Update: In-Person Gatherings
I want to share our approach as we consider when to have in-person gatherings again. I'd love for you to take time to watch this video so you can see my face and hear my voice and heart on the matter. I'm also providing an abbreviated transcript below as back up.
Epic Church Family,
I know that we all have questions in this season that begin with the word “when”. For those of us who are part of this Epic community, the question that's on all of our minds is, when is Epic church going to reopen? For starters, we don't have to reopen Epic Church because Epic Church has never been closed. You are the church. We've been the church unlike ever before in our nine plus year history. We've been doing more ministry, more care, more prayer, and more connection. We know that the church needed to rise up in this season, and you have done a brilliant job at rising up to be the church.
But I know the question that you have in mind.
When will we gather again in person for Sunday gatherings?
Let me promise you that no one is as ready to gather in this space on Sundays more than me. I miss seeing all of you. As we're making decisions about the future of our church, in terms of when will we gather again, let me give you a subset of questions that I'm asking during this time.
1. What is God saying to us?
Here are a few things I just sense God affirming in my own spirit: He’s still at work. He still has a glorious future for Epic Church. There's something amazing that's going to emerge over the coming months and years. He's still with us and he hasn't left us.
2. What is legal?
We're committed to being great citizens in the city of San Francisco. London Breed recently said that religious services could resume June 15th as a target date, but there wasn't much more in addition to that. Governor Newsom recently released a 13 page guideline that talked about how churches might resume around the state. Here are a few of the guidelines:
- You must wear face coverings.
- If you can do remote services, they encourage us to continue to do remote services.
- Shorten the length of our services.
- Consider not singing or saying things.
- Limit or restrict restroom usage.
- Not to have Epic kids or students.
3. What is safe?
We are paying attention to the CDC. We are paying attention to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. We're thankful to have people in our Epic Church community who are in the medical field as well. We love you and we love our city way too much to put your health or the health of anyone else in San Francisco in jeopardy. We just love you way too much.
4. What kind of in person experience can we provide based on current restrictions and guidelines?
My opinion is not a great one. Here's what we miss about church:
- The lobby interactions.
- Seeing families and individuals.
- Singing freely.
- Having our kids' ministry be able to meet in their classrooms and learn age appropriate things.
- Enjoying a cup of coffee.
- Hanging out after the gatherings are over, and so much more.
We love you too much to give you an experience that you're not going to love. We love the people we're trying to reach in the city way too much to give them an experience that they wouldn’t love.
5. What is best for the long term good of Epic Church and San Francisco?
All of those words are really important. What is best-- not for you, not for me, not my preferences, not for right now. What is the best for the long term good of our church and the city that God has called us to? We are playing a long game here. We are here to stay. We're not going to jeopardize our long term good as a church and our long term good in the city. We're just not going to rush it.
- Jeremiah 29:7 says also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you or to which I have called you. Our prospering must be tied to the city prospering.
- We care deeply about the posture we present to our city.
- Part of orienting our lives around Jesus means that we must be willing to lay down our rights for the sake of loving others well.
- Jesus said this in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” And then Philippians 2: 3-4 says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility. Consider others better than yourselves. Look only not just to your interests, but also to the interests of others.” That's what we're trying to do as a church, even with our decision making about our re-entry into Sunday gathering.
So based on what we know today, what's the wise thing to do?
Based on what we know today, we will not have in-person Sunday gatherings this summer. I do hope there can be modifications to our current reality sooner than later. My assumption is, as it becomes legal, safe, and wise, it would be great for us to be able to encourage the following:
- Get together with a small circle of people that you're already in community or relationship with.
- Have our Epic groups meeting in outdoor environments
- Then we would transition towards reentry on Sunday gatherings over time.
While I'm comfortable with my role here at Epic Church as the lead pastor, I want you to know that we don't make these kinds of decisions alone or in a vacuum. I'm grateful to have our lead staff team and our Epic Church board of directors. I'm grateful for the San Francisco pastors as we are trying to have a unified approach in reopening our Sunday gatherings. I also am privileged to have mentors from around the country.
So for now, we will remain online only for our Sunday gatherings. Now, one of the things I love most about our church is the diversity. I'm not asking for all of us to agree on everything. For some of you, because we're not even open for Sunday gatherings yet, we're going to open way too late for you. For others of you, we might end up opening on Sundays way too early for you. But here's what I've got to tell you. This is crucial.
Our mission matters more than our preferences.
Our unity matters more than anything that we could get divided or distracted by.
The message of Jesus is at stake here for our church, as a witness to our city, and to the world. It must be about what is best for the long term good of San Francisco based on what we know today.
So here's what I do need from you in this season.
- Lean into your faith in Jesus.
- Lean into this community unlike you've done before.
- Watch our Sunday gatherings every single week.
- Invite other people to watch with you.
- Join and participate in one of our Epic groups.
- Serve our city with one of our local partners.
- Keep being generous and praying.
- Keep reaching out to our staff team.
- Let us pray with you and know what your needs are so that we can provide for you.
I have a deep conviction that God is preparing something special for our future, and I want us to be positioned to step into all that he has for us. There's so much blessing on the other side of our sacrifice together.
We will continue to keep you updated as information changes both in terms of our city, as well as our approach to gathering again on Sundays, or even if we're able to do some of these small circle or outdoor groups.
I love you, and I've never been more committed to the vision of Epic Church than I am right now.
Pastor Ben would like to communicate with you during the week via email.