Christ in the Capital of the World
We at City Seminary of New York see God at work in ways that confound stereotypes of a secular landscape. That work is led by grassroots ministries energized by an influx of Christians from around the world coming to New York City. Their work is less about setting up specific programs or starting new churches—though they do that in great numbers—than about enabling fellow Christians to live out their faith in the city, in order to bless their neighborhoods and neighbors.
GBIMC is one such grassroots ministry. It launched in 2009 at Brooklyn's Park Slope Christian Tabernacle, a Latino Pentecostal congregation located a few blocks from the new Barclays Center, set in place before recent gentrification. Members of the church's CrossOver Youth Ministry had picked up a newspaper in the subway that read "Got God?" highlighting a campaign to fill the subways with the message, "A Million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?"
It would be easy to see GBIMC as a counterpoint, a protest, to a secular age. But that would be wrong. Instead, they believed that whatever people thought about God, the question pointed back to them: Was the church a living demonstration of his kingdom?
With youth minister Daniel Sanabria, and harnessing new social media matched to relationships in the city, CrossOver members embarked on their first prayer walk, the one that ended with 1,500 crowding Grand Central Terminal (and is now an annual event). With a vision rooted in Jeremiah 29:4-7, and a desire to make their faith public, GBIMC has now spread to 30 other cities.
GBIMC is a moving and festive demonstration of the vitality that global Christians bring to New York. Nancy Foner, professor of sociology at Hunter College, says that in 2009, immigrants and their American-born children composed 55 percent of New York City's population.
Previous waves of immigrants to NYC came from Europe. Today, the newest New Yorkers arrive from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the West Indies, places where Christianity is already flourishing. Cities like Seoul and Hong Kong; Monrovia, Liberia; Accra, Ghana; Kingston, Jamaica; and Buenos Aires are centers of vibrant Christian growth. The global church is on the move, and cities play a central role in connecting its members.
Just as financial networks flow through New York and connect to other cities, so do circuits of faith. As people move to New York City to build a better life for their families—a dynamic that has shaped the city since its founding as New Amsterdam in 1624—many are bringing their churches and distinct ministry practices. Of course, migration as a primary means of church expansion is not a new trend, but instead goes back to the earliest Christians. But because of technology and greater access to air travel, this movement runs in both directions.
As a result, New York City has arguably the greatest global diversity and density of Christianity of any city. As you travel eastbound on the #7 subway line from Times Square to Flushing, Queens, the number of languages you hear multiplies. As The New York Times has noted, perhaps one in ten New Yorkers is now a Pentecostal, most likely with ties to Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the West Indies. Our research at City Seminary suggests that 2,000 new churches have been established by the newest New Yorkers since the 1980s, and that estimate may be conservative. While many of these churches are Pentecostal, they represent a wide range of denominations and theological traditions. They are crossing borders both physical and intangible.