NEW YORK (BP)–How do you help reach North America — perhaps even the entire world — with the Gospel by planting one church? For church planters Won Kwak and Freddy T. Wyatt, it was simple: Start with New York City.
“I was struck immediately by the strategic nature of planting in New York City,” said Wyatt, pastor of The Gallery Church. “The scope of influence coming out of this city is incredible. When you plant the Gospel in New York City, you have the potential unlike any other city to impact the whole world.”
Kwak echoes this sentiment, choosing to plant Maranatha Grace Church just across the Hudson River from upper Manhattan in Fort Lee, N.J.
“The town is so strategic,” said Kwak, a North American Mission Board church planter missionary. “They call Fort Lee the ‘Gateway to the Northeast’ and it is so true. Everyone going into the city on the Jersey Turnpike has to pass right through Fort Lee.”
NAMB is launching its first Send North America city emphasis — Send North America: New York City — Sept. 30. Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting throughout the United States and Canada.
The call to plant in the metro New York area was clear for both Kwak and Wyatt. And both experienced difficulties in the early days of church planting.
Wyatt and his family moved from Tennessee to New York and immediately were faced with the challenges of moving from the suburbs to the city with small children and adjusting to a new environment, one staunchly different from the South.
“The rhythms of life are radically different here,” Wyatt said. “From the way you travel to the pace you live at to how much you work — it can be grueling.”
The initial difficulties were different for Kwak. After working to plant a church in Rutherford, N.J., the church plant fell apart and closed its doors. Feeling slightly defeated, Kwak moved to Queens and began serving at the established and growing North Shore Church.
“I don’t think in the early days I really understood church planting or how important it is to have the Gospel bear upon every aspect of your ministry,” Kwak said. “But while I was working at North Shore, I still felt the internal calling to plant another work in Jersey.”
Kwak couldn’t deny the Lord was moving and working to return him to the area. After much prayer and counsel, Kwak moved to Fort Lee and set about the work of starting Maranatha Grace. This time, he went with the support of North Shore Church who agreed to partner with Kwak and the team at Maranatha Grace.
Having a supporting church and other partners has made all the difference for both Maranatha Grace and Wyatt’s Gallery Church. Their partners provide not just essential financial support, but more importantly, the care, council and prayer planters need to continue the difficult work. Such partnerships have been vital to the success and growth of these churches.
Kwak and Wyatt also face the challenge of serving in the large and often impersonal environment of the city.
“Life is extremely fast-paced and the roads and living situations are always congested,” Kwak said. “This makes even the desire to do community tiresome and intimidating for some people because everything is so cramped.”
Kwak and his team have worked to combat the impersonal culture by implementing smaller community groups around the city.
Church planters in New York City like Wyatt and Kwak have to work a little longer to gain the trust of their neighbors and communities before they can see evangelism spread.
Greg Cruz lived in New York City for 11 years before setting foot in The Gallery Church. Having spent most of his time in the city living a lifestyle marked by sin, he came to The Gallery Church for one service during the Christmas season. He’s been attending ever since.
“I was drawn in by the love of the congregation,” Cruz said. “And as I continued to come back, I was increasingly drawn to Jesus.”
With the help of Gallery Church members, Greg began to pursue the life and love found in Christ. He turned away from the alternative lifestyle he had grown accustomed to and made the decision to follow Christ. He was baptized on Easter with members of The Gallery Church by his side. Now he not only attends the church but also has grown in leadership, assisting in training mission teams that partner with the church that changed his life.
Stories like Cruz’s are the reason The Gallery Church has continued to grow since its launch some five years ago.
“Our goal is to be a healthy church in NYC for the name of Jesus. We want to make our congregation disciples in their neighborhoods, networks and throughout the nations,” Wyatt said. “We are calling our people to embrace the city and challenge people to put down roots to reach the people in their neighborhoods, their jobs or on their regular commutes.”
Wyatt and the church’s leadership team hope to stretch this sending focus further by developing a church planting center through The Gallery Church. Here, they hope to train leaders and planters and connect them with church partners so they can start their own church planting journeys well supported and prepared.
Looking ahead, Kwak hopes to see the scope of influence at Maranatha Grace multiply as well. The church currently is focused on challenging the members of the congregation to missional living day in and day out.
“We are called to be missional — in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods,” he said. “We are the church, not the place where we worship. Our hope is to be more than just the church gathered. We want to be the church scattered among the metro New York area and beyond.”
The challenge now for planters like Wyatt and Kwak and so many others working in the metro area is to push forward with the arduous work of planting in such a diverse and disconnected area.
“You get a sense that you are really a part of fulfilling the Great Commission just by evangelizing in New York City,” Wyatt said. “God calls us to reach the nations, and in this city over 800 of those are represented. What a place to start.”
With the launch of church planting efforts like Send North America: New York City, there is a new buzz in the air among evangelicals in the city, a fresh hope and renewed dedication to see Christ’s name made famous in the most famous city in the world.
Churches that want to partner with a church planter through Send North America can start the process by visiting www.namb.net and clicking on “mobilize me.”
Wyatt said he was excited about the potential behind Send North America: New York City. “It’s energizing to be rallying around this clear mission to reach New York City for Christ.”
Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.