In early 1989, a group of 15 people began meeting weekly in an Upper East Side apartment. Their purpose was to pray about planting a new church in the heart of Manhattan for professional New Yorkers. One of their concerns was that new believers were finding it difficult to locate a church they could attend, a church that was open to people who were seeking answers regarding their faith, and where they felt secure in bringing their friends who were skeptical about matters of faith. Because Dr. Timothy Keller had already been designated by the Mission to North America Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America to investigate the needs of New York City and the possibility of church planting here, he began meeting with this prayer group.
Although Dr. Keller's schedule was already full due to his teaching commitments at Westminster Theological Seminary, he continued commuting to New York regularly to meet with the prayer group to discuss the possibilities of church development with them. Before long, as Dr. Keller learned more about the spiritual needs of New York City, he began to feel a call here.
By the spring of 1989, this movement had taken on such urgency that an evening service was begun on April 9, 1989, at the Church of the Advent Hope, which was home to a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation. In June the Kellers moved to New York with their three young boys. By the end of the summer the congregation had grown to such an extent that the decision was made to add another service. A morning service featuring classical music and a more liturgical form of worship was added on September 24, 1989. By Christmas, attendance at the church numbered approximately 250; by its first anniversary Redeemer had added three staff members to work in administration, small groups and Christian education.
While no one had doubted God's direction in establishing a new church in Manhattan, neither had anyone expected an authentic revival. But so it seemed. New believers were being added weekly, skeptics were thronging to the services, every decision seemed blessed, and God provided for every need, sometimes before we even knew we had it.
By early spring of 1993, Redeemer had outgrown the Adventist Church, even though it was holding four services each Sunday in a building that seated nearly 400. With extraordinary timing, Hunter College Auditorium became available and we moved our services there in March of 1993.
From its first morning worship service, Redeemer has grown to an average Sunday attendance of around 4500 per week, although it would be more accurate to say that there are about double that number who attend on a regular basis. Sunday services are held in different locations around the city and many ministries have been developed to address human needs in the city. In 1992 Redeemer founded Hope for New York, an outward-facing mercy ministry focused on addressing the practical needs of the city's population.
Since 1993, Redeemer has not only continued to grow as a congregation, but has also begun working to plant churches in and around New York as well as supporting church-planting efforts in other global cities. In 1996 Redeemer decided to become a multi-site church rather than continue growing in one location into a "mega-church." This model was formed around the idea of setting up worship service sites for four distinct congregations around Central Park instead of one large congregation meeting at Hunter College.
In the autumn of 1997, Redeemer concluded its first Capital Campaign and used the funds to initiate the development of the multi-site model and to found the Redeemer Church Planting Center.
From 1993 to 2003, Redeemer planted daughter churches throughout the New York Metro area. The first two were in Greenwich Village (The Village Church) and Rye, New York (Trinity Presbyterian.) In partnership with others, New Song Fellowship in Harlem and North Shore Presbyterian in Oyster Bay, Long Island were established. Since its founding in 2000 the Redeemer Church Planting Center has provided resources, including financing, mentoring, leadership and ministers, for these and many other church plants. Other daughter/granddaughter/sister churches planted include: the Teaneck, Hoboken, and Montclair churches in New Jersey; and Grace Church in Palo Alto California. Church plants in cities outside the U.S. include Toronto, Budapest, Sao Paulo and London.
As of fall 2003, the development of Redeemer's multi-site model had taken shape with an East Side location for AM & PM congregations and two separate West Side sites for a morning and evening congregation. Even so, by the fall of 2004 Sunday attendance averaged approximately 4200 people at four services weekly. The need to purchase property (instead of bequeathing the instability of renting to the next generation) became unavoidable, so Redeemer conducted a Vision Campaign in the fall of 2005. The theme of the campaign was “Serving our neighbors, changing the world.” Funds were raised to start new community-formation ministries, enable more churches to be planted, and purchase property in Manhattan for the purpose of building Redeemer’s first Community & Worship Center.
At the end of 2006 Redeemer entered into contract to purchase a property at 150 West 83rd Street. In addition, several ministries have been started or grown as a direct result. The Center for Faith & Work has expanded—most significantly, by launching comprehensive professional development ministries for artists (The Arts Greenhouse), entrepreneurs (The Entrepreneurship Initiative) and an extensive mentorship program for young professionals (Gotham Fellows).
In March of 2007 Redeemer grew from 4 to 5 worship services (offering an additional West Side evening service.) And by the end of 2008, congregation wide involvement in weekly fellowship groups had increased dramatically, more than doubling in a three-year span to about 3,000 congregants who were involved in weekly Bible study and fellowship.
In 2011 Redeemer began the process of multiplying into three generative congregations around the city. These congregations each with it's own Lead Pastor, will be unique in some ways but Redeemer will remain one church body located east, west and south of Central Park. As three "sister" congregations united by our preaching, under Dr. Keller’s senior leadership each will develop plans for serving their neighborhoods more distinctively and on a deeper, more transforming level. The hope is that the three congregations will eventually multiply further into 6 to 9 neighborhood based congregations within 5 to 10 years.