NEW YORK (BP)–When missionary Jeremiah Lamphier started a prayer meeting in lower Manhattan in 1857, it sparked a spiritual awakening that eventually spread across the world. Leaders of Southern Baptists’ New Hope New York effort — along with thousands of prayer warriors across the country — are hoping to see God move in similar ways over the next two years.
New Hope New York is the latest embodiment of the North American Mission Board’s Strategic Focus Cities initiative, an effort to direct Southern Baptist prayer, volunteers and other resources toward reaching the nation’s largest cities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
While New Hope New York leaders would not assume God would work exactly the same way He did in 1857, the effort does represent unprecedented opportunities for Southern Baptists to help spark renewal in one of the world’s most influential cities.
“The significance of New York cannot be overstated,” said Rich Carney, a Strategic Focus Cities planning coordinator for NAMB. “If we can reach the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, we affect the whole world. That is what’s so exciting — and it’s also very humbling.”
The emphasis also comes at a point when experience in other Strategic Focus Cities provides a strong foundation. Since its launch in 2000, more than 45,000 people have accepted Christ and more than 300 churches have been started in Chicago, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Miami. Future efforts already have been announced for Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, and several other major U.S. cities are in preparation stages as possible future Strategic Focus Cities candidates.
Dave Howard, city coordinator for New Hope New York, said that despite the challenges of reaching such a complex and diverse city, the 11 staff members of the ministry have focused on seeing where Southern Baptists can make an impact — and working in partnership with other evangelicals with similar goals.
“We realize that if God is going to bring a mighty spiritual movement to New York City, no entity is going to be large enough. So we need to look for those specific things that God wants us to do well — and then he will raise up others to do their part,” Howard said.
Over the past two years, in partnership with the 214 churches of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, New Hope New York leaders have developed a five-pronged strategy of prayer, church planting, church strengthening and leadership development.
— Prayer. “Prayer is our foundational strategy because being in alignment with God’s will and seeking His specific direction in all areas is absolutely essential,” Howard said. The PrayNewYork.com website was launched in the summer of 2002 as a way for individuals to stay connected with the effort through regular updates on prayer needs.
“I can’t overstate our need to have intercessors across the nation praying for this city,” Howard said. “… I would love to be able to say with confidence that every hour of every day someone within a Southern Baptist community of faith is praying for New York City.”
Within the association, Howard said, the effort includes area-wide prayer conferences as well as smaller-scale “concerts of prayer” and other opportunities designed for five or six churches at a time.
— Church Planting. If thousands of individuals are going to come to Christ, new churches will be needed to reach and disciple them, Howard said.
Several major church-planting efforts have launched during the buildup to New Hope New York, including Mosaic Manhattan in Lower Manhattan, The Journey on the Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and Crossroads Church in Staten Island. Also under development is The Four One One Church, with a focus on the Times Square entertainment district.
Howard said they hope to see at least three to five additional examples of what he calls “church planting centers,” churches launched with a large commitment of staff and financial resources that within a few years could be sponsoring new churches themselves. There also will be opportunities for planting other churches of all sizes and types, Howard said.
— Church Strengthening. Efforts to provide training and other resources for existing churches not only will help them grow stronger and more effective in reaching their communities but increase the likelihood they will be able to start new congregations in areas of need. “Healthy churches have healthy babies,” Howard said.
— Collegiate Evangelism. A key project in this area is The Leadership Journey, in which about a dozen collegiate ministry interns, working through local churches, will work on area campuses for six months. A related emphasis encourages development of “campus community churches” that will draw on the permanent college community while focusing on collegiate ministry. “It’s marrying the church planting efforts with the community surrounding the college,” Howard said. “They already are organically tied together because members of the community will also be affiliated with the college.”
— Leadership Development. LifeWay Christian Resources has partnered with New Hope New York to sponsor multiple training conferences, in addition to providing a variety of resources to area churches. NAMB’s own Next Level Leadership Network is offering training and other resources.
The key to implementing much of the strategy, Howard said, is partnership — churches and associations from across the country working directly with either new or existing churches.
“A lot of people want to do short-term trips, and we recognize the value of that,” he said. “… But we believe that churches connecting with churches is a more powerful relationship than churches connecting with an organization such as New Hope New York.”
Many of the volunteers will be staying at the Park Slope Volunteer Center, a building currently under renovation in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. The facility will house about 50 volunteers.
Volunteer opportunities include doing door-to-door surveys, helping with Vacation Bible Schools, block parties and other evangelistic events, prayer-walking neighborhoods, or construction to improve church facilities.
“Certainly the partnerships with the new church plants are critical because of their infant status, but the existing churches are certainly very eager. … We’ve probably got more opportunities with existing churches than we do for the new startups by virtue of the sheer numbers.”
For more on how to become involved with New Hope New York, visit www.NewHopeNewYork.com or PrayNewYok.com.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: NEW YORK FOCUS, LADY LIBERTY’S HOME, VOLUNTEER CENTER and LOVING THE LARGEST CITY.
New York At a Glance
— Eight million people live in the five boroughs of New York City, and a total of 21 million live within a 75-mile radius of the city.
— The New York Metropolitan Baptist Association includes 214 churches, with an average size of about 65 members.
— More than 20 different ethnicities are represented in the city. In the Bronx, which is 48 percent Hispanic, there are no Southern Baptist churches.
— The most unchurched group in New York is white non-Hispanics.
— Staten Island is the most unchurched borough, with more than 147,000 people for each congregation. Manhattan is second, with more than 118,000 people per church.