NEW YORK (BP)–When terrorists struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Aaron Coe had been on the staff of a church in Georgia just six months. But the images of a hurting city captured his heart and stirred him to move.
So Coe and his wife Carmen relocated to New York in early 2003 to lead an initiative to reach college students on the city’s 191 college campuses. By 2005, God gave the Coes a burden to reach not just students but also artists and young professionals in Manhattan. They started a Bible study that developed into a weekly worship service in January 2006.
Coe now is ready to officially launch The Gallery Church. Providentially the launch was slated for Sept. 10 — one day prior to the fifth anniversary of the day that drew him to New York.
“God has used 9/11 to really pave the way for what’s going on in the city right now,” Coe told Baptist Press. “9/11 really threw open what we’re calling a spiritual window here in the city. There are people in this city who are asking spiritual questions that they weren’t asking before 9/11. So it really paved the way for evangelism and church planting to take place.”
Coe is not alone in being motivated by 9/11 to plant a church in New York.
Since 9/11, Southern Baptists have planted at least 36 new churches in the metro New York area and 364 Southern Baptist churches around the country have been involved in assisting the new congregations.
Brad Veitch, church planting director for the Baptist Convention of New York, said 9/11 likely has been a key catalyst.
“We have seen a continued increase in the number of baptisms from our church plants in New York City since that time,” Veitch said. “We did not have much going on before then, but the churches that we are planting are continuing to increase in the number of baptisms each year. I believe there is a growing responsiveness to the Gospel in the city.”
Frost, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, said God took the evil of the 9/11 attacks and has used it to draw an influx of workers to New York.
“9/11 accelerated everything we did,” Frost said. “One way it accelerated was New York began to attract more missionaries. People were willing to come from all over America to New York. There was a national response to New York’s pain, and I think 9/11 alerted people to the needs of New York City.
“All of the church plants benefited from an increased volume of missionaries coming to help them do the work.”
One church planter impacted by Sept. 11 was Nelson Searcy. When the attacks occurred, Searcy was in New York planning to start a church, but the timeframe for the launch wasn’t set. With an increased burden to bring the hope of Christ to hurting New Yorkers, Searcy initiated a Bible study.
The Bible study eventually grew into The Journey Church, which has celebrated its third anniversary. The Journey has met in comedy clubs, off-Broadway theaters and public schools. Today the church meets in the Manhattan Center’s Grand Ballroom for four services each Sunday averaging a combined attendance of more than 1,000.
Taylor Field, pastor and director of East Seventh Baptist Church-Graffiti in New York, has seen the impact of church planting firsthand. Since Sept. 11, Field’s church has been involved in starting several churches, including The Journey, that average a combined attendance of more than 2,000 each week.
Among the churches East Seventh has helped start are the first Chinese-speaking church in the area and a church that reaches out to punk rockers and Goths.
“In the last five years we’ve had the chance to partner with different kinds of churches,” Field said. “It’s a wide range, and we have a wide range of involvement with them.”
The long-term commitment of Southern Baptists to church planting has made it possible for the message of Christ to soothe the post-9/11 wounds of New York City, Veitch said, noting that the Cooperative Program played a major role in launching the new churches.
“We’ve had such a great interest in church planting in New York City,” Veitch said. “[Southern Baptists] recognized that we could help people recover from this but we needed long-term help. It is the strength of being part of the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program and the kindred spirit of Southern Baptists that has allowed us to respond the way we have.”