Faith Forward: Fr. Peter Wojcik on Strategies for Engaging Millennials, Gen Z, & Gen Alpha in the Church

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. Today we are joined by Father Peter Wojcik, pastor at Saint Clement Parish in Chicago.

Do you struggle to engage Gen Z in your church? Do you want to invite younger generations into ministry, but aren’t sure where to start? Saint Clement is a dynamic Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Chicago which is having an amazing impact on its community. Listen in as Father Peter shares the unique approach of the 125-year-old church as they engage younger generations.

  • Get to know Gen Z. // Reaching out to different generations has its challenges. Despite their differences, both Millennials and Gen Z have a longing for spirituality, community, and to contribute to the common good. However, unlike Millennials, Gen Z didn’t refuse to be part of the church. Rather they never had the chance to be part of the church because their parents never brought them. Recognize that Gen Z doesn’t care what church they go to as long as you listen to them, provide opportunities to serve, and invite them to come and belong before finding Jesus.
  • Experiencing God through community. // Along with Millennials, Gen Z is one of the most isolated generations so community and belonging are critical for them. Take a step back and ask yourself are you focusing on your way of doing ministry and your preferences, or the preferences of Gen Z and what Jesus wants us to do with younger generations? Keep learning about younger generations and how to create as many openings for them to experience God through community as possible.
  • A place of belonging. // To engage the younger generation, Saint Clement has implemented strategies that focus on creating an environment on the church campus that is inviting, full of life and important to a lot of people. They are also passionate about belonging, and have signs everywhere that invite people in. As people explore Saint Clement, they are also invited to engage in conversations about identity and purpose which are relatively foreign to young people today.
  • Identity and purpose. // Part of the way Saint Clement invites people into the conversation is by engaging them about themselves before talking about Jesus. In July they hold a special program called Theology on Tap, a four-week lecture series for young adults where they enjoy beer and pizza and hear from a guest speaker, in this case, about purpose. They don’t have to become a part of the church at this point; they can simply come for the program to discover more about themselves and to meet other young people. As a follow-up, the parish then offers a three-week course developed by Alpha that’s called Ever Wonder? which helps create a place for people to have comfortable conversations about identity and purpose. It includes a 15 minute video and 30 minutes of discussion in a small group context. These community-based opportunities lead into Saint Clement’s fall programming which includes Alpha.
  • Create space for young leaders. // Father Peter shares that over 90% of their leaders at Saint Clement are under 35. These vibrant programs which engage hundreds of young adults were birthed out of a small group of young people who were invited to minister to their peers. If you want more young adults to get involved in your ministry, step back and ask yourself: Do we really need them? Are we going to empower them and really listen to them? Are we going to be okay if not everything will be perfect and they make mistakes? Create that space for them to learn and grow as leaders in your church. Let them know that they are needed even if everything doesn’t work out as planned.
  • Look into what makes disciples. // When people are ready to grow in their faith, Saint Clement offers Alpha Bible courses, catechism classes, and also uses The Chosen series as a tool to help people learn more about Jesus and the characteristics of discipleship. During this time they watch an episode of The Chosen and then are divided into small groups for 30 minutes to have a discussion about what shifted in people’s lives because of their interaction with Jesus.

You can find out more about Saint Clement at www.clement.org.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey everybody welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. You know every week we try to bring you a church leader who will both inspire and equip you and today it’s our privilege to have Father Wojcik with us. He is at St Clement Parish; it’s a dynamic Catholic community in the Archdiocese of of Chicago that really strives to accompany people in a transforming relationship with Jesus and his church. They offer support, prayer, community groups, including Alpha which is actually where um, you know Father Peter and I bumped into each other was at the Alpha Leadership Conference in London. And I’m really excited to have you on the show today, Father. Thanks for being here.

Father Peter Wojcik — Oh thank for thank you for having me. And I’m super excited to have this conversation with you.

Rich Birch — Nice. Good. Well fill out the picture. What did I miss about the parish? Kind of give us a sense of the community; talk us through that.

Father Peter Wojcik — Absolutely. So you know Chicago obviously it’s a large city with a lot of different communities serving different markets, if you will, different parts of ah of Chicago from Latino to African American all the way to um, the community that I serve which is in Lake Home Park. So that’s kind of close to downtown Chicago. We are close to the lake in ah in a quiet, ah old neighborhood and it was a historically German community that established church 125 years ago. And it really was an immigrant community that was rather poor and living at what at that point was really a rough part of city. And they had this dream of creating a community in which the children will be safe. They can educate their children and come together in faith. And we’ve been continuing that and somehow by God’s grace over the last, you know, 125 years this community just kept growing and and and attracting different groups of people.

