Southern Baptists are planning to plant between 50 and 100 churches in the New York City area over the next five years as part of a larger movement to accommodate the ethnically diverse city and its ever-shifting population.
According to the North American Mission Board, a church planting initiative by the Southern Baptist Convention, 45 churches have been established in New York City over the last decade.
The group cites the ratio of one Southern Baptist congregation for every 6,828 people in North America as the motivation for the initiative.
The ratio in New York City is one SBC church for every 52,760 New Yorkers.
With over 22 million people in the New York City tri-state area, organizations like NAMB and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association endeavor into a traditionally unyielding, if not stubborn, culture of people.
“While many still travel half-way around the world to witness to ‘the unreached,’ less is being done to reach many of the same peoples right here in NYC,” MNYBA said in a statement.
According to the Values and Research Institute, about 83 percent of New Yorkers affiliate themselves with some sort of organized religion; yet only 3 percent of the population consider themselves evangelical Christian.
SBC organizations are asking members from churches, specifically those called by God to plant or help plant a church in New York City, to research neighborhoods and city geography and then, possibly relocate.
Both NAMB and MNYBA offer internships, part-time employment and volunteer opportunities, and funded relocation and church planting training. By working with churches and communities, and locating areas in need, these SBC organizations are giving those called by God the necessary tools to transform New York City.
Indeed, NAMB calls New York City “the backdrop to some of our nation’s greatest triumphs and most devastating tragedies,” on its website.
“Boasting such authority and impact, the city has the overwhelming power to dictate the movement of culture in this nation and around the globe back to Christ,” the site reads.
Nearly 20,000 churches would be needed to equal the SBC church to population ratio found in most mid-America and Bible Belt communities, according to MNYBA. The group plans to build 20 churches in the city per year until 2020.
The unique culture of New York City provides opportunities to create unique church congregations. The city’s mosaic of diverse, fiercely independent neighborhoods shouldn’t intimidate planters, SBC says, but should be seen as fertile ground for growing a new, diverse generation of Southern Baptists.
The best hope for SBC expansion is to welcome diversity within the church – something it hasn’t done in the past, according to Dr. Nancy Ammerman, religion professor at Boston University.
“In the past decade or so, they are targeting ethnic minority communities both for new starts and for ‘adopting’ existing churches into their denomination,” Ammerman wrote in The New York Times.
NAMB issued a familiar sentiment when explaining the unique coincidence of opportunity and obstacle presented by New York City when seeking success.
“If we can reach this city,” a note on the website reads, “we can reach the world.”