By Thomas F. Jones Jr.
I met Kevin Haah in a church planting assessment event in Johnson City, Tennessee. I was immediately impressed by this bright, but humble, Korean-American Christian.
Haah’s path to church planting was not a simple one. After graduating from Cornell Law School he married Grace (also a lawyer), and they had three kids. He became partner at a prestigious law firm in Los Angeles only to give up law to pursue a master of divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Soon he became a pastor, and then a church planter. And now he is the key leader and visionary for the L.A. Church Planting Movement.
While a young attorney, Haah lived and worked in downtown Los Angeles, before it became fashionable to do so. There, he ministered to the poor in skid row. It was within that context and experience that God built a vision in him to start a church in skid row.
Kevin and Grace connected with Stadia, a global church planting organization, and together in 2008 they started New City Church of Los Angeles. Haah came to passionately believe that church should be a place of integration, not segregation. He believes the unity that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful testimony of God’s redemptive power in our society. According to Haah, “There is a beauty in a community which reflects the vision of the New City in the book of Revelation, where people of all ethnicities and walks of life come together to worship God together as one.”
Birth of New City
New City was born as an inclusive, multiethnic, socioeconomically diverse Christian church in downtown L.A. New City has equal numbers of blacks, whites, Asians, and Latinos. About one-third come from skid row, and the rest come from downtown lofts or neighborhoods outside downtown.
New City is made up of families, singles, kids, Republicans, Democrats, gays and straights, poor and rich, moral and loose. Haah says, “At New City, we believe in not judging anyone because . . . we ourselves are more flawed and broken than we know—yet more loved and accepted by God through Jesus than we ever thought possible! So, come as you are.”
From day one, Haah had a vision to plant a church that not only shared the good news of Jesus with the people of downtown L.A., but also would become good news by serving the neighborhood. This value is reflected in New City’s “grow and serve groups.” New City becomes good news to their neighborhood by hosting birthday parties for homeless kids who are living at the Union Rescue Mission, singing old hymns at nursing homes, holding prayer vigils every time there is a death on the streets of downtown L.A., planting urban community gardens, cleaning up the skid row streets, volunteering for the local Habitat for Humanity, teaching English classes for new immigrants, coordinating housing for homeless people, and providing a food pantry for the hungry.
New City also has activities you see in many churches: recovery groups, an open mic night, a couples retreat, a baby dedication Sunday, and Starting Point for those who want an introduction to Christianity.
You would think that Haah would have plenty to do fulfilling his vision for New City, but God has expanded his vision to include every neighborhood in the metropolitan area. As a result the Los Angeles Church Planting Movement was born, with a vision to plant a gospel-driven church in every neighborhood in metro L.A.
Most people in the city identify where they live by naming one of the 200 neighborhoods in and around L.A. Each of these areas averages 50,000 people. Haah says, “Imagine what would happen in L.A. . . . if we planted a gospel-driven church in every one of these neighborhoods! Imagine what would happen if we planted a contextualized, missional, neighborhood church that brought people together, served the neighborhood, and became a demonstration of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ! That’s what this movement is about.”
Core Values for the L.A. Movement
• Relationship—Relationships initiate, sustain, and multiply the movement. To foster this important value, 20 of the pastors who are part of the L.A. Movement have made a covenant to meet together for renewal over a three-year period with a mission to plant churches together. This group received a grant via a Stadia-initiated proposal to an Atlanta-based foundation to fund their meetings as well as a 14-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Haah believes the relationships formed in this group and the trip to the Holy Land will result in churches being planted and transformation for the 200 neighborhoods of L.A.
• Gospel-driven—The new churches declare and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
• Neighborhood—The movement seeks
to plant a geographically based and contextualized neighborhood church in every neighborhood in metro Los Angeles.
• Global—For each church planted in Los Angeles, the movement seeks to plant a church globally.
• Movement—The continual goal is to bring together churches, individuals, and foundations to plant churches together.
The L.A. Movement’s goal is to plant two to three churches per year in the first couple of years, and then four to five churches per year. The movement has partnered with Stadia to use its proven network model. The L.A. Movement and Stadia create networks of churches, foundations, and individuals who are willing to partner in planting neighborhood churches designed to transform lives and communities. Stadia serves as the managing partner for each network.
Haah’s vision for L.A. is contagious. Up to this point he has gathered churches into networks from several Christian traditions and denominations. The last L.A. Movement meeting found representatives from more than 30 churches and seven denominations. All were committed to reaching metro L.A. by planting contextually appropriate, gospel-driven new churches in all 200 neighborhoods. This is a lofty goal indeed, but Haah is an extraordinary leader and many other leaders in L.A. seem ready to follow him.
Thomas F. Jones Jr. is executive director of Stadia.