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Pastor Freddy T. Wyatt, the lead pastor of Gallery Church in Manhattan, knows he is a minority in New York as a Southern Baptist. But it was the need for churches in the New York area, which is exactly what prompted him to move to the city from Clarksville, Tenn.

Mr. Wyatt said it was worth the sacrifice of leaving his comfortable hometown five years ago, when his start-up congregation met in empty schoolrooms and in a Chelsea art gallery. Now its 100 members have their own large loft.

According to Mike Ebert, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, the Gallery Church is among 45 Southern Baptist “church plants,” or new congregations, established in the New York City area in the last decade. And the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, plan to establish 50 more churches in the New York area over the next five years.

The mission board’s Web site describes New York City as “the backdrop to some of our nation’s greatest triumphs and greatest tragedies.”

“It’s New York City,” it adds, “and it needs your help.”

The mission board plans to spend $20 million in 2012 on new churches in New York and 26 other cities.

Bruce T. Gourley, executive director of the nonprofit Baptist History and Heritage Society, said the initiative was an “attempt to survive in a post-denominational era,” after a recent decline in Southern Baptist membership.

“Everything Southern Baptists are about now is church planting,” he said. He said the project had caused controversy among members who prefer to focus on hospitals, schools and community-based services.

SOURCE: The New York Times, Meredith Hoffman

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