our church spring retreat in 2015
Part 5 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”
Like a mustard seed, the kingdom of God starts small but becomes great.
I’ve had the privilege to join in on the Kingdom that is unfolding through the story of our church.
It all started in late 2004, or more likely before that in a lot of other unseen ways, when Chris and his wife Maggie decided to move into an apartment in the working class neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. God had given them a dream to see a thriving church in LA’s urban Eastside for and made-up of the working class community.
Those early years were really rough as it was difficult to build trust with neighbors who were suspicious of these outsiders. Many small bible studies started and folded. Chris was physically assaulted and struggled with depression. Other outsiders from the community joined them as a team for periods at a time, praying with them for the community and spending time with people of the community.
In the summer of 2006 a game of catch football started in the back alley of Chris’ apartment complex and it soon gave them and their team connection to a group of youth. A youth group began with the leadership of another team member that came in, Ryan. The vision for a community non-profit, In the City, was also born around this time, which is currently directed by an original team member, Jenny, who has been here the longest along with Chris and Maggie. In the beginning of 2007 Chris was released by his supporting church to be full-time in the neighborhood for a church plant in the neighborhood. The church started by meeting in the apartment carport with about 20 people.
In the fall of 2007, Chris went to a Lincoln High School football game and encountered a woman from the community who was serving the hungry players dinner from her own paycheck. This woman turned out to be Lucy, a key person of peace of the neighborhood. She soon received Jesus and immediately started reaching out to the people in her life. The church grew to nearly 40 people. In the fall of 2009 two JV football players from Lincoln High, across the street from the apartment complex, joined the youth group and then invited two more friends. Together these high schoolers grew in Jesus and in leadership, bringing vital energy to the youth group. By the beginning of 2010 this church had to begin renting space from a local elementary school.
In the fall of 2010 Chris met Isabel and Gus. Isabel had been crying out for someone to explain the bible to her. Gus wanted nothing to do with the church. But nevertheless they eventually went and were transformed and grew into sobriety from substance abuse. They reached out to their network of friends about the Kingdom of God. By 2011 the church had grown to nearly 70 people and moved to meeting at a local middle school.
In 2013, Chris’ family returned from a year long sabbatical in which they experienced a breakthrough in healing ministry in Mexico. Healings started to break forth in greater ways in the church. By the end of 2013 the church moved into a new building that is on the main thoroughfare of the community on Broadway.
In 2014 an East LA church plant was commissioned out from our church and the elder team of our church had its first locally raised leadership. Now in 2017, our church has more local leaders now than “relocator” leaders. And these local leaders are now discipling others. The average Sunday attendance is 80 people and at least 120 are weekly connected to the life of the church. We are more connected to community organizing in the neighborhood than ever before, weighing in on affordable housing and community peace coalitions. There are so many more unnamed people and untold stories that have made up this larger story.
Sometimes the works of the Kingdom of God seem small, fruitless, hard, long, and not worth all the pain. But without those small and seemingly insignificant encounters, decisions, and sacrifices we would not be where we are now. We know God is far from finished with the dreams He has for this community and its impact well beyond its borders.
In the midst of the labor, let us bear in mind that the Kingdom of God may start small but it always becomes greater.