New York City Churches Find New Homes

A couple Sundays ago, I announced to my congregation that we would be moving from where we currently meet—a New York City public school—to our new meeting space. We aren’t moving because we’ve outgrown the space where we meet, but because the city has ruled that churches can no longer meet in public schools. We will need to be out February 19.

Many of you have been praying for the many New York churches who heard back in December that they will need to find a new place to congregate. This has been a difficult challenge for many churches, since space is an expensive and limited commodity in this bustling city that needs the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So What Are Churches Doing Now?

Our church is one of more than 60 affected by this decision, which has provoked discussion about cultural definitions of worship and church-state relations. Churches, civic leaders, and legislators have pushed back at the local and state level. There have been demonstrations on the steps of City Hall, peaceful displays of disobedience, and “pray-in’s.” Pastors and city councilmen have been arrested for protesting, and Mayor Bloomberg’s annual prayer breakfast was an awkward one, to say the least. Tim Keller has written in opposition to the city’s decision.

Hopeful legislation has been proposed in the New York State Senate intended to overturn the city’s ruling. It’s likely the New York State Assembly will soon follow suit by considering a similar bill. However, none of these decisions will be made before February 19. In fact, it’s likely that nothing will be decided even in the next several months. Moreover, there is much pressure from outlets such as The New York Times for Governor Cuomo to veto such legislation, even if it passes.

Despite these challenges, many churches in the city that own space have flexed their hospitality muscles. Many churches that met Sunday mornings in public schools are now making plans to meet Sunday evenings so they can share these buildings.

Congregations such as First Baptist Church, which meets in the Upper West of Manhattan, are adapting not just for charity but also for the sake of the gospel. Pastor Matthew Hoskinson has planned to forfeit their Sunday school hour at 9:30 a.m. to allow for a congregation to meet during that time, even as he has arranged for another congregation to meet Saturday nights, and still another Sunday evenings.

Our own congregation has benefited from First Baptist’s hospitality and pastor Hoskinson’s leadership. Starting February 19, we plan to meet on Sunday evenings at First Baptist Church. This effort to welcome churches takes more time and manpower than what you might first assume.

Other churches in our position are benefiting from the hospitality of congregations who have the blessing of their own meeting space in a city built for commerce, not churches.

Strategic Opportunity

As churches race for space and labor for their constitutional rights, we have at least two strategic opportunities to adjust our expectations for what a worship gathering looks like.

First, there is a unusual unity that comes from sharing space among evangelical churches. Many evangelical pastors meet for prayer and planning service projects. These are hugely strategic and a blessing. But there is something different that happens when you have to figure out how two (or three) churches are going share space. We have been blessed by First Baptist as they help us cope during this season of shared space. They don’t just want us to manage—they want to help other churches flourish.

Second, many churches now planning for evening services have already found this is a more strategic time for many New Yorkers to meet. Few skeptics in this city wake up Sunday morning eager to check out a church service. And on the Upper West Side, where our congregation meets, many family sporting events have been planned for Sunday morning. So we’ve grown excited about planning for these new opportunities for outreach on Sunday evenings.

We trust that the Lord is sovereign in all these things. This is certainly a challenging time for many churches in New York. But we have every reason to rejoice, as we hear of new, faithful, gospel-proclaiming church planters coming all the time and evangelical churches that continue to grow and multiply around the city.

  • hayden

    Two words come to mind “Kingdom minded”. Praise the Lord for this report. Thanks for sharing this. The hospitality of First Baptist is commendable.

  • http://www.aoarchitect.com Andrew Osterlund, AIA, LEED AP

    Even without the regulation that is changing venues in NYC, we’re seeing churches in Raleigh that are considering alternate facility types – these are often church plants and new congregations. I regularly have the conversation with [potential] church clients who are considering their options. Many are drawn to industrial buildings because of the volume and a sense of urban redemption. However, the best transitional value is often found in buildings that already include assembly spaces for rent: hotels, event halls, theaters.
    The regulation against churches in schools is a surprise only because it’s re-opening a conversation that’s been on hold for a few political terms. However, the regulation is likely an action that will direct churches further into the active heart of the city.

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  • http://@adampsandlin Adam Sandlin

    It is my sincere hope and prayer that this adversity is something that brings unity through the gospel to the churches sharing buildings and space in New York. May the true gospel of Jesus Christ be further exalted among the churches of this great city, and benefit from sharing such close quarters.

    • http://dbartosik.com david bartosik

      Amen! I agree Adam-incredible story of faith and I pray that under duress the church will grow and there will be greater unity! Sheds light into what other states may face in the coming years and how God is reviving as @Andrew said- an opportunity to revive the urban cities.

      God we trust in your sovereignty.

  • http://www.zoeycreativedevelopment.com/ Howard Freeman

    Pastor Starke, First Baptist, and others are handling this very graciously.

    It behooves the rest of us not directly affected to be vigorous in their defense, I believe: still gracious in posture, but adamant that an injustice is being done and that, ultimately, neighborhoods will lose as churches depart.

    Many poorer congregations are merging with others or simply ceasing to exist, and their absence will be felt.

  • Tony

    It seems to me that New York City residents need know how much the schools are losing over this. Martin Bashir did an op-ed type of thing on it, but he never gave any numbers. If I was a resident of NYC I would demand to know why the city is taking away this source of income from my kids’ schools. I’m totally talking from a pragmatic point of view here…

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    The lesson here is that the church is far more than the meeting place. If there were no buildings at all to meet in, would the church just give up and stop meeting? Or would they just gather wherever they could, in homes, in parks, in secret if need be, just as Christians have done for thousands of years. Instead of clamoring about our “rights” and seeking legal redress for perceived wrongs, we ought to thank God for the way He uses events like this to prepare the church for a post-Christendom mission. He is building His church and the lack of formal meeting spaces or New York City rulings are not going to change that one iota.

  • Freddy

    This is encouraging, John. I wondered if your church was one that met in a school. Praise God for his provision through FBC for you and the other congregations.

  • Lamar Carnes

    In our city or county, we find many school districts which are open to renting school facilities, but occasionally you will find a “push-back” from some districts. One which we are now in has told us we cannot use their facility for long term and must find another place soon, and, will not allow us to use their facility at all in the Summer Months! They are not very friendly about the entire matter apparently. This seems to be a growing trend. The facilities are paid for by our “taxes” and the Churches are an integral part of the tax system through its “members” who pay those City and County taxes. To ask for rental space at a reasonable price for a short time does not seem to be out of line at all with any Constitutional law either Federal or State. So, this anti-Church stance perhaps should be challenged by those involved. If the Churches are banned – then ALL groups have to be banned reflecting no discrimination. I wonder if that is being understood by the administrations? You would think since “money” is hard to come by these days and schools are having to “cut back” on their activities and lower their budgets’, they would enjoy have the income. But not so, when it comes to issues relating to Church and State. It seems the State likes to uphold a idea of “Seperation of Church and State” as long as it fits their idea at the time, but other times they seek to force issues upon the Church from the State side such as abortion issues and/or Obama-care rules on the Roman Catholic and other Protestant Hospitals etc.!

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  • French Ministry

    The small French African Ministry that was meeting in a church for 13 years in Midtown Manhttan, until it had an order to vacate due to over $2 million in damage from Hurricaine Sandy, urgently needs a space immediately for Sunday afternoons or other time, for approx 2 hours once a week!Can afford up to $300 per month.Any suggestions would be appreciated. God Bless You. 212-986-4885