Kevin Haah discusses his experience planting New City Church Los Angeles.
In 2008, Kevin and Grace Haah launched New City Church Los Angeles with the intention of cultivating a multiethnic, multisocioeconomic church in downtown Los Angeles. Five years later, the church has grown into just that. About one third of the congregation comes from the Skid Row recovery community, one third from downtown lofts and one third from outside of downtown. Kevin also leads the LA Church Planting Movement, a network partnering with national church planting organization Stadia to plant a church in 119 Los Angeles neighborhoods.
In this interview, he talks about his and Grace’s call to plant the LA church; some of the key principles the two church planting novices learned while doing it; and what’s happening as a result of churches coming together to plant churches in America’s second-largest city.
Kevin, tell us about the call to plant a church.
For a long time, I felt a sense of God’s call into pastoral ministry but didn’t really have a corresponding desire to heed that call. After college, when I was trying to decide whether I should go to law school or seminary, my parents, who were faithful yet financially minded Christians, pitched this to me: “If you enter into ministry and change your mind later, that will not glorify God; but, if you pursue law and decide later to enter into ministry, that will glorify God. So, if you aren’t sure, why don’t you go to law school?” Their logic resonated with me, and so I chose law school.
After law school, my life consisted of big firms, trying to make partner and generating business. It was about eight years into practicing law that my parents made a tearful confession. They said God convicted them that they had wrongly discouraged me from going into ministry, and that they had been repenting. My mom said, “If you still have a sense of call into ministry, we want to fully encourage you to pursue it.”
Their encouragement made a big impact on me. Two more years passed, and I made partner at my firm. But I felt a renewed sense of calling into full-time pastoral ministry. After about eight months of prayer and discernment, Grace and I decided I should leave law and pursue full-time ministry.
How did you decide to plant a church in downtown Los Angeles?
I was working at a Korean church when I got a phone call from an anonymous caller who ultimately asked me, “What are you doing to reach out to all of the new residents of downtown LA?” For some reason this question started to resonate in my soul. Until then, I had never seriously considered what was going on there. I started to collect articles related to downtown LA development and discovered a major boom was going on.
Soon afterward, at a dinner (with about 40 people in the room), I was talking and suddenly stopped and asked the group, “What if we planted a multiethnic, socioeconomically diverse church downtown that reaches out to both the Skid Row residents and the new loft dwellers?” Absolute silence. “Yeah, but that would never work …” I said, quickly trying to recover. Everyone, including me, laughed and went on. I shoved the idea to the back of my head. But it never left.
From time to time when I shared the idea, I started to tear up. That’s when Grace and I decided that maybe God was trying to tell us something, so we started to pray about it. Fast-forward a few years. There was a senior pastor transition where I was serving. After the new senior pastor was installed, I felt it was time to explore the possibility of church planting downtown.