David shares how the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed through the story of New Life Community Church, a church in partnership with SP in East LA. For the rest of David's series on the kingdom of God, visit treevalley.wordpress.com.
"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 Maggie Rattay decided to move into an apartment in the working class neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. God gave 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 relocators to the community joined Chris and Maggie 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 connected Chris and the team to a group of youth. Out of this, Chris’ team member, Ryan, began a youth group. During this time, the vision for a community non-profit developed, which birthed In the City, now directed by Jenny, a long-standing member of Chris and Maggie’s original team. In the beginning of 2007, Chris was released by his supporting church to be a full-time church planter in his East LA neighborhood. A small church of 20 people started to meet in an apartment carport.
In the fall of 2007, Chris attended a Lincoln High School football game and encountered a woman from the community who was serving the hungry athletes dinner out of her own paycheck. This woman’s name was Lucy, a key person of peace of the neighborhood. She began to follow 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 joined the church’s youth group and then invited additional friends. Together these high schoolers grew in following Jesus and in leadership, contributing vital energy to the youth group. By the beginning of 2010, this church needed to begin renting space from a local elementary school.
In the fall of 2010 Chris met Isabel and Gus. Isabel was crying out for someone to explain the Bible to her, but Gus wanted nothing to do with the church. Nevertheless they eventually attended church, were transformed by God, and grew into sobriety from substance abuse. Isabel and Gus reached out to their network of friends about the Kingdom of God. By 2011 the church had grown to nearly 70 people and moved again to meeting at a local middle school.
In 2013, Chris and Maggie’s family returned from a year-long sabbatical in Mexico during which they experienced a breakthrough in healing ministry. Miraculous healings started to break forth in the church. By the end of 2013, the church moved into a new building on Broadway, the main thoroughfare of the Lincoln Heights community.
In 2014, the church commissioned an East LA church plant, and the elder team of our church came under the leadership of locally raised community members. By the end of 2017, our church had more local leaders than “relocator” leaders. These local leaders are now discipling others. Today, the average Sunday attendance is 80 people, and at least 120 people are connecting weekly 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 that God is far from finished with the dreams He has for this community and its impact 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.