Moving to LA: Pastor Josh Thompson on Planting Legacy City Church
STUDIO CITY — Pastor Josh Thompson of Legacy City Church doesn’t want his church or himself to be just another Johnny-Come-Lately. That’s often the case for ministries slain in the spiritual battlefield known as L. A.
Legacy City launched just three years ago and Thompson confesses that the challenges are real, but it is the gospel message that sustains him.
“I’m going to be here 20, 30, 40, 50 years,” Thompson, 35, told TogetherLA. “I’m not the church guy who stays for three years and then just goes to another church for three years. I think I’m probably going to die in this city.”
Talking to Thompson, it’s obvious that he feels blessed that Greg Laurie and Harvest Fellowship (his former employers) are in his corner. Laurie came out to preach on Legacy’s first Sunday service attended by 600 people. Between 180 to 220 people attend Legacy City weekly since its opening, Thompson said. Below is his interview with TLA, discussing some of the story behind the church plant.
Together LA: Why did you decide to plant a church in LA?
Josh Thompson: It was for two reasons. First, I was thinking more practically than I was spiritually. I was looking for a place where I knew the culture. I knew that I wouldn’t necessarily have to learn a new language, even though there is somewhat of a language barrier between L.A. and Riverside, it’s not far away in distance. I had been out there a lot, even just surfing.
Second, the fact that there’s 10 million people in the county, 4 million in the city, I just figured this is crazy, there’s literally millions of people who don’t know Jesus in this city. Though it’s a tough city and it’s a really hard place to survive and plant a church, it really has all nations represented. It also has the influence of Hollywood, which influences the entire world through entertainment. We also see many financial movers and shakers as well, and it’s all right here in this city.
I look at it as the Rome of our day. I see a cosmopolitan city that could influence the entire world and already does to a certain degree. There aren’t many cities in the world you can say that about.
The apostle Paul was trying to get to Rome to preach the Gospel. And when I looked at L.A. I thought, man, if we can influence that city we could potentially impact the rest of the world. That was the main reason in pursuing Los Angeles, it was for the great need of the gospel.
TLA: What has been your biggest challenge in planting a church in LA and why?
Thompson: Initially, creating a culture that worships Christ. When we first stepped in, we saw that people come from so many different backgrounds and they have so many different ideas about God. So, really trying to rally the people together to love the word of God and to want to worship Christ every week was a very difficult challenge.
The other thing was that we didn’t exactly have, a huge church planting team. We had people driving in from out of town to come and serve, and then, people would be leaving constantly. You would build in numbers for a little while and then you would lose some, and then you would build some more, and then you would see people move on. People are coming and going so often it seems somewhat hard to get established.
When you are a small church of less than 100, maybe 50 to 60 people when we first started, and no one knows about you in a 10-million people county, how in the world do you let people know that we are actually worshipping over here in this little building in Studio City? So, those were big steps of faith… and very nerve-wracking.
TLA: What was your time frame for launching the church?
Thompson: My wife and I looked for a building from January to July 2014. We found the building in July. Katie and I put the house up for sale and it sold in only 8 days of being on the market, this was in August. It was a miracle. That month we moved to L.A. Then we launched the church in September 2014. We found the building, a High school gym at Bridges Academy, and two months later we planted the church. It was a crazy-fast timeline, we only had two weeks in our building to clean it up and have it ready. Pastor Greg (Laurie) came out and did a promotional campaign for the launch, including radio, sent out emails, snail mail invites and he preached on our first Sunday. Over 600 people showed up on the first day and I was just trying to figure out what I was doing. It was wild.
TLA: Is there a particular type of person pulled to your church more so than others? If so, why?
Thompson: I thought it was easy to get young people in the church and so I didn’t want to do that [specific outreach to them]. I wanted an eclectic group. I wanted it to represent L.A. I want to see all tribes, all nations. I want to see all age groups. I want to see rich and poor, all demographics. It has been easier for me to connect with young people and get them anchored in the church, but I’ve been more aggressive actually with the older people and with families. If I see a person of different race step into the church and I can see their nervous to be in the church because I’m a white pastor, I go after them immediately. I go give them a hug and tell them I’m happy they are there, talk with them so they can feel comfortable because I want them to know they’re welcome.
TLA: What do you hope for the future with your church?
Thompson: The mission of our church is disciples making disciples. Our name is Legacy and so we plan to leave, by the grace of God, a legacy of the gospel here in L.A. What I mean by that is I’m planning to be here 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I’m not the church guy who stays for three years and then just goes to another church for three years. I think I’m probably going to die in this city. We plan on planting many more churches that want to preach the gospel, disciple people, raise up pastors, and help them plant more churches.
TLA: Is your church focused on specific needs in the city?
Thompson: We’re not bent towards any specific ministry and we are probably not going to because, as a pastor, I’m to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. A lot of people come up to me and say, “Let’s do this ministry. Let’s do that ministry.” What they are really saying is “Will you do this ministry?” And I’m like “No. You’re going to do that ministry.” The way it works is I keep preaching and teaching the gospel, I keep loving and serving the people, meeting with them and counseling, shepherding the people, and they build out the ministry.
Out of that (method) we have so many ministries. We have a convalescent home ministry. We have people that go down to Skid Row. We have a Mexico team going a couple times a year. We have people going to Malawi. So, ministry just started happening. We have kids in high school doing high school ministry. But I don’t put these giant labels on them. I just tell people to do the work of the ministry, whatever you’re passionate about.
TLA: What do you recommend to church planters considering to plant a church in LA?
Thompson: I wouldn’t plant unless you have a team that’s dedicated to move and live here in the area. That was my first mistake. Most of my original team members were not able to stay, and were gone within 10 months of opening the church. That was super tough. You are, of course, relying on the Lord, but you are leaning so much on the team around you to make stuff happen.
So, come with a team. Don’t plant until members of the team have moved there. You have to have some backing (financially). I think it’s important to have some backing through a church (or a church planting network), and not just say, “I’m going to start a church out in L.A.” It’s kind of foolish. You’re going to have a lot of problems. You’re going to need someone to counsel you and help you from the back end.
It’s important for the person that’s doing the planting to make sure that they are called. A lot of guys just think church planting sounds fun and cool and exciting and it is, until the enemy shows up … and tries to take as much from your life as he can to stop from furthering the gospel.
If you are not called, you are going to lose. In the end, when everything gets super hard you are just going to want to pack up your bags and go home. Pastor Steve Wilburn encouraged me to sell my home before coming to L.A. so I wouldn’t have a place to go home to. L.A. was now my home and I wasn’t going to plant a church without being all in, 100 percent.
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