By Joe Conway
Editor’s note: This article and video are part of a series on missionaries featured during the 2013 North American Missions Emphasis.
SAN FRANCISCO–There are more affluent places in the United States than San Francisco, but not many. Living in that environment can numb people to need. Ben Pilgreen knows God is in the perspective-changing business.
Pilgreen and his team, including wife, Shauna, launched Epic Church in the fine arts district of San Francisco two years ago. He led Epic’s first international missions experience in summer 2012, to Uganda.
“Our trip to Uganda was incredible,” says Pilgreen, pastor of Epic in the Bay City. “People throw the term ‘life-changing’ around, but it truly was life changing for some of our people. The team of 14 was so impressed we are already scheduled to return next year.” Pilgreen is a North American Mission Board church planter, and a 2013 Week of Prayer missionary.
“We have several members who have been sponsoring children through our partner church there, and we were able to visit in their homes,” says Pilgreen. “That truly brought it to reality for our people. It was eye opening to see the conditions the children live in, particularly compared to San Francisco. Then to see those people, living in what we would consider tough, even impossible, situations, exhibiting true joy. Amazing.”
Epic works in partnership with United Christian Centre in Kampala, Uganda, a 20-year-old congregation that supports an orphanage, among other ministries. Pilgreen says the integrity of the church leadership giving guidance to 2,000 members and multiple ministries spoke to his members.
“Spending time with the kids and their families was the best. We were able to take the kids to an amusement park one day. That was a great day,” says Pilgreen.
Recognizing Acts 1:8 as a comprehensive command, Epic simultaneously engages, not only around the world, but also across the street. One of their longest-standing relationships is with “A Woman’s Place.” The transitional residence takes in battered women. Recently, six partner churches brought 70 volunteers for Epic’s “Hope for the City.”
“Teams went in and totally redesigned rooms to make them brighter and give them a happier feel,” says Pilgreen. “Then the teams hit the neighborhoods and local parks cleaning and doing whatever was needed. The Department of Public Works was incredibly appreciative. They see us as good neighbors and that helps us in the community.
“Our volunteers also helped us host ‘City Impact,’ events for children with games and interaction. That was a meaningful time for us and another great opportunity where people recognized us as contributing to the community.”
Another challenging aspect of doing church in a place like San Francisco is that you encounter issues most churches don’t have to consider. Pilgreen relies on God’s wisdom and the counsel of godly Christians to help him navigate.
From the complex to the simple, Pilgreen points to one family in the church who came to Epic after receiving an invitation flier handed out by volunteers. It was for Epic’s inaugural preview service.
“Volunteers handed out invitations,” says Pilgreen. “Anna picked one up and came. Eventually she came to faith and brought her family to Epic. Her husband came to faith, too. She told us Epic helped save her life and her marriage.
“You don’t know how a simple act, as simple as handing someone a piece of paper, can affect someone’s life. Our partners and volunteers are vital to us. You have to sow a lot of seeds.”
Looking to the future, Epic will hire its first Epic Kids director in 2013. The leadership continues to write the church’s entire small-group curriculum.
“We publish it in book form,” says Pilgreen. “We realized early on that our members trust us, but they don’t know any ‘names’ in Christian publishing.
“We are at three services and about 260 on Sunday. We have 13 Epic Groups now. We are looking to expand into the north, east and south parts of the city,” says Pilgreen of Epic’s small-group strategy.
The Pilgreens, parents to Elijah, 9, Sam, 7, and Asher, 5, are adopting a daughter from India. “It’s another adventure – why not?” asked Pilgreen.
And if helping a thriving church plant and raising four children wasn’t enough, Shauna released her first book last year—The Same Page, co-authored with Courtney Bullard—and began writing for NAMB pastors’ wives blog, flourish.me.
The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 3-10, 2013, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®, provide support for Pilgreen and other missionaries like him who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes – Reaching the One.”
“This offering allows us to move forward with the ministry initiatives we believe God is calling us to engage in on a weekly basis,” says Pilgreen. “It allows us to pursue opportunities we believe will make a real difference in our church and in our city.”
For more information on Ben Pilgreen, visit anniearmstrong.com/benpilgreen. For more information about how you can get involved in reaching San Franscisco with the gospel, visit namb.net/SanFrancisco.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.