churches in nyc

City Guide: New York City

Matthew ThompsonBy Matthew ThompsonSeptember 14, 201928 Minutes

It’s often said that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Every year, thousands of people from all over the world arrive to the city with big hopes and dreams - to “succeed” and become somebody. And while it is certainly “the land of opportunity”, it comes at a cost. New York in many ways has set the standard for what it means to hustle. Long work hours and train commutes are part of a typical week, and with so many people looking to build their identity on their professional accomplishments, conversations usually revolve around what you do rather than who you are. Every day you’re surrounded by millions of people, but in a culture where people can barely maintain eye contact, it’s common to feel lonely and invisible. Deep down, New Yorkers are looking to connect, be known, and loved. And churches all over the city are emerging to provide a light to the city and reach young people by creating a countercultural space that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

Living for the renewal of the city

During our time in New York, we were really moved by what Church of the City NY has been building over the past three years. If you decide to join this church, you’ll find one of the most compassionate, dedicated and genuine groups of people across the city.  Pastor Jon Tyson is a phenomenal leader who’s committed to helping people discover what it means to follow Jesus while living in NYC in this cultural moment. Through his teachings, he thoughtfully addresses complex cultural issues to help New Yorkers navigate the tension between culture and Christianity. Last year, they launched a series called the Controversial Jesus, in which they tackled tough topics like singleness, women in leadership, homosexuality, politics and violence. The talks were met with a really positive response, commended for their sensitivity, thoroughness and rich theology.

Another aspect of their ministry that has made a big impact on the city is their prayer room. This is an essential part of who they are -- believing that God still moves in supernatural ways and we have the power to influence that through a culture of expectant worship and prayer. Every weekday, dozens of people meet at 7am, 8am, 9am and 12pm in Hell’s Kitchen to worship through music and pray. We’ve had the honor to attend these gatherings multiple times and were deeply touched by them. They provide an incredible opportunity to slow down and integrate prayer into your daily routine before work or during lunch.

Click the picture above to see prayer room schedule

On Sundays, you’ll find this same expectant mindset when it comes to worship. Both before the message and during response time afterwards, you’ll notice a visible shift in the room as the Holy Spirit moves. Over the last year, there’s been an increasing amount of passion and freedom expressed during worship. People come to the table with everything they have and give it into the hands of God  expecting that he will meet them.

Bringing a dinner party to every block in NYC

In February of 2013, Pastors Josh and Georgie Kelsey came to New York with an audacious and spirited vision to plant a church. But as their supporting team got held up on visa issues, they had to look at alternatives. A few days later, their first Dinner Party was born. Although only five people showed up, this gathering grew organically throughout the next five months and had over 60 people by August. By September of 2013 they formally launched services as C3 NYC, but Dinner Parties ultimately became the backbone of who they are.

In a city that can feel so isolated and lonely, C3 NYC has created a space where everyone has a seat at the table. Every Wednesday, people meet in homes to eat, share stories, scripture, prayer, get to know one another, meet new friends and build strong Christ centered community. Dinner parties tend to be between 15-20 people and have legitimately become such a bright light to the city. It doesn’t matter where you are on the spiritual spectrum, you are welcome at these gatherings. In fact, quite a few people have actually attended a dinner party first, before making C3 their home on a Sunday.

With over 70 dinner parties that now exist across Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx, C3 has a vision to have a dinner party on every block in NYC. One member described C3 as “a place where you can put the masks down and truly be who you were meant to be. You are loved, you are accepted, you are hoped for beyond your wildest dreams.” The balance of demographics within dinner parties is quite incredible. They’re a place where will you develop meaningful, lifelong friendships, but at the same time, the groups are ever-changing as they constantly welcome new people to the table.  Although people aren’t perfect, you’ll find that no matter your past, C3 leads with the grace and compassion of God.

Over the last five years, the church opened locations across Gramercy Park in Manhattan, Queens, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and Bushwick. On Sundays, you’ll experience an atmosphere that is marked by radical hospitality, where people are loved well, welcomed and invited to be part of the family. During our travels, we’ve had the honor of visiting hundreds of churches across the country, but C3 will forever stick out to us as an authentic example of a place that shows the genuine love of Jesus.

Occupying all streets of New York

In 2010, Hillsong launched its first campus in New York City. What started as a raw, grassroots effort has turned into a movement across the city. Since the beginning, Hillsong NYC has challenged conventional thought when it comes to what church represents and has done a remarkable job at creating a space where anyone can feel comfortable. Pastor Carl Lentz is fiery and bold. He will invigorate, inspire and challenge you from the stage. He has a huge heart for those who don’t know Jesus, so much so that he’ll employ unconventional methods to meet them where they’re at - such as conducting baptisms next to a nightclub. One member commented that the church is “raw, authentic and filled with the love of the Lord,” while another said that Hillsong has helped them understand “how to have a real relationship with Jesus”.

