As I sit down to write this article (aided by my third cup of coffee; sorry for the jitters), I am surrounded by comfort: The comfort of a parsonage that looks great and is plenty spacious. The comfort of a Staten Island neighborhood that is safe, clean and fun for my kids to run around in. The comfort of pastoring a church I adore, that loves and supports my family fiercely. In just about every way, I am a comfortable man….
And yet, after much internal wrestling, much prayer and many conversations, I have become convinced that God is calling our family to leave this place of comfort to begin the process of planting a church in the middle of Manhattan—the neighborhoods of Stuyvesant Town and Alphabet City, to be specific. Granted, Manhattan isn’t that far from where I’m at now. After all Staten Island is a mere ferry ride away. But as anybody can attest who lives in New York City, there are many significant differences between the two boroughs that I don’t have time or space to get into here.
So, what on earth (or “above earth” to be more precise) has gotten into us? Why is my family doing this?
Well, as I just wrote, I’m convinced it’s what God is calling us to do. His internal and external call have combined in such a way that it is undeniable to me. We don’t have an option. We must go!
But beyond the personal reasons, let me briefly share with you some of the practical reasons we feel we must go:
First off, if we want to reach non-Christians with the gospel (which we desperately do), research shows there’s no better way than to start new churches. As C. Peter Wagner has said, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” Tim Keller (whose organization, Redeemer City to City, will begin training me for this task in the fall) fleshes it out a bit:
Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations. This means that the average new congregation will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.
Persuaded by the truth of this data and an overwhelming burden to bring the gospel to those outside the church, it seems we MUST plant new churches!
But why go to the heart of the city?
Well, for starters, that’s where the most people are! The cities have far too few churches sharing the gospel for the number of people moving there. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 52% of the world’s total population currently live in cities. That number is expected to increase to 60% by 2025 and to a staggering 70% by 2050! North America is no exception to this rule. For the first time in over 60 years, in 2013 New York saw more people move in than move out! Data like this prompted Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to comment:
“If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.”
Indeed, there is no choice. As uncomfortable as it is to think about leaving what we know and love, we simply must go.
But there’s a further reason for starting a church in the city: it continues the Lutheran Brethren’s long history of global mission work. Simply put, urban ministry is a “new frontier” in global mission work. How so? New York has a staggering number of immigrants, students, and others who come to make a better life for themselves, and then after some time move back home. For example, did you know there’s a neighborhood called Jackson Heights that is the most diverse square mile in the world? In just this one square mile, there are over 200 languages spoken! Indeed, in the area we’re planting in, there are 150,000 people in one square mile! If we can reach some of these global citizens with the gospel, then they will bring that gospel back to wherever they came from. What happens in cities doesn’t stay in cities. Culture (media, education, art, music, finance, politics, technology, etc.) flows out from the cities into other cities and beyond.
Therefore, with a holy discomfort, with much fear and trembling, and with much sadness over leaving a church we love, we are eagerly heading into the city to plant Epiphany Lutheran Church. We are eager, because even though we love what we have now, we love the people of Manhattan too. We are eager because we know, as Paul Tripp has said, “Wherever God calls, God provides.” We are eager because we believe that the gospel we carry will save and transform people hungry for hope.
So here’s where you come in: We can’t do this without prayer. We are asking even now, as we begin the process of moving toward an eventual worship service for Epiphany, that you would commit yourself to pray for us and the city we’ll serve. We are asking that you would commit yourself to pray for Epiphany’s leadership team, that they would make wise and strategic plans for the future of this church. We are asking that you would consider supporting this exciting new effort financially with any gift, of any size. By God’s grace, through all of us becoming just a little more uncomfortable, may he bring the comfort of his gospel to many!
Pastor Erick Sorensen will begin training with City to City in September 2015 to plant a Lutheran Brethren congregation in the neighborhood of Alphabet City and Stuyvesant Town.
To support Epiphany Lutheran Church visit: epiphanylutherannyc.com
CLB Church Plant
Church planting is at the heart of who we are. When our spiritual ancestors came to this country it was in their heart to plant churches in Asia and Africa, and later in North America. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are as God’s people. It’s who we are as the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.
Now two visions are coming together in one. Our North American Mission has partnered with Fifth Act Church Planting, a Lutheran Brethren Affiliate Organization, to plant a church in the neighborhood of Alphabet City and Stuyvesant Town in the heart of Manhattan.
Would you prayerfully consider whether Jesus’ call to love others as he has loved you might include the financial support of this church plant?
Paul Larson, President of the CLB
Send Support: Church of the Lutheran Brethren
PO Box 655 • Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Attn: Urban Church Plant
Or online at: www.CLBA.org/giving