Nelson Searcy has a dream for the city that he has come to call home, a dream that the prayer support that once flooded New York and its residents in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, would become the norm.
Through New Hope New York in 2004 and 2005, Southern Baptists have their best opportunity for helping make that happen. Searcy serves as coordinator for the effort, part of the North American Mission Board's Strategic Focus Cities initiative to impact major cities with the gospel.
Just as the city now bills itself as the "capital of the world" because of its vast influence in so many areas, "I would like to see New York become the Christian capital of the world," Searcy said.
Rich Carney, a Strategic Focus Cities planner coordinator for NAMB, said the New York effort brings unprecedented possibilities.
"The significance of New York cannot be overstated," he said. "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."
Despite the "God-sized" nature of their task in a metropolitan area of 21 million people, Searcy and his staff of eleven are realistic about their immediate goals. Over the past year and a half, in partnership with the 213 churches of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association they have developed a five-pronged strategy that includes prayer, strengthening existing churches, developing new churches, collegiate ministry, and leadership development.
The bulk of Southern Baptist volunteer efforts will likely be focused on participating in the prayer effort and partnering with local churches in starting new churches.
"We are looking for churches that would adopt a church plant, pray with it, and partner with it by sending volunteers," Searcy said.
Prayer has been the top priority since the beginning.
"We believe anything we do must begin in prayer, be birthed in prayer, and concluded in prayer," Searcy said. "It saturates our entire strategy."'
The PrayNewYork.com Web site was one of the first major initiatives launched by New Hope New York, offering since last year a way for individuals to stay connected with the effort through regular updates on prayer needs.
"We envision PrayNewYork.com as a conversation between our metro area and the person who's praying," Searcy said. "And so to do that we want to provide regular updates, including answers to prayer. We want to help them see visually what they are praying about through the use of photographs."
He also wants to help individuals and churches establish prayer partnerships with not only churches or church planters, but also different geographical areas and even population segments — such as those involved in entertainment or financial industries.
Carney said the goal is to enlist 100,000 intercessors for the city nationwide. "That is way beyond what we can get our friends and contacts to do," he said. "We're really going to need people across the nation to participate."
"If we will come together as a denomination and pray for New York, it can really make an impact," he added. "We've already noticed the prayer for 9/11. … I believe if we can have that kind of intensity on a regular basis I firmly believe that major barriers will come down."
As in other Strategic Focus Cities, church planting is also a priority. A network of church planters includes pastors of Mosaic Manhattan, now meeting in a school about two blocks from ground zero, and The Four One One Church, an effort to reach residents of the Times Square theater district in Midtown Manhattan. Both were started with the help of large churches partnering with NAMB under the agency's "Anchor Church" model.
One of the strongest new Southern Baptist congregations in the city is The Journey, a congregation in Manhattan's Upper West Side that started in 2001 and now has an attendance of about 200.
But as New Hope New York accelerates, plans are to start an additional twenty churches next year. One of the first is Lower Manhattan Baptist Church in the Chinatown area, being started by new church planting missionary David Gu. The first community event was held July 12 with the help of a team of volunteers from First Baptist Church of Rogers, Okla.
"We're looking for places where the harvest is ripe … and also someplace where somebody is called to lead the work," Searcy said.
A visit to the city beyond the main tourist attractions will reveal the challenges at hand. In lower Manhattan alone, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village, and Soho, each have unique cultures with unique church-planting needs. The city's outer boroughs illustrate even more of an international flavor.
Searcy said one goal is that each of the association's thirteen ethnic/cultural fellowships start at least one new congregation.
"What we are thinking about in church planting is, 'How do we start churches for success rather than just survival?'" Searcy said. "We believe for a church to succeed at minimum it needs some prayer partners both locally and around the country. They need some financial partners, beyond what local Baptists and the North American Mission Board can put into it, that are committed to seeing that church work. And they need some volunteer partnerships, people who can help them get started early on."
The volunteer relationships, he said, will be based on linking churches with churches for long-term partnership — rather than simply matching volunteer teams with particular needs at a particular time.
"For each church plant we are hoping to have a local partner and two national partners," he said.
Other opportunities involve collegiate ministry. Searcy said New Hope New York will involve students and young adults in reaching New York area campuses and train future collegiate evangelism leaders.
"We see collegiate ministry as an investment in both the present and the future," he said, noting that the New York area is second only to Boston in the caliber of college students it draws from around the world.
"We're looking for people who would like to come to this area and be collegiate ministers," he said. "They may work with a new church start, an existing church, or they may start a new church."
Plans also call for sixteen to twenty-four college students to come to New York for a hands-on leadership development program in collegiate ministry, tentatively titled "The Leadership Journey."
"We're looking for the best and the brightest Southern Baptist college students who would be willing to come and invest a semester or up to two years here in New York to help minister on the campuses of this area," Searcy said.
For more information about New Hope New York, visit www.NewHopeNewYork.com or PrayNewYork.com.
New York at a Glance
• Eight million people living in the five boroughs of New York city, and a total of 21 million within a seventy-five-mile radius of the city.
• The New York Metropolitan Baptist Association includes 213 churches, with an average size of sixty-five members.
• More than twenty 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.
How to Pray for New York
Here are seven ways you can pray for what God is doing through New Hope New York. Please pray for:
• The start of new churches
• The empowering and encouraging of new and existing churches
• Workers to be called and sent to New York City
• Your involvement through prayer, ministry, or resources
• Opportunities for Christians to proclaim the Good News of Christ
• Revival and awakening in local churches
• Kingdom vision seen and Kingdom purposes accomplished