The Makings of an Epic Church
By: Samantha Angeles Peralta
What does it take to start an Adventist church that is not only successfully reaching young adults, but is also producing disciples that are so passionate about Jesus that they will plant a new church themselves? Chicago’s Epic Church, founded and pastored by Andres Flores, is doing both of these things and more. However, Epic Church’s success did not happen overnight. It is simply an expression of the call that God has been developing in Andres’ life for many years.
Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Andres’ family was primarily composed of Catholics, Pentecostals, and the unchurched. Due to the influence of his grandmother, the only Adventist in the family, Andres and his mother were baptized together into the Adventist church when he was 16 years old. After high school, he chose to pursue pastoral ministry, and spent several years pastoring in various church contexts throughout the United States before enrolling in the Seventh-Day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University to earn his Master of Divinity. The experience at the Seminary was transformational in two major ways.
“It was like having a conversion experience,” he says. “It was an academic experience that equipped me with tools I now use in my field. But spiritually, it was a transformational experience that reaffirmed my identity as a son of God.
Not only did his time at the Seminary shape his personal spiritual identity, but it also helped him identify his ministry calling.
“As a student, my wife and I noticed the absence of young adults in our churches and the lack of contextualization of the Adventist message in urban settings. And God gave us a passion for the city.”
Unbeknownst to Andres, God was igniting the same passion for urban young adults in the hearts of the Illinois conference and Lake Union leaders. Immediately after graduation, just one day after Andres’ first child was born, he received the call to plant a young adult church in Chicago.
“The Illinois conference president said that we would not have a mother church—that I would need to plant this church ‘by the compelling power of the vision.’ It was so inspiring, but so not practical. I didn’t understand it at the time, but he was absolutely right.”
In faith, Andres, his wife, their new baby, a theology student from Andrews University, and one other Adventist church member joined to pray about and develop a strategy for planting a church that would make the gospel relevant to young adults in Chicago’s urban setting. And, as his conference president predicted, it was the power of the Holy Spirit, combined with the compelling power of the vision, that ultimately made their small team grow.
“Beginning in May of 2012, we started to have ‘open houses’ all over Chicago, in quirky, unique places like storefronts, rooftops and abandoned churches. These open houses were essentially preview nights of worship, casting a vision of what the church would be like when it opened. We always featured a core value of what would become Epic Church, the main vision, a testimony, music, and allowed time for socialization. We also included creative elements, something to speak to people’s hearts so that they’d be inspired to check it out.
Our first open house was in a storefront in an abandoned Mac store. The second one was on a rooftop above a penthouse where we had a “mocktail bar,” along with our worship service and vision casting. Our third open house was in a black box theater in Wicker Park, Chicago, which is the location where we opened our church. We just kept inviting people, casting the vision, and every open house, people would join the core group. As we shared our core values of Sabbath, creativity, acceptance, community, service, diversity and wholeness, people got interested. By October, we launched Epic Church with 30 core group members.”
One way that Andres’ team promoted these open houses was through personal invitations.
“As we gathered groups of young adults, we told them, ‘You may not have a lot of money or resources, but you do have a lot of social networks. Will you give up your social networks for Jesus?’ We asked them to invite their own friends personally, not just through social media.”
These same young adults would also grow from surrendering their social networks to surrendering their finances, meager or otherwise, to Jesus. Though the Lake Union and Illinois conference provided six months of financial support to Epic Church, the church soon had to support itself.
“We learned to disciple toward stewardship, and our people are givers,” Andres says. “We took over the funding for the church. We became self-sufficient, and our young adults are also maturing, gaining jobs in areas like technology, and are generous.”
Not only does Epic Church have young adults that are faithful stewards, but they are also mere months away from realizing what was once a far-away dream in Andres’ heart: Developing disciples of Jesus who are so passionate about Him that they will plant churches. In October, Epic Church will open its second campus in the suburbs of Chicago.
“It came about very organically,” Andres says. “The church planting team is a mix of people who have joined Epic recently and people who were there from the beginning. The entire group lives in the suburbs by Lombard, Illinois, so we decided to start exploring the possibilities of having a church there. Seventy people came to our first open house, and we have other open houses planned before the church plant launches in October. The plant will have the same mission and vision and values, but contextualized to the suburbs, as opposed to the city.”
Epic Church held its second open house at Fischer Farm in July, with even more people in attendance. The barn party featured outdoor pony rides for children, a corn fest for all, and a worship service and vision casting session inside the barn.
One highlight of the open house was a testimony from Giovanny, a young man who has been so impacted by the ministry of Epic Church that he has not only accepted Jesus as his personal Savior, but is also now pursuing religious education in preparation for full-time ministry.
Giovanny explained how his Epic Church family has sustained him through the many trials he has faced this year:
“Every time the devil delivered a blow, my Epic family was there to lift me back to my feet. They don’t let me fall, ever. When my sister died and I didn’t know what to do, my Epic family wrote me letters letting me know how much they love me, how much they care about me, and how much I mean to them. When you have people like that, when you can see Jesus moving in your church family—it means the world.”
Giovanny finished his testimony with a passionate appeal: “Do you want to see lives changed, just as my life has been changed through Epic?” he asked. “Join us here with our church plant. This is what happens in Epic Church!”
After the worship service and testimony, Andres took the stage to share the vision of the church plant, and invite attendees to be a part of it. “We cannot help but plant another church,” he said. “Because we know that churches are environments where people can come to know Jesus in fresh and relevant ways, where people can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
And that, according to Andres, is what Epic Church is all about.
For Further Reflection:
- What is your ministry passion? How has God developed that passion in your personal & professional life?
- What risks do you need to take in order to pursue God’s call on your life?
- What is one step you can take today to say yes to God’s call to reach the world for Him?