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Church-planter, Ga. church partnering to impact Manhattan

NEW YORK (BP)–The neighborhood surrounding Scott and Kristen Rourk’s apartment defines New York City for many tourists. This is Midtown Manhattan, about two blocks from Times Square and across the street from a subsidized apartment building housing thousands of actors and others employed in the Broadway theater district.

This is also their mission field, where The Four One One Church is impacting lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As an “anchor church” sponsored jointly by New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., the Georgia Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board, Four One One represents a commitment to an enduring Southern Baptist witness in the heart of the city.

“Our vision is to make New York the Jesus center of the world,” said Scott Rourk, who began serving as a church planting missionary in May. “And the way we’re going to do it is by helping reveal true information that will transform people’s lives.”

The vision for Four One One actually began about three years ago in the heart of New Hope’s pastor, John Avant. Rourk was a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who had spent his teenage years at New Hope. When he began developing a passion for church planting during seminary, it seemed a natural fit for New Hope to talk with him about planting the church in Midtown. Rourk and his family relocated in late spring of 2003.

Even before they arrived, they knew starting a church in New York would be unlike anything they had experienced before.

“Here you don’t just go out and start talking about Christianity,” Rourk said. “… You have to build relationships, and people have to see that you genuinely care for them.”

So he often buys bottles of cold water to hand out to residents. Or, he and other volunteers pick up trash in neighborhoods.

“People will stop us and say, ‘What are you doing?’ And then we are able to share with them … about the free gift of Jesus.”

Other relationships have been formed in the context of everyday life — the grocer who sells them the water, for instance, or a bank teller who feels comfortable talking about problems in her life.

Sometimes those conversations make a lasting difference. Rourk’s real estate agent began asking how Rourk could be so certain about his beliefs. He gave her a Bible, and when he met with her a month later she had read halfway through the Old Testament. She is still considering the claims of Scripture.

“This is a pursuit that she’s on,” Rourk said. “It’s not just an instantaneous acceptance of Christianity like I was used to seeing when I was young.”

Rourk’s nontraditional strategy takes all of those factors into account.
Drawing upon about 200 contacts he has made in the theater community, he plans to form in January the first of multiple “high-riser groups” that eventually will be located in apartment buildings throughout the area. A central meeting place is a goal, he said, but not everyone would have to be in the same building.

“We’re going to have live Web broadcasts,” he said. “And those people at each of these high-riser groups will be able to interact with one another. So we’re going to have a worship experience where the city literally is the sanctuary.”

Rourk also intends to incorporate the area’s artistic leanings into the worship experience. “We want to use worship evangelism to give people a touch of what church can be in the future,” he said.

For now, the focus is on laying a solid foundation. The Rourks have worked with volunteer teams from New Hope Baptist Church to pray for every street in the area and to conduct spiritual opinion surveys as a means of identifying the needs of people in the surrounding neighborhoods.

One prayer-walking team in June told how the experience had opened their eyes to the needs of a city that many previously knew only by reputation.

“I guess the impression of New York [residents] is that all of them are closed, but they’re really not,” said Michelle Barnett, a summer intern working with New Hope. “A lot of them really want to talk. They will come over and are interested in what we’re doing.”

Amy Avant, daughter of New Hope’s pastor, said her three trips to the city have personalized the needs — and made her prayers more specific.

“When I used to think of New York I thought of it as a big city, and now I think of the people, and their hurts and their problems,” she said. “And they’re longing to be reached out to just like everybody is.”

To learn more about the Four One One Church visit www.the411nyc.com. To learn more about other partnership opportunities with other churches in New York, visit www.newhopnewyork.com.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRAYERWALKING IN MANHATTAN and TAKING THE CITY BY PRAYER.

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  • James Dotson