A wonderfully encouraging article from Outreach Magazine (a sister publication of Christianity Today) about two New York City churches committed to multiplication and seeing the church impact the culture:
For all the wonders of New York City, the South Bronx still has a long way to go. As the country’s poorest congressional district, it is home to gang leaders, pimps and others””like Tyrone””whose main interest is simply finding a way to survive.
As a teenager, Tyrone found his identity in a gang named the Neighborhood Gangsters, and his future, like that of so many of his peers, seemed to be a dead-end street. Then one week, he went with a relative to Friday Night Live, a monthly, large-scale outreach hosted by a new, youth-oriented church named Infinity. Tyrone liked the hip-hop music, even though the words were about God. After the music, the pastor, Dimas Salaberrios””who had grown up a few miles away in Jamaica, Queens””spoke with relevance and passion about Jesus Christ.
Tyrone put his faith in Christ that night, but was still uncertain about his future. Quitting a gang could mean a death sentence, but he didn’t have to explain this to Salaberrios, who already understood the problem. Salaberrios boldly contacted the gang’s leader, asking that Tyrone’s family not be punished because of his decision. Today, Tyrone serves on Infinity’s security team, is discipled through a fellowship group and is being groomed for leadership by Salaberrios.
Tyrone’s story is common for Infinity, which began four years ago through Bible studies and community building, and formally launched in November 2006.
“Our No. 1 goal and priority is to get Christ into kids’ lives,” says Salaberrios. He also believes that God has used Infinity’s presence to reduce the murder rate to almost zero in the Bronx River Projects””a complex of nine high-rise towers which is home to almost 20,000 people as well as the new church.
Infinity’s story of success, however, can’t be told without also telling the story of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, located less than 10 miles away in Manhattan. Launched 18 years ago, Redeemer is now spiritual home to 5,000 of the city’s young professionals. […]
In an overwhelmingly secular community, Redeemer’s unique worship settings””including jazz and classical music””diverse makeup and [Tim] Keller’s intellectual preaching style have all resonated among the area’s mostly non-Christian young professionals. In fact about 15% of attendees in any given year don’t yet identify themselves as followers of Christ.
“Growth in itself though is not a goal for the church””evangelism is,” says Keller. That’s why Redeemer became a multiplying church.
“We know the only way to increase the number and percentage of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches, and the only way to change the culture is to increase the number of churches engaged in it,” Keller explains.
So in 1994, Redeemer planted its first two churches, one in Greenwich Village (lower Manhattan) and another in the suburbs, both affiliated with its Presbyterian Church in America denomination. In the 13 years since, Redeemer has planted more than 100 churches””the majority non-Presbyterian””directly or in partnership with other churches, in New York City and other cities.
Enter Infinity. Thirty-three-year-old Salaberrios had fully committed his life to Christ when he was 21””a year after Redeemer planted its first two churches””and began to hold evangelistic rallies for hundreds of kids through Youth for Christ in New York City (YFC; yfc.net). But he noticed that when young people accepted Christ, local churches didn’t receive them as they were. Street manners, tattoos and baggy clothing were considered unacceptable “Sunday best.”
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘What are we going to do with all these kids who are coming to Christ?’ ” Salaberrios relates. “Romans 2:29 talks about circumcision of the heart. It’s not about changing a dress code, but making church relevant.”
Church, culture, relevancy and contextualization””Salaberrios and Keller were speaking the same language, even though their target groups were unmistakably different.