Grace City LA opened its doors as a new church in the Downtown Los Angeles area last September (2017). The church’s pastor, Steve Cha, has been a regular contributing columnist for TogetherLA since February early this year.
Cha acknowledges that LA is a growing and exciting city, especially for “a younger, hipster generation.”
“But sadly, there is not much revival in the spiritual realm,” he said. “Many people in the city do not have a saving relationship with Jesus. A spiritual revival must happen in this city.”
Below is a compilation of questions and answers by Cha that are presented in hopes that readers would get to know the heart of the church and its pastor.
Where did the name “Grace City LA” come from?
Through much brainstorming. I didn’t want something that was so popular, but at the same time, something that sounded odd or quirky. The name “Grace” is somewhat of a homage to a church that I attended for about four years, called Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. It was there that I was sharpened in my understanding of Scripture and in what constitutes a solid church and a healthy Christian life. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to take a piece of that with me. Adding the “City LA” gave more of an urban twist that was suitable for the geographical location. It is a grace-filled church ministering to the inhabitants of Downtown.
Would makes Grace City LA the church that it is? What makes it unique?
The story goes back to 2008 when I got saved. I was greatly influenced by The Living Waters Ministry, which taught me how to have a zeal for the lost and to reach them through evangelism. Since then, I have believed that evangelism should be a crucial part of every Christian’s life, and even in the life of a church. I always had a high view of churches that had an active, weekly evangelism ministry that brought the gospel to people around their neighborhood.
I grew to love solid Bible teaching after hearing many sermons while listening to KKLA 99.5 FM that included the likes of John MacArthur, Greg Laurie, Alistair Begg, Raul Ries, R.C. Sproul, and David Jeremiah. During this time, I was also taught the value of expository preaching. I saw the beauty of preaching through the Bible verse-by-verse, chapter by chapter, in context, which gives us the fullest instruction of who God is, who we are, and how we must live. I was utterly convinced that that is how the Bible should be taught on the pulpit. This approach helped shaped my understanding of biblical theology, which was further supplemented by my time at The Master’s Seminary.
I always dreamed of being part of a church that would mix great Bible teaching, accurate theology, and committed evangelism all into one place. You don’t find too many churches out there that do all three of these well. You would be lucky if you could find 2 out of 3. With Grace City LA, we wanted to bring that all together. In essence, we wanted a biblical and powerful church that had all the right ingredients in order to make “Christianity great again.”
I would say it’s a pretty old school approach. We don’t have a large sanctuary, flashy lights, a concert size band, huge budget, or a plethora of merchandise on site. Our approach is pretty simple. Good preaching, Christ exalting music, loving fellowship, strong discipleship, and evangelistic opportunities in a clean, up to date, and family friendly environment. It’s just a good wholesome church all around.
So in a nutshell, what is the mission and the vision of Grace City LA?
The mission is straightforward: Worship, Equip, and Reach. We want Grace City LA to be a place that fosters a worshipful attitude toward God in all we do. We want it to be a place to thoroughly equip members to be mature disciples who know how to live godly and to serve well. Lastly, we want it to be a place where we can send disciples out into the city and amongst their social circles to reach the lost in evangelism and begin to disciple others. In other words, we want to be a missional, multiplying church.
Our vision is also pretty specific. We hope to carry it out through our present mission: Laboring for the spiritual revival of Downtown Los Angeles by being faithful to God’s Word, which equips the church to carry out the Great Commission in DTLA. By being diligent in our mission, we hope to reach out to over 2,000 people in the city with the gospel and to create 100 new disciples within Grace City LA by summer 2023.
What are the demographics of the Grace City LA area?
We are on the west side of Downtown Los Angeles about a mile away from the Disney Concert Hall on Beverly Blvd. The neighborhood is called Westlake, bordering the southeast side. The demographic is heavily Caucasian, Hispanic, Latino, and Filipino. But in the center of Downtown, it is pretty much a melting pot. Downtown LA has definitely seen a revival during the past 10 years. New businesses are opening up, new homes are being built, and people are moving in. It’s quickly becoming an exciting city to live in, especially for a younger, hipster generation.
But sadly, there is not much revival in the spiritual realm. Many people in the city do not have a saving relationship with Jesus. A spiritual revival must happen in this city. That is why it is a great mission field. It is a great time to be church planting in DTLA and being part of that adventure. My hope is that the Lord will use Grace City LA to win more souls to Christ in that area.
What are some of the ways that Grace City reaches out to Downtown Los Angeles?
Behind everything, our heart is evangelism: trying to get the gospel to as many people as we can. That is our mission as a church. Since day one, we have done a regular door-to-door ministry after Sundays in which we get to know our neighbors and preach the gospel to them. We are working systematically through the neighborhood around Grace City LA, and so far we have reached almost every home within a two block radius. We also evangelize people in nearby parks and, interestingly, other religious institutions!
We also have other creative evangelism ministries. From time to time, we have what’s called Grace Cafe Outreach in which we give free ice coffee or Thai tea to people in DTLA. It has been a great way to get the news out about Grace City LA and to teach the public about the gospel. We’ve even had events like Sushi Outreach Night, in which we served free sushi to our neighbors and used it as an opportunity to preach the gospel.
