer as a congregant in 2004 and then joined the staff as a project manager in 2012 to open West 83rd, and then was on the team to launch the Downtown congregation. It was an exciting time to be on staff, as we were stepping out in faith to move Redeemer from a mega-church to a collegiate model. Once the collegiate model was in full swing, I started working with the leadership on some of our internal discussions of what would be next for Redeemer. And those discussions quickly became not about Redeemer, but about a movement that was happening in the city. I was blown away by the vision for what could be — what if God could bring a gospel movement in our city to a tipping point? These conversations later became what is now called the New York Project and gave birth to the Rise campaign at Redeemer.
At the time I thought this focus away from Redeemer but towards the city as a whole was something new for us at Redeemer ... until I came across the Redeemer Presbyterian Church annual report from 1998. This was back in the day when we only had worship services at Hunter, we had just started talking about holding worship services on the West Side, and Hope for New York was only four years old. Redeemer was only nine years old at the time and already Tim and our leadership were starting to communicate that a mega-church was not the end goal. And in fact, the annual report starts with a cover page that bluntly states this:
Redeemer is about to embark on a deliberate and innovative strategy to reject the mega-church model. Instead of becoming a mega-church, we want to raise a whole new generation of leaders and churches. Instead of keeping our gifts to ourselves, we want to become a movement of churches and a servant of the whole Body of Christ in New York and beyond.
We have two basic strategies for this: adopt a Multi-Site model and establish an Urban Church Development Center.
1998 was the year Redeemer boldly stated what we wanted instead of a mega-church was a gospel movement of many churches — a movement beyond us and all over the city to renew our city. A renewed city was our end goal, not a mega-church. The Urban Church Development Center, which is our present day Redeemer City to City, was being developed as the catalyst to grow and cultivate gospel movements all over the world.
The annual report continues to explain what this will mean for Redeemer specifically in the coming years. In the section entitled, “Where is God leading Redeemer?” I was shocked to read the following:
First, we will become a single church that meets in multiple places. In fall 1998, we plan to open a West Side Site, the first of three or four such locations to be started around Central Park. Each site will be “equally Redeemer,” with the same preaching from the Senior Pastor and the same range of ministries, but will focus on its neighborhood and local communities.
Next, during a seven to fifteen year transition period, each site will develop its own pastoral and lay leadership. The Senior Pastor will continue as the main preacher at all sites equally, but instead of being the main pastor/leader of Redeemer, he will put his energies into mentoring and training a new generation of young preachers and lay leaders who will all lead individual congregations. When the Senior Pastor retires, each church will call its own Senior Pastor.
Finally, these sites will eventually become a tight network of sister churches, each of which can be smaller and closer to its neighborhood, yet together supporting mega-church quality ministries in the areas of missions, mercy and social justice, counseling, music and the arts, midweek and weekend evangelistic forums, publishing and family and youth ministries.
How did we have the foresight for this in 1998? These are massive organizational shifts that have now come to fruition in 2017! It is amazing that the leadership and the members held true to a unique vision for almost 20 years. Organizations implement this type of change over two or four years; it’s much harder to do over 20 years.
How did we have the foresight? How did we actually pull it off slowly over the last 20 years? I know we say this a lot at Redeemer ... but it must be God. His faithfulness to us is shockingly beautiful. Clearly, His desire for us to be a church not for ourselves is relentless. Praise be to God.