Matt and Laura Lawson
Story City Church
Los Angeles, California

Having become a Christian at a student ministry camp when he was 17, Matt Lawson wanted to pursue student ministry as a career. “We did student ministry for 14 years, nine of them in Atlanta,” he says. But after eight years as student pastor at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., Matt began to sense something new was happening in his life. “The first thing on my mind every morning was church planting, but it was the last thing I wanted to do. I would literally pray, ‘Thank you, God, but no thank you. Please send someone else.’”

Matt sought out mentors for wisdom. One referenced the book of Acts and told him, “When the stirrings of Antioch are louder than the comfort of home and Jerusalem, you know God’s doing something.” Los Angeles was Matt’s Antioch, and after eight months of wrestling with God’s will, Matt and Laura knew God was calling them to plant in Los Angeles—3,000 miles away from home. “It would have been much easier to plant a church close to home, but that wasn’t what God wanted. He said ‘L.A.,’ so we said, ‘Send us.’”

With 19 million people in the greater Los Angeles area, there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 23,000 people. “There are wide open opportunities for the gospel to flourish,” Matt says. But upon arrival, the Lawsons didn’t know anybody in L.A., so they set about networking. “For probably six months, all we did was meet with people for breakfast, coffee, lunch and dinner. We wanted to build our core team and expand our sphere of influence.” Then, in February 2015, 18 people met in the Lawsons’ home for the first gathering of Story City Church. In May 2015, they met in the Banshee Theater and, despite having no A/C during the hot L.A. summer, God grew Story City Church from 25 people to 70 people. “We cast our vision, shared the Scriptures and asked people to get on board with us,” recalls Matt. “A lot of the people we attracted—believers and non-believers alike—were the dreamers and starters and entrepreneurs of L.A., who understand vision and a high-risk, high-reward environment.”

After outgrowing the Banshee Theater in August 2015, Story City moved to Flappers Comedy Club. Less than a year later, Story City had already outgrown Flappers, so they moved to the Colony Theater. “We just recently held our first service there,” says Matt. With 178 people in attendance, they’re expecting well over 200 for their relaunch. Matt says, “We’re making room for more stories. One of the things we say is that more seats doesn’t just represent more numbers: it represents more stories, and one of those seats is reserved for you.”

Community in Story City Church is vital because believers and non-believers alike in Los Angeles express loneliness and their need for relationships. “Part of the reason is because, in L.A., relationships are bartered and traded and sold like commodities,” Matt explains. Story City Church started Community Groups in the spring of 2016 and had a great response. “From the beginning, God has been very kind and gracious to fill peoples’ needs through our church.”

Story City reaches out to Los Angeles in a variety of ways: free movie nights, water bottles at the Metro station, backpacks, carwashes and parents’ night out. “Even though there’s great wealth in the city of L.A., generosity doesn’t seem to be a value here,” Matt shares. “So we do lots of projects that help us connect with people, demonstrate generosity and build bridges that will lead to the gospel.” Through those simple outreaches, the church has already seen relationships form and people respond to Jesus. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) has enabled this to happen.

When asked about what God has done through AAEO and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to benefit Story City, Matt just smiles. “I don’t even know if there’s enough words to describe it. It’s just immeasurable how NAMB has supported us. NAMB has held the rope that’s secured us, and at any moment they’ve said, ‘We’re here for you, and we are going support you.’ Not just in terms of finances, but in terms of encouragement. We can’t go on forever without encouragement. We need people to say we’re doing a good job, and NAMB has been that for us.” Story City Church continues to also be encouraged by the growth of the church and its outreach to Los Angeles, as their slogan says, “for the story of God, for the city of L.A.”

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter