Waterfront: A Church in Manayunk Aims to Offer ‘Something Different’

Epic Church is not your typical house of worship. In fact, its motto is “Something different.” So what makes Epic Church so different?

Well, for starters, the service takes place in a Manayunk movie theater where Taylor Swift’s song “Shake it Off” was blasting over the speakers on one recent Sunday.

“I want to treat guests like I’m inviting them to my home. We want people to feel at ease and treat them like they’re a part of our family,” lead pastor Kent Jacobs said. “The music we have playing is just regular music I listen to in the car with my kids. If you come over my house, that’s what you’re going to hear.”

This nondenominational church is always looking for new members to attend its services in Manayunk as well as at Roxborough High School and the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Center City.

Services are held at these three locations to cater to the growing membership. The church currently sees an average of 1,500 attendees a week.

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“The best way for us to reach as many people in the city is to take church to people, instead of asking them to come to church,” Jacobs said. “We really want to become the best church for the city.”

The congregation meets every Sunday at 9 and 10:15 a.m. in its original Manayunk location inside the United Artists movie theater at 3720 Main St. Without an actual building, members rely heavily on their website, flyers and word of mouth to spread the information about upcoming events within their community.

Jacobs has been with Epic Church since its establishment six years ago. “We try to take away all the obstacles to church, like knowing the words to certain songs,” Jacobs said. “We want people to feel like they belong before they even believe.”

Philadelphia resident Krystle Mcquiller and her family have been coming to the church for years. Her mother, Joanne Domagala, helped start the church with Jacobs.

Epic Church works hard to cater to all of its attendees which includes kids, of course. It even has a “Kids Zone” to keep kids occupied during services.

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“I love the kids’ service that the church provides,” Mcquiller said. “My daughter loves coming to church, and I always enjoy hearing what she’s learned in Sunday School.”

Emily Yoder just moved to Philadelphia from North Carolina. She says she attended a similar church back home called Elevation Church in Charlotte.

“I love that the church is relaxed. I can dress casual, and the message is pretty casual too,” said Yoder. It’s setting a new tone for Christianity today.”

She found Epic Church through her boyfriend, who has been attending for three months. She hopes to get more involved in the activities once she has been going to the church for at least a year.

Other than weekly services, the church divides its year into trimesters, where members plan community service activities. Some of these activities include a complete home makeover for single mothers, dinners for cancer patients and an annual Easter egg hunt that racks up about 5,000 attendees.

“In any given trimester, we have 40 to 70 different acts of service by groups of people in our community,” Jacobs said.

Epic Church always welcomes new guests, and sees up to 17 new attendees a week. The church starts out by meeting in the lobby of the movie theater and reading aloud new-member testimonies, followed by open prayer for all new members to hopefully join their church or to find the spiritual guidance they need. They believe this adds to their goal making all members feel a part of the church family.

“I grew up thinking listening to secular music was bad,” said Kari McQuin, a new member of the church. “I always wanted to listen to ‘Kidz Bop’ growing up, but was never allowed in my strict, conservative, Christian family.”

When McQuin first walked into the lobby and heard today’s pop hits playing, she immediately knew it was the church for her.

“Even during the service, they play Christian contemporary music, not hymns,” McQuin said. “I find myself humming to worship and pop songs during my week – both of which remind me of church and God.”

Church leaders make it their mission to welcome all guests into their house of worship, playing comfortable music and serving Dunkin’ Donuts bagels and doughnuts. They also serve up a hot cup of morning Joe and freshly squeezed orange juice. Their goal is to have all new members feel at home.

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Epic Church hopes to grow to at least two permanent facilities in the future and continue its mission of a church that is “Something different.” Leaders believe having permanent facilities is important to the longevity and preservation of their church.

“There’s this misconceived idea that church is for church people, and we don’t believe that,” Jacobs said. “We believe church is for everybody.”

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– Text, video and images by Esther Katro and Mary Smith