Reaching L.A.—One Neighborhood at a Time

Date Posted: 
Friday, April 17, 2015

Peter Watts is a director for World Impact in Los Angeles and pastor of The R.O.C.K. Church.

A new generation of homegrown leaders is rising up in Los Angeles. Their mission? To plant churches that transform neighborhoods in the core of the city.

This mission holds promise for an explosion of church planting in resource-challenged communities throughout L.A.—with people who grew up in those communities leading the new churches. It’s also part of a new RCA ministry partnership.

“We may plant 15 to 20 churches in L.A. over the next five years in partnership with World Impact,” says Tim Vink, coordinator of church multiplication for the RCA.

World Impact is a non-profit organization dedicated to planting healthy, urban churches across the United States. “Our efforts are to target the unchurched and under-resourced individuals in communities,” says Peter Watts, World Impact’s new director in Los Angeles. Watts is also the planter and pastor of an RCA church in L.A. called The R.O.C.K. (Reaching Out Christ’s Kingdom).

He says continuing to lead ministry at The R.O.C.K. as he serves with World Impact brings “two worlds together under one roof” for him.

Before becoming a commissioned pastor with the RCA and planting The R.O.C.K., Watts was part of the Baptist church. He preached for seven years and was licensed and ordained in a church in the city of Compton, just south of L.A. He also served as principal of a public charter school he started.

“I decided to join World Impact because I felt that it was where God was leading my family and me,” says Watts. He now leads about 40 World Impact missionary and support staff.

Living local

When he became a World Impact director, Watts took a 75 percent pay cut and moved his family from the L.A. suburb of Carson to live in the city in a duplex owned by World Impact. Acknowledging this was a big change, he adds, “I can confidently say that this was the best move in my life.

“It’s so important that our model for ministry at World Impact starts with incarnational living,” says Watts. “All of our missionaries and support staff live in the communities we serve. We have some missionaries who have lived in the Los Angeles community for the past 25 years doing the work of ministry.”

Partnering and equipping

Partnerships like the new one with the RCA are key to World Impact’s ministry strategy. “An example is our Bridge program for cross-cultural engagement for suburban churches,” says Watts. Through this program, World Impact comes alongside church leaders to offer training. Bridge training helps mostly white congregations located in neighborhoods where demographics have changed from mostly white to mostly non-white find ways to build meaningful, reciprocal relationships with their neighbors.

The newest World Impact initiative for equipping church leaders assists former inmates. Men and women who were students in The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) while within the prison system are enfolded into the life of a local church and trained for church leadership.

These are men and women that Prison Fellowship has identified as having a strong commitment to living out God’s principles. They live together in a house near their sponsoring church. (Each home is either all men or all women.) They have a house manager/mentor who trains them for ministry and holds them accountable for their time and relationships.

In addition, the pastor of the church that sponsors the leadership home coaches and trains participants in church planting. While being coached, they serve in the pastor’s church.

“These indigenous leaders are effective in reaching their communities [with the gospel] because they live in these communities,” says Watts. “They are the ones who know the hurts and pains and needs of the community because it’s where they are from.”

In its equipping role, World Impact also:

  • Hires urban church leaders and trains them to implement World Impact initiatives.
  • Helps churches start Bible studies that create an “on-ramp” for people who are not familiar with or engaged in church.
  • Helps urban church plants with conferences and events, camps, a church-planting school called Evangel, and city festivals.
  • Partners with church plants and other urban churches to offer medical clinics, schools, youth centers, and thrift stores.

The R.O.C.K. is seeing this equipping firsthand. In 2016, it will work through the pilot program to start a new church plant. One of The R.O.C.K.’s pastors, Cedric Nelms, will lead the church plant, which will be located in the L.A. community where he grew up.

“The kingdom of God is moving in Los Angeles,” says Watts. “What’s beginning to happen in Los Angeles for the RCA and World Impact can happen across the country.”

Watch a short video about a leadership home in Wichita, Kansas, where ex-offenders are equipped for ministry.

Pray for the men and women being raised up as new church planters through World Impact and the RCA.

Support church planting with a gift to the RCA Ministry Fund: www.rca.org/give.

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