Bobby Hawk didn’t figure he’d be running a day care. Or a very large gym. He did have an inkling that coffee might be part of the plan.

All of those things have come together as EPIC Church in Independence continues to expand its ministry. It’s helping local schools, helping veterans and their families and now is buying the KC Sports Lodge next door, using sports to build relationships with families.

It’s about reaching out and connecting.

“We don’t just want the community to know we’re here. We want them to know we care,” said Hawk, who founded the church eight and a half years ago and is its lead pastor.

Hawk said the perception that EPIC is a megachurch is off. The three Sunday morning services bring about 400 people a week. Services are upbeat, and the dress is casual. The strategy, as he describes it, is step by step, knowing when to be prudent and knowing when to prudently take a chance. Growth has been steady but not off the charts.

“We’ve tried to say God can do more in the long term than we can do in the short term,” Hawk said.

That name, EPIC, is no accident. It’s short for experience, participate, invest and commit, and that comes out of the church’s strategic planning.

“We’re just trying to imitate what works and innovate what doesn’t,” Hawk said.

Getting started

You’ve probably seen the church from the highway. It’s at 19260 E. 50th Terrace, just east of Interstate 470 and just south of the Little Blue River where it runs behind a long strip of businesses on U.S. 40.

That building, about 10 years old, was originally supposed to be for a home design center, but when the economy went south in the Great Recession, that fell through.

Hawk, after founding a church in Pontiac, Mich., and pastoring it for five years, had felt the call to come home and started EPIC in 2009 – not the best time financially.

“So to start from scratch all over again was fearful,” he said.

They met at the Pharaoh Theater on the Independence Square and had about 40 members.

The owner of the building on 50th Terrace wondered if they were interested.

“We won’t always be 40 people,” Hawk says he told the owner, who took a chance on the church with a five-year lease.

In the fall of 2014, the church was able to buy the space, including the day care. As a matter of good stewardship, the church is able to keep 90 percent of its space in use five or six days a week, Hawk says.

The coffee shop, opened two years ago, is on the corner of the building and is actually the church’s front lobby, a calm and inviting place for people to gather.

“It’s a modern-day well,” Hawk said.

The coffee shop is folded into ministry, too. Ten percent of proceeds, plus tips, go to various causes: the Blue Springs School District, Convoy of Hope and Royals General Manager Dayton Moore’s “C You in the Major Leagues” program, which honors youth coaches.

The coffee shop has two books for sale right now. One is Moore’s. The other is “Anything But Average Parenting,” by Hawk and his wife, and five other couples. It’s about different perspectives on different parts of the parenting journey. Proceeds go to Warriors Journey, which assists veterans and their families.

Recent steps

The Sports Lodge is a significant asset. It has two soccer fields, two basketball courts, a yoga area, a golf simulator – and another coffee shop. Mostly it hosts competitive leagues.

Hawk stresses that the church plans no major changes for the sports center soon, and even means games on Sundays will stay.

“We’re not against sports. We’re for family,” he said.

The hope is to build relationships with families bringing their kids for games and maybe get them to try church as well.

Here’s one tweak: The $5 that youths pay for open gym time on Thursdays will go back to their school for suicide-prevention programs. The Blue Springs School District, for instance, has several active programs.

“Not only does it help the school district, but it makes the student feel like they’re helping, too,” Hawk said.

That connection to local schools runs deep. In the fall of 2016, the church decided to provide school supplies to all 75 kindergarteners at William Yates Elementary, Hawk’s old school.

“So it went over really well,” he said.

The idea was to add a school year, but then they just decided to go for it. This fall, the church provided supplies for all 1,200 kindergarteners in the Blue Springs School District. That’s $18,000 to $20,000, meaning trivia contests and other fundraisers. So far, $5,000 has been raised for next fall.

“We’ve kind of found our niche with that,” Hawk said.