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Living in the Hyphen
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Living in the Hyphen
 
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Editor’s Note: On February 8, 2013, Pastor Juanfer Monsalve, second generation church planter in Chattanooga visited Pastor Andres Flores, second gen church planter in Wicker Park, Chicago. This is a partial transcript of that interview.

 
What is Epic?

Juanfer: What makes Epic a different kind of church?
Andres: What makes epic different is not just the high energy of the worship services every week, but the fact that we are on a mission to help young adults to become disciple makers.  We’re not just focusing on weekly attendance. We’re not just focusing on the number of people being baptized. We’re focusing on the number of relationships that are being developed towards disciple making.
 
 
Penetrating the External Community

Juanfer: Where do you get the people from? What is considered your community?
Andres: We are located in the neighborhood of Wicker Park. So we serve the local community and the larger community of Illinois.
 
Juanfer: How do you get around to the local community? How do they know even know that you exist?
Andres: We have attempted to create a presence (instead of passing fliers around) with a very creative activity that we call ‘free hugs’. So every week we go over to Milwaukie Avenue, the hipster town here in Chicago, and what we do is that we embrace people. By doing that we have created a little bit of credibility and a presence and people now are asking ‘who are you’, ‘what are you doing’ and we answer, “We come from Jesus and we love him and we want you to know him as well.
 
Juanfer: Why hugging and not money or other different things.
Andres: Because being starved from human touch is worse than being starved for the want of bread. So we have discovered a great response and a great need in people who need to be accepted. It doesn’t matter what they look like or where they come from. Being accepted, being embraced, getting a ‘high five’, creates high impact in the young adults in the community.
 
Juanfer: You mentioned social time and that’s part of the community, but why is it so important that you meet outside of church?
Andres: Its important because that’s how epic church was born. We don’t have a building. So we did open houses on rooftops, storefronts, theaters, meeting in people’s houses; so it’s very organic. So what you have is a group of people who are very enthusiastic about Jesus, and about the message of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus. And it spreads to the first layer of social relationships, and the second, and the third, and they bring their friends, naturally, organically without lots of pressure, and when they come that way they stay.

Juanfer: What happens at an open house?
Andres: An Open house is a worship service, a preview worship service of a typical weekend service at epic what it looks like. But we do take some risk. We do have some elements that are different from a Sabbath morning service. They range from silence, drama, urban artist, painting, hip hop, and rap. We have more creativity, its longer, we have musicians and we have a high emphasize again on social relationships. You don’t have to be a member of epic to come. You can invite your friends. You can invite your Muslim friends, your agnostic friends, your atheist friends, and it’s okay and they come and enjoy it with us.
 
Assimilation

Juanfer
: How else are you creating that connection within the community?
Andres: Once we do that every week they come back. So we have a small group ministry called surge groups. We’re attempting to bring these new friends into the groups. When they do come to the groups it’s not just fun. It’s not just high energy but its highly intentional in assimilating people into the family of the church--especially young adults. Our church matches the demographics of the community so that when they do come in they feel comfortable, they feel at peace, they feel happy.
 
Juanfer: The system of the Adventist church is designed for baptisms. That’s how we’ve always measured success.  Is there pushback?
Andres: We are looking at both quantitative and qualitative results. We want to see the stories of people being transformed. But we know that when we get more stories of people being transformed in the narrative more numbers of people will come.
 
Juanfer: What are some of the new models that you are developing here at Epic?
Andres: One model that we are implementing is called assimilation. It is a model that is designed to help first time visitors to become second time visitors; second time visitors to become regular guests; and regular guests to be in a small group. Once they are in a small group the likelihood for them to stay in a small group is higher. We have a team whose only mission is to help people on that journey--to take them all the way from the moment they enter that door, to the moment that they accept being part of a small group. So it is kind of an organic process highly relational but also highly organized with postcards, emails, notes of encouragement, follow up visits.
 
Juanfer: You mentioned several contacts during the week. I assume that you’re not the only one sending a letter out.
Andres: We have a team of about 7-9 volunteers who take turns. They send those letters, those gift cards, those books, and those emails and text messages to them.

Juanfer: Gift cards?
Andres: Once they are second time visitors they get the book that we are reading or the book that is dominating our theological conversations, or the book series. Or they get a new bible that we are using here at epic. They really appreciate it because it is reinforcing what we are preaching. That gift is going to help them understand better the journey that we are taking here at epic every week.
 