Describe the Sunday experience and the philosophy behind it?
What you experience on Sundays is a similar program to what you would find at many churches, but there is intentionality in our work, especially in the area of preaching and music. The philosophy behind our music is that it is Christ-exalting, personally edifying, and theologically sound. We don’t pick songs just because they are entertaining, pop-y, or emotionally stirring. We want to make sure that it is first and foremost God-centered and suitable for singing as a corporate piece. All of the songs suit the theme of every week’s sermon. That is why there is constant collaboration between the music leader and myself in the final output of every Sunday’s praise program. The songs are both traditional and contemporary. You will hear traditional hymns like “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Crown Him With Many Crowns” along with modern pieces like Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons” and Sovereign Grace Music’s “Behold our God.” There is definitely something for every kind of audience.
The same care is put into the Sunday sermons. As I mentioned, we focus heavily on expository preaching, although some topical sermons are preached from time to time based on the occasion. The sermons are a process. It is the result of 12-15 hours of study, writing, and practicing before Sunday rolls around. My goal every Sunday is to exposit (or to thoroughly explain) the passage from a historical, theological, and applicational viewpoint.
One of the misconceptions that some people have with expository preaching is that it can be boring and non-applicational. I try my best to shatter that myth by making my messages both informative and engaging, which means that it is easy to follow, relatable and challenging. Every sermon will always open with a compelling introduction, leading to a main point that is fleshed out in two to four points, using related illustrations, and hitting home with take-away lessons that each passage teaches. I believe that is what makes a great sermon. And I always make it my goal to preach Christ, or the gospel, in there for the unbeliever in attendance. Since I am kind of a perfectionist, I approach every week’s sermon like I was being graded in class or entering a preaching competition, of course always being in dependence on the Holy Spirit. I make it the best it can be without falling into the trap of being lazy or uninspired in certain weeks.
Everything that you see on Sundays is the product of our desire to glorify and offer the best before God. Whether it’s in front of 15,000 people or 15 people, we put out our best service possible every week.
Since its inception, what have been some of the blessings and challenges of Grace City LA?
The blessings have been many. People have been given good feedback concerning what they have learned in the Sunday messages. Many are beginning to see the value of expository preaching. It isn’t just data dump, but words that challenge Christians toward greater godly living.
People have also commended us about the genuineness of the people and fellowship. We have no perfect people, and we are open to admitting that, but we see the Lord using these broken people to be an example of love, grace, and truth every week. The attendees of Grace City LA have been a joy because of their heart for the lost, an eagerness to serve and to learn, to pray for one another, and to bear one another’s burdens.
The Lord has provided for our church in unexpected ways. We began with a $4,000 budget, which is pretty small. This was the budget we had to remodel our Sunday sanctuary, purchase new equipment, get a website going, advertising, and other expenses. Through the contributions of donors, we were able to receive more than we originally imagined, which included a new computer, TV monitor, multiple KKLA radio appearances, evangelism materials, and even the cost of hosting a free women’s conference.
As with any start-up churches, we have our challenges as well. The challenge is always having people step up and to serve in our various ministries like music, hospitality, and tech. This is the area we are in most need and what we pray for all the time. Another challenge is being able to keep people in the church who believe in a small, start-up church and are willing to stick it out through thick and thin. Yet, we believe that the Lord shows much grace in these challenges and gives us an opportunity to learn and to grow through them. We trust in His providence to provide and to do what is best for us.
Where would you like to see Grace City LA five years from now?
A church thriving with many new disciples who are missionally focused. We want to be staffed with other pastors and leaders, and a plurality of elders and deacons, which is currently in the works. In other words, we desire to see a healthy and full church structure in place, while still of course being able to preach, disciple, and evangelize as personally as we can. We would even like to bring new leaders, such as interns and residents, and be able to equip them so they can be effective pastors and missionaries wherever the Lord leads them, possibly planting Grace Citys in other parts of the country. It’s our desire to be a missional, multiplying congregation, and we hope to see the fruits of that in the next five years.
How can we best support Grace City LA?
There are a few ways to support us. The first I would say is to pray for Grace City LA, that the Lord would use the church to make an impact in Downtown Los Angeles. We desire many to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. Please pray for the Lord to provide us with whatever we need to effectively carry out this mission.
The second way to support is to donate. As with any church, Grace City LA functions as a result of the faithful contributions of givers. It is because of people’s generous donations that we are able to continue the teaching ministry of Grace City LA and to have the necessary resources to do outreach in the city.
The third way is to join. If you are looking to join a vibrant new church with an awesome vision, one that is Bible based, gospel centered, and evangelistically driven, then Grace City LA is the place to be. Think of it as being part of a missionary group in Los Angeles. That is what you will be supporting and being a part of if you become a member of Grace City LA. We always have a special place for Christians to serve in our congregation, with every helping hand making a difference for us to carry out the Great Commission with greater power. We are praying not only for the practical hands for Sundays, but also for people whom we can raise up as the next deacons, elders, missionaries, Bible study leaders, at Grace City LA and, if the Lord leads, to other parts of the world.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.
On the Web
Grace City LA: https://www.gracecityla.org/
PHOTO (below) by John Fredricks