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The new church business is booming in downtown New York City.

In 1975, there were only about 10 evangelical churches in Manhattan. Now there are more than 200. Four out of 10 were started after 2000.

That's according to a study from the New York City Leadership Center, a nonprofit focused on developing Christian ministries. 

These city churches attract thousands of worshipers every Sunday. Who is filling the pews?

David Fitch, associate professor of evangelical theology at Northern Baptist Seminary, believes churches like Tim Keller's megachurch, Redeemer Presbyterian, aren't reaching new converts, for the most part. Instead, they are attracting people who are already Christians who have moved to big cities like New York. They are bringing in the pre-churched—Christians looking for a new spiritual home.

"The attractional dynamics that often typif[y] these kinds of church planting depend largely on existing Christianized populations," he wrote in a blog post in January.

In 2008, Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary, surveyed 400 megachurches around the country and asked where congregation members had come from. About one in five megachurch attendees said they'd either rarely gone to church before or had dropped out of church for several years. The percentages were higher at suburban churches than at urban congregations.

In a comment on Fitch's blog, Keller said that Redeemer's first attendees were mostly unchurched, because there were few evangelicals in Manhattan in the late 1980s when the church started. But starting in the late 1990s, "for every one New Yorker/secular person who came to Christ, we saw 2-3 others join who were coming from other churches," Keller wrote. "Without that, we would be ...

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May 2011

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