A few years ago, Lentz ran a series called Occupy All Streets, which has become a banner for the church. During a sermon, he proclaimed that “there should be no campus, there should be no prison, there should be no back alley, no ghetto, no village that has not heard the goodness of our God.” Like the Great Commission, Lentz urges his congregation to bring the gospel to all the streets of New York. This vintage film from their start in 2010 really captures the DNA of the church and the message they’re sending out into the city.

To know Christ and make him known

In the summer of 2010, Liberty Church began around a picnic table at Central Park. Pastors Paul and Andi Andrew had a vision for a church where people would truly come to know Christ. Built around the values of love, truth, freedom, family and others, the church has made a big impact on the city. One member said it was the “greatest church I’ve ever been apart of”, while commenting that the church has “friendship that feels like family”. In the last 8 years, the church has expanded to locations in Downtown Manhattan, the Upper West Side, Bay Ridge Brooklyn and Downtown Brooklyn.

Spreading the love of Jesus across five boroughs

Over in Brooklyn, Trinity Grace Williamsburg has really captured the spirit of the neighborhood. They’ve brought an honest and refreshing approach to creating a space for a diverse group of people to come together and learn what it means to really follow the way of Jesus. They strongly believe in God’s promise that his presence will be with his people, so everything is designed for you to have a transformative encounter with God on a Sunday gathering. Through that, they’ve developed a community of people who look more like Jesus everyday, infusing Christ-like qualities such as humility, mercy, compassion and service into Williamsburg.

In terms of teaching, Pastor Tyler Staton is an excellent communicator. He has a gift for tackling rich and deep theological topics, but relating them back to what this means for New Yorkers in 2019. It’s been a joy to listen to him ourselves and if you make this your home church, the rich teaching will challenge you to go deeper in your faith.

Christ Crucified Fellowship has also been making waves in Washington Heights. If there’s one thing that defines the church it’s radical hospitality. Pastor Rich Perez has preached often on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, communicating that God’s desire for the church is to be a safe place for the hurting. Over the last seven years, CCF has developed into a community that has constantly united people despite their differences, while creating a space that displays the goodness of God to everyone, no matter what baggage they might be carrying. Most recently, Pastor Rich released Mi Casa Uptown to urge readers to take a different path than the one culture prescribes -- one that relentlessly pursues love, despite what you know about a person.

In 2015, Trinity Church Harlem was born out of a small, organic movement of just five people. Over the course of the last three years, they've become such a vibrant and youthful community to Harlem that is fueled by passion and servanthood. On Sundays, you’ll find a tangible hunger for Jesus that can be felt all throughout the room, expressed through worship, preaching and the serve team. One person called the church, “A life changing place full of loving, genuine people, who care about each other and their community. Whom actively and directly work towards bettering the lives of others while helping develop individuals.” Another said, “One of the most diverse churches I’ve ever been to with a pastor that truly has a heart for the lost.” This really plays into the vision that Pastors Taylor and Kristen Wilkerson had when they started the church, which is talked about in the video below.

If you live in Queens, Christ Tabernacle has shown a remarkable ability to reach multiple generations throughout the years. Started by Michael and Maria Durso way back in 1985, they’ve grown to have thousands of members across every age and stage of life. With a stellar leadership team, they’ve been able to build a church that caters both to the believer and the unbeliever; the disciple and the person new to faith. One member put it this way, “[Christ Tabernacle is a] place where the presence of God dwells, there is restoration, forgiveness, and opportunity to grow and reach out.” Over the past decade, Michael and Maria’s son, Chris, has played a big role in attracting young people. For 10 years, he was the architect of Misfit NYC, Christ Tab’s youth ministry. Using unconventional methods to reach people, like incorporating acting, dancing and spoken word into the gatherings, the ministry exploded, especially with unchurched people. Pastor Chris is set to become the senior pastor of the church in the near future.

Pastors Michael & Maria Durso, alongside Pastors Chris & Yahris Durso

Landing on home

From our time in NYC, we got an overwhelming sense that God is moving through these churches to provide a door through which people can find hope and deep satisfaction in Jesus. We hope this City Guide helps you find your next church home and that you would not only be awakened to God’s presence in your life, but to what it truly means to live in community and experience relationships the way God intended.

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