Father Peter Wojcik — And in about 70s and 80s it became kind of a hub for a lot of ah, people who didn’t quite feel connected with the church ,or especially in the Catholic Church who didn’t quite find their space. And um and they loved it here, and they now became our older population, if you will. And ah, but but they really built a foundation around few principles. The first one is that we welcome everyone.

Rich Birch — Right.

Father Peter Wojcik — We we actually do believe that everybody has the right to come to Jesus and and and that’s how the faith and conversion journey starts is by experiencing his love and mercy. So they they were very they were really passionate about making sure we do that. The second thing was you know inclusivity, knowing that that everyone not only was invited to be part of it, but everybody was invited to be a leader. And so I think the diversity of our leaders was really important.

Father Peter Wojcik — The third one was really empowerment. You know, ah one of my predecessors, Father Fahey, was just a brilliant man when it came to just allowing people to do new things. And when I hear the stories of this community, it was at that time that they really try some very new methods. I mean this was one of the first communities in a Catholic Church here in Chicago that constituted the lay council of people…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Father Peter Wojcik — …that helped the pastor actually to make all the decisions and so forth.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Father Peter Wojcik — So there were a lot of things that they started doing early on. And so my job now as a pastor is to make sure we don’t screw it up and we keep doing this.

Rich Birch — I love it. How long have you been at the at St Clement?

Father Peter Wojcik — So I’ve been a pastor here this is my third year…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Father Peter Wojcik — …running the place. And but eleventh eleventh year of living here.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Father Peter Wojcik — I I moved here eleven years ago so I had kind of a really great benefit of living in in the parish and helping here on the weekends as I work in the Archdiocese. And that three years ago I transitioned into…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Father Peter Wojcik — …serving here full time.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well you know, Father Peter, there there was a bunch that I heard you talk about at the conference that that grabbed my attention and, you know, I was, you know, really struck again that, you know, wow, like all churches may look different. We might have, you know, slightly different approaches to our worship experience or whatever that is, but man, we’re struggling with the similar things. You know, we’re trying we’re trying to figure out how we can point people to Jesus. What does that look like in our context? And and and one of the things that that struck me was particularly your church’s focus on ah, next generation – reaching out to young people. Can you tell us a little bit of that story? What’s what’s happened there over these last few years?

Father Peter Wojcik — Well first and foremost I think there is a distinct difference between Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha. I think not all the young people are the same…

Rich Birch — Yess.

Father Peter Wojcik — …and you got to kind of step back and recognize it first as a church leader and say well which which which which group do I have? You know, what are the Millennials in my community? What are the Gen Zs? What what is Gen Alpha, the youngest generation? And ah you know and and kind of figure out first those those those groups. You know, I I would summarize them um in a very simple way and it’s a very generic way. So there’s probably more expansive ways to do it.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — But but but but in many ways I think um Millennials, by and large, are post-christian generation in least in the United States, at least in the cities like Chicago. They chose not to be part of organized religion.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Father Peter Wojcik — They don’t see organized religion as a pathway in many ways to experience God. They experience God in in different ways, if they entertain that thought. and so there’s this hardship of breaking through all those shelves, if you will, of why not to engage with God, specifically throughout organized religions. That’s one approach, and we try that; we we keep going at it.

Father Peter Wojcik — But but with Millennial ah with Gen Z is a little bit different because I would really talk about them as pre-Christian generation. They they were raised by people my age. They are not um, they’re not really deeply religious by any stretch, but they are longing for spirituality. They are longing to be recognized. They’re longing to contribute to a common good. They want to do good things. They actually do like the sense of community and belonging. They are the most isolated generation together with millennials that we know of. And so there is this natural longing. And unlike millennials they didn’t refuse to be part of the church; they never had a chance to be part of the church.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Father Peter Wojcik — Their parents never brought them to church. So when you start with them and you work with them you have to recognize that as a starting point they actually don’t care what church they go to as long as you offer belonging, as long as you listen to them, as long as there’s opportunity for them to actually serve bigger community. And then that you really authentically want them to move in the right direction, which for us Christian leaders is a direction toward Jesus, right? If we actually do it in ah in an organized and thoughtful way I think there is a great opportunity for us to engage that generation.

