After a few days on the job
Steve Allen already knew one thing: a guy from Oklahoma would not be the reason
a church plant in a Polish community in Buffalo, N.Y., succeeded.
“For this to succeed it needed to be an indigenous church
plant. It needed to be native to that soil,” Allen said.
His plan was to
disciple new believers in Jesus Christ and equip them to disciple others.
Allen remembers looking
around one day at the congregation and realizing he was the only non-Polish
person in the room “I realized God had answered my prayer and it was time for
me to move on and do it again.”
Allen joined the staff of
the Frontier Baptist Association of western New York as the church starter/strategist
and since 2003 he has been with the Baptist Convention of New York on the
Tri-State Metro New York church starting team. If there’s one thing he has
learned about church planting, it’s that relationships are crucial. From
attending family events to joining the volunteer fire company, Allen got to
know people in his community.
Joining the fire company
gave Allen “credibility with 75 men in the community who wouldn’t have given me
the time of day on their doorstep.”
Allen helps recruit, assess,
train, coach and resource church planters. He helps assess areas for new church
plants but wants planters’ own input in how to reach their community. He sees
his role as helping to mobilize and equip churches and planters ready to engage
in the community.
Allen helps church planters
think and pray through this question: Why New York?
“It’s easy to become infatuated with New York or even have
your heart gripped by the need and the potential of New York,” he said. “But
really and truly, not everyone is called or equipped or prepared to come into
an environment like this.”
Allen helps planters “affirm
and discern a sense of calling that goes beyond infatuation that really
grapples with the reality that this could be hard. Harder than you might
“When you walk the streets of this city, three people out of
every 100 you meet will identify themselves as evangelical Christians,” Allen
said. In five metro counties, more would identify themselves as Muslim.
New York City is a
laboratory of sorts for learning and experimenting with urban church planting
and urban ministry. The city offers unique factors that force planters to
acknowledge “that founding a church in the city may take a little bit longer
because we’re reaching into first generation immigrant people groups,” Allen
About 260 Southern Baptist
churches make up the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. “We’re the
largest Protestant denomination in the world but that’s quickly forgotten in an
environment like this,” Allen said. “We’re a tiny, tiny fish in this huge
ocean. We are still very fragile in our denomination identity.”
Allen said more time must
lapse before “people begin to think of Southern Baptist churches as not an
import from somewhere else but as part of the spiritual fabric of the city.”
“The fact that we are thinly
spread in this area does cause us to value and affirm, just like international
missionaries would, the fact that there are other missionaries from other
tribes working among us,” he said. “That’s a great, great thing. We don’t see
ourselves in competition with them at all.”
One way North Carolina
Baptists can come alongside churches in New York is by building a relational
connection with them and helping them affirm and celebrate what God is already
doing in their church and community. Some days, the most valuable thing Allen
does is help connect churches in the Metropolitan Association and help them
realize they are not alone.
Allen still remembers one of
his first flights into the city, looking out the window and seeing all the
different neighborhoods, and thinking about the vast unreached potential for
the Kingdom of God that was represented.
“That’s the thought that gripped my
heart. What could be.”