Local Church vs. Commuter Church

Compton Initiative

I remember when we were preparing for transition to plant Reformed Church LA, I was encouraged to move into the city of Lynwood ASAP. I recall feeling a sense of betrayal, like I was getting kicked out of where I was, almost as if I was being punished for doing the right thing. It’s really hard to put such profound emotions into words, but that’s kind of what my family and I felt at the time. I knew that other church planters would parachute or move into their respective neighborhoods, and I wanted to follow suit, but I felt like we weren’t quite ready for such a huge step, but I was given approximately 90 days to do so. I can remember the heartache of not having any luck in finding a place, not the right place, but any place. We wanted a home big enough for our family, sufficient space to host gatherings, and in the middle of our target area. But no such luck!

​I can recall my wife and I on our way to go see a home we’d finally been able to secure a viewing for. It was on the eastside of Compton, near the intersection of San Vicente and Lime Street and as we were a few blocks away, traffic started to build up off of Rosecrans and then it came to a complete halt. I was super worried because we would be late to finally have a chance at finding a place close to where we wanted to plant, it wasn’t Lynwood, but just next door in Compton. Our time was running out, we had less than 30 days to be out of our previous home, and now, my anxiety was starting to build up as we couldn’t get any closer to the home on Lime Street. And if things couldn’t get any worse, they did! We soon got close enough to see that the street was closed off with caution tape by the Compton Sheriff’s, we found out that a 7 year old child had been killed in a drive-by shooting. 

Any hopes we had for this house were shot, no pun intended, but it was the truth. We drove to Plaza Mexico in Lynwood to have some café de olla at Café Canela and talk, process, see what our options were. And I remember so clearly telling my wife that we’d reschedule to go and see the house on Lime Street the following day after the cops had cleared the way. She looked at me like, “Are you dumb?” I sat there with a blank face like, “What?” no words… just facial expressions, it was an awkward silence as I was trying to understand what she meant… she finally spoke after an eternity of like 30-45 seconds and said, “Estás loco?Do you really think I’m going to move my teenage kids onto that street where a baby was just killed?” We continued to talk and she said she’d support the church plant but needed assurance that our kids would be safe.

Edna, Nati’s, and Duva at our home in Lynwood
Lynwood is well known for its water towers

This right here was the perfect opportunity to consider moving further away from Lynwood to a nicer area, forget about moving into Compton, and think of Cerritos instead, or maybe Lakewood, Bellflower, or even Downey. It was the perfect opportunity to come up with an excuse to no longer follow through with our plans to move into the community where we’d be planting a new church… but what would that say to the community we’d be serving? Would we really be invested in a community that we couldn’t bring ourselves to move into? How much did we really care about a neighborhood we could not bring ourselves to reside in? Would we be on mission, or “on the clock”? Meaning, would our church plant be set up around scheduled office hours and what days and times we’d be in Lynwood to “do ministry” or would we really be about that life and move in despite the obvious scares? As most of you know, we live here, have been living here, and have recently even bought a house here. Why? Because we know with all certainty that this is exactly where God wants us, and we’ll remain here until He says otherwise.

Watts Prayer Walk in the Nickerson Gardens

I share our story with you, because to us, there’s really no other way to be “all in” to plant a church in a community than to live in that community. To be involved with the community… day in and day out… not just during “office hours.” I mean no offense by this at all, because I’ve got great friends who do not live in the community they serve, as a matter of fact, I know pastors who’ve purchased homes more than an hour away from where their church is… I don’t judge… but for me, I can’t have it any other way. I want the same community that I’m trying to reach with the Gospel be the same community that I see when I go to the store, pump gas, walk our dogs, go to the gym (yes, I said go to the gym… leave me alone!) the same community we support all the mom and pop shops… the same community I ride my bike in, and go to the post office in.

Compton Prayer Walk

Our desire was to plant a church in this community with the people of this community and for the people of this community. Now, I want to be clear, that’s not saying that everyone has to reside within the city boundaries of Lynwood, Compton, or Watts… but at the same time we don’t want to build a commuter church where the entire congregation drives 30-45 minutes just to come for Lord’s Day Services each weekend. We want to minister to our neighbors, their children, and their kids’ teachers. We want to invite the cashier at Superior Grocers, the barbers at Flawless Barbershop, we want to see our City Council members, and school district staff in our church. We want this community and surrounding areas to know that we care… we care enough to be completely invested here. We want them to know that we’re here with them… they’re not our “fixer upper” project… but real people with issues and hurts, real problems, and a real need for Jesus.

Unity Service at Lynwood Park w/ Lynwood School Board President Maria G. Lopez, Mayor Pro Tem Jorge Casanova, and Pastor Nisan Stewart of Greater Emmanuel Temple

The Lord has drawn some amazing people to us, who don’t live in Lynwood, but they know our mission, they know our heart, and they know that this is where we’re called to serve, to reach our neighbors with the Gospel, and to do as much business as we possibly can here. So friends… if at all possible, find a local church. Find a church that you can connect with as close as possible to your home, or make an effort to move closer to your church community, and get to know everyone there… know their stories, pray for them and follow up. Please know that each church has a specific mission (at least it should) and do everything you can to help it get there. I can’t see the early church in Philippi going all the way to Ephesus because the worship there was dope… or because all their family lived there. If you can’t be at your church or in it’scommunity outside of Sundays because it’s too far, you might want to reconsider finding a church closer to home.

Reformed Church LA and Greater Emmanuel Temple serving our community during the pandemic.

If you’re a pastor and don’t live in your community, you might want to reconsider and move closer. If you’re a church planter, move as close as you can to the church building or wherever you all meet. Missional communities are great, but they shouldn’t be geographic courtesies to make those that live far not desire to live closer. I know this can sound complicated… but it’s really not, and in the end, I promise you that you will by far have a better margin for knowing the community you serve, being known by the community you serve, and have built up trust by the community you serve, because after all, don’t we want their trust? Don’t we want them to believe the absolute best message ever? The one we have and want to share with them? The one that talks about Christ coming to save sinners like us? The one that calls us to repentance and turning to Him and Him alone for our salvation… amen? Amen!

Lynwood Mayor Marisela Santana, my daughter Natalia, and City of Commerce Vice Mayor Oralia Rebollo
Compton Mayor Aja Brown and Pastor/ Sheriff Deputy Rafer Owens

Please follow us, visit us, stay up to date with us by downloading our church app or visiting us online at www.reformedchurch.la

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