The Bridge Church in Brooklyn, New York, has incredible diversity and creative talent, which means every day brings new challenges for NAMB church planters James and Natarsha Roberson.
“In this city, people have all types of belief and all types of lifestyles,” said James, pastor of The Bridge Church. “The goal can’t be to just gather a bunch of people who are going to come on Sunday and be in the building. We had to embrace that some will take 7–10 years to come to faith.”
The city presents an interesting ministry environment, and The Bridge Church reflects that. About 75 percent of the church’s 125 or so attendees are single adults in their mid-20s, a comfortable demographic for James, whose background includes many years in college ministry. Most are natives of Brooklyn but grandchildren of immigrants, so ethnically they identify closely with Caribbean, Latino, and Anglo communities that came to America with a strong faith foundation. The problem is that many of their grandparents’ churches worship in their native language rather than English.
“These kids grow up in America and are not able to experience the same faith of their parents,” James said. “A lot will say, ‘My mom or dad is Christian, but I wasn’t involved in the church because I didn’t understand the language.’ ”
The nature of doing life in New York City brings together people from all nations and languages, all socioeconomic groups, and all religions.
“I am around different types of people. . . . I’m forced to shop, ride, and do laundry with them,” James said. “Even a trip to the park is like a visit to the United Nations.”
As a result, the Robersons and their ministry team have grown more compassionate for those in their neighborhoods who don’t know Jesus. They also have gotten creative with programs to attract seekers. Their first small group Bible study began out of friendships formed at a baby shower in the summer of 2013. As that group began to grow, they explored what topics or programs might get unchurched friends to give church a try.
Out of that brainstorming session came a one-night event called “Everything You Want to Know about Love, Sex, and Dating.” Group members made flyers and invited people to come, and 125 people attended the program. That night showed the Robersons it was possible to get “raw off the street” Brooklynites into a gathering. However, winning them to Christ and discipling them takes an incredible amount of time and investment, James said. It also takes incredible faith.
“It is often painful,” James said. “You can pour your time and energy and love into someone’s life and then see [him] walk away. That’s hard.”
When that happens, only one source of strength remains.
“The investment into their heart most likely means my heart will be broken, but I look at the cross and see a Savior Who gave everything for us. For some, I won’t plant, I won’t water, I won’t see the fruit. But prayerfully, God will give the increase.”
Pray for James as he also serves as campus pastor to the 10,000 students of Long Island University Brooklyn. Pray also for Richard and Emmy Bowman, early members of The Bridge Church who will now lead a second campus of The Bridge in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Pray God will raise up leaders with vision for both campuses.
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