This Fall we come together around the RENEW Campaign. Every so many years Redeemer follows the Biblical pattern of ‘covenant renewal.’ As a church we spend a season renewing our vision and calling in New York City, then introducing some new initiatives to realize that vision over the next few years, and finally recommitting ourselves and resources to the work. This Fall is the 20th anniversary of our founding, and so it is most appropriate for us to enter such a season now.
At the core of Redeemer’s vision are the beliefs that the gospel changes everything, that serving the city is the more strategic way to reach our society with the good news, and that to do this, Redeemer cannot simply be a church, even a great church, but the catalyst for a whole movement of the gospel in the city—through new congregations, ministries, and institutions. The purpose of the RENEW Campaign is to position Redeemer for the next stage of this gospel movement.
God has blessed Redeemer and we have grown into a large and effective ministry. But the larger we grow, the harder it is for our congregation to own and live out the basics of our vision. It becomes easier to think of the church in terms of “the staff” and the people in the pew as the “consumers to be served.” But one of the drivers of our success in the first two decades was that the congregation realized that they were Redeemer—a priesthood of believers brought together by God to build a church for the city. To see a movement of the gospel in and through our church we need to push against the tendency to “institutionalize” and return to our more organic, dynamic, congregation-led roots.
I’m going to talk a lot about the characteristics of a movement this fall. A movement has a great spontaneous dynamism through which new ideas, leaders, and initiatives bubble up from everywhere in the membership. Is it possible for Redeemer to replicate its ‘DNA’—its distinctive gospel thinking about how to love and serve the city—through new curriculum, books, and training programs, and to equip and empower new leaders so that ministry now happening centrally begins to happen out in neighborhoods and across the city? I believe the answer is yes.
How could we see that occur? Our plan is to begin over the next three years to create three Redeemer congregations, each with its own dedicated pastors, staff, lay leaders, and congregation. All three will remain under one board of elders, and I will continue to preach and serve as Senior Pastor. While I will continue to preach the same number of weeks and services, rotating to each location, the congregations will have their own lead pastor who will share the preaching with me. From the beginning, each congregation will develop as a ‘generative base,’ with a mission to birth its own new sites and congregations in the coming years. Imagine, 10 years from now, that Redeemer has become three base churches that are each almost as strong as Redeemer is now, and each church will have spun off 1 or 2 other sites. That would be 7-9 worshipping congregations with more than 12 worship services, reaching out to our un-churched neighbors, serving needs in our communities.
There are three things we need to put in place in order to realize this vision. First, we must establish a ‘pipeline’ of pastors and ministry staff to facilitate our congregational leaders and each church’s growth. In order to raise up a new generation of pastors and preachers we must become far more intentional and deliberate about mentoring and training, and I must become a ‘leader-coach’ and spend a major part of my time each year working with this pipeline. We will work with ministers and staff recruited from both inside and outside of Redeemer. Pastoral leadership is only part of the story. Secondly, we must challenge and equip lay leaders to take responsibility for outreach, cultural engagement and service in their own locales as we did in the early years of Redeemer. In a large church it is natural that much evangelism, discipleship, and service is done ‘from the top’ by skillful professionals, but that is not how dynamic movements work. We will call members and small groups to come together in small communities of 50-100 in order to pray, engage, and serve their own neighborhoods. Just like when smaller bodies of Christians are sent out from larger churches to start new churches, our move to localize and congregationalize will draw out people’s gifts and leadership potential in profound new ways. I look forward to seeing what will happen across our church as we train and empower our members to reach out where they live and work.
Third, we must be sure that these three Redeemer congregations are rooted long-term in their neighborhoods. A key element in this is to acquire (purchase or lease) seven-day-a-week ministry and community space for each of the three congregations. One reason for this is that, when we rent space only one day a week, we do not as a church really live in that neighborhood. Our neighbors can’t see us loving them or each other through sacrificial service. The second reason to get a building in each neighborhood is to give each congregation the stability of knowing that this is home, where we will be living and serving for years. Our members will, in time, put down roots in these neighborhoods and we will become much more than a transient presence in NYC.
In this campaign we will be putting one half of the money we raise toward the renovation of 150 W. 83rd Street from parking garage to worship and ministry center. It is crucial for the future effectiveness of our ministries that we raise enough money now so that our debt service in the future will not be burdensome. In this campaign budget there is also money for leasing seven-day-a-week space on the East Side. In addition we will fund the pastor pipeline and lay leadership development programs described above.
One of my elders who has been with us since the beginning has often said that Redeemerites prayed more fervently in our early years, because we all felt we were attempting something beyond our abilities. We were all inviting our friends, serving our neighbors, and stretching our faith in new ways. Our plan now is to return to these roots, to reconnect to our vision for vigorous church planting right in Manhattan, and to release the power of the laity, gifted by the Spirit.