Juanfer:  What if after a couple weeks they don’t show up?
Andres: We continue to follow up and then we give them a little space as well so they don’t feel like we are stalking them. We have learned that once they see the sincere community that we have, very transparent, I would say that the rate of returning is high.
 
Leadership

Juanfer
: How is mentoring handled since the majority are young adults?
Andres: I spend a lot of time, as much as I can, as much as they can, in conversations with the main leaders in the church board, the main leaders of every department. We don’t just go to a meeting room. We go and eat together (we eat a lot at epic!). And we just see and talk and open up our hearts, review the budget, talk about what is happening in your particular industry, have feedback. It’s working in the sense that its informal but it is also very holy and sacred. So instead of having a formal meeting, we just have a conversation. They love it. Because we have a paradigm of low supervision high trust. We believe that when God called you to a particular ministry He empowers you, guides you, mentors you. So we do very little supervision and we trust them. We give them the resources that they need to perform their ministry and guidance. So they love it!
 
Multi-Cultural

Juanfer: One of the things that happens in the Adventist church is that we are segregated. Are you guys intentional about having a multicultural church?  
Andres: Our mission is being a diverse group and we draw our core value for diversity from the group of Acts chapter eleven in which you see teams of missionaries from different cultures reaching the community. So the team of missionaries that was called ‘Christian’ actually was a multicultural diverse group. So that’s where we derive our mission to build multicultural diverse integrated community.
 
Second Gen

Juanfer:  Second generation people are some of the largest demographics in the US. Why do you think we are losing them so fast and why do you think that Epic is a special place that we can start reclaiming them?
Andres: There is an illustration to help understand second generation people in any culture. They live in the hyphen. They are the hyphen between the first and second generation. Being in the hyphen is overwhelming. You can lose your spirituality by being the hyphen all the time--by trying to bridge between the first and second generation.  So here at Epic we don’t ask them to be the hyphen for everything except to be the hyphen with their friends. They don’t necessarily have to bridge culture although they can, they aren’t required to bridge one culture into the other because they all speak English.
 
Juanfer; Why won’t second generation people feel comfortable at a Spanish church or in a regular Anglo church?
Andres: I think second generation people are extremely liquid or flexible. As a hyphen they can feel quite overwhelmed in a first generation church. They could stay there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will grow or experience growth. So by being in a church that is designed for them in their own culture they can use all of that energy that they were using to be in the hyphen for ministry.  And when they do that they are just free--free to be themselves.
 
External Criticism

Juanfer: How are the other churches in the area reacting to a different type of church that is energetic such as yours.
Andres: I think there was a little bit of concern at first.  “Are they going to do this crazy rock oriented contemporary worship style?” That is not the most important thing about Epic. What is really important is that we do contextualize the gospel. We make sure that we don’t use terms that non church members won’t understand.  We intend people to see Jesus Christ. So yes, there was a little bit of concern, but once people understood that we were coming from a missional perspective we have received support from other Adventist churches.
 
Juanfer: One of the main things from Spanish churches is that the music has to be from the hymnal. If it’s not GC approved then it didn’t come from the Holy Spirit. How do you deal with the critics that say this kind of church is about a show and not about community or discipleship?
Andres: We invite them to come. We don’t get anxious. We try not to engage in controversies with them. We try to bless them, to ask questions, and to have curiosity. We try to be transparent with them as well. Many of them are not going to change their impression even if they don’t come they already have a preconceived idea of what a crazy church this is. Nevertheless we tell them that ‘the best thing you can do is to come and be friends with us.’ When you put a face and a name and a heart to the young people who are coming it’s a game changer.
 
Failures

Juanfer: In the Adventist church we are very prone to celebrate our victories, “we baptized this many people.” How do you guys deal with things that are not victories? You find this thing out and it just didn’t work.
Andres: We try to acknowledge it, instead of hiding it. “Yeah, that was weird.” Or, “I blew it in my sermon, I was distracted by the microphone” or, “The lights didn’t work.” We’re trying to implement a culture where embracing that is part of grace and mercy. It’s okay. We don’t have to perform. We’re here to do things for God. We’re here because of God. So we’re going to do our best, but at the end of the day we’re here to offer ourselves to Him.