Father Peter Wojcik — And so that really has been our story here at St Clement, you know. Because it’s Lincoln Park we have this incredible number of Gen Zs around, young people who are coming off college or year two years post college are in our neighborhood. And you know we we just simply keep saying, come and belong. Just try belonging before you try faith, before you try your belief in Jesus, just come and try belonging.

Father Peter Wojcik — You know, Alpha became such a big tool for us because we’ve seen the consequences of it. We’ve seen people coming and kind of just strolling in um, you know because they saw signs, or our welcomers were outside welcoming people to come to Alpha, and they would talk to people passing by and they said what what are you doing? And they’re like well we we run this course and they said I’m not Christian but I can come. And so every course we run we got people actually from the sidewalk in…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s amazing.

Father Peter Wojcik — …because they were just kind of interested. Now I would never do that, I am a huge introvert. You know, I’m in my 40s; there’s no way I would go to it.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah I get it.

Father Peter Wojcik — But that’s the difference and you have to pay attention. Just because you as a leader wouldn’t do it…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Father Peter Wojcik — …that doesn’t mean that Gen Z won’t do it. It’s not about your preferences. It’s about them and their preferences. And I think that’s what’s so important is to step back as Christian leaders and ask ourselves, you know, are we focusing on our way of doing ministry? Are we focusing on what Jesus wants to do with that generation, and try to keep learning about that generation. How to create as many openings for them to experience God through community as possible.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. I love this idea of you know, hey we’re asking we’re inviting Gen Z to really—and you didn’t quite say it like this but so correct me if I’m if I’m wrong—but it’s like hey, we we’re inviting you to belong before you believe. And I think there was a previous generation, right, where it was the other way around. It was like you’ve got to believe these things first before we’ll let you in the building. I just I think that’s great. What what else how else have you done that as ah as a church, as a communit,y to try to create an inviting place, create an inviting culture where people can belong, where those Gen Z folks can can be a part of the community?

Father Peter Wojcik — We’ve we’ve done number of things that were pretty systematic and we hold ourselves accountable to those forces. You know, just the outside appearance of the place. You you might think it’s not important but actually it is. If you know if you worship space in our, you know, we have a historic church. If the church looking from um, outside inside looks dead, if there’s, you know, if our dress is dead and there’s no flowers and so forth, what it shows is that it’s a place that is actually not important to anybody…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Father Peter Wojcik — …that nobody cares about that place. So first strategy we had is our campus looks great. And it doesn’t just look great for the sake of the campus. It looks like a place that is very important to a lot of people. That’s one.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s gold.

Father Peter Wojcik — Second second thing that we’ve done is we have signs all over the place to simply say, you know, everyone is invited, we are passionate about belonging, and we want to invite you into to be part of the conversation, right? So before, again, um I think that was so important with what you said, before we jump into um conversation about Jesus we start a conversation about themselves, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Father Peter Wojcik — What’s your purpose, your identity, who who you are.

Rich Birch — Love that.

Father Peter Wojcik — And and and listening to them first. Third one is we, especially around summer, we have a lot of summer opportunities here in Chicago, we develop something we call Theology on Tap which is really kind of a beer evening, and so we have pizza and beer and wine, and we invite young people to come for four weeks in a row – in our case, it’s Tuesdays in July. And basically we say, hey come, we’ll have a big party, and then we have a speaker. And this year our topic of those four weeks is purpose. Um, how to find purpose. And 70% of young adults don’t know their purpose is.

Father Peter Wojcik — So this is one way in which we want to help them. Whether they choose to be part of our congregation or not, we kind of don’t care. We feel like as the disciples of Jesus we are co- responsible each other to have good lives anyway. And so our way to do it is to simply help young people to reflect on how to find purpose and how to discover purpose for themselves. So we’ll spend four weeks. Out of that, so so we usually get somewhere between um, a 190 to 300 people…

Rich Birch — That’s amazing. That’s amazing. That’s incredible.

Father Peter Wojcik — …an evening [inaudbible]. And that’s a nice way of introducing them, helping them to meet other young adults, especially we focused on new people in the city, right? Trying to invite them to participate so we push it as much as we can through social media and and other channels. And then as ah as a follow-up to it in August we have a three week course that actually Alpha developed um, that it’s called Ever Wonder. And it really is developed for that generation for Gen Zs, and it’s belonging, purpose, and identity. And so it’s very similar to Alpha. You come, you watch a video for 15 minutes—it’s very short video—and then you have a 30 minute small group conversation. And again we’ll do it outside and and it’s just a way for people to get more comfortable talking about what is in their hearts with other people. Because what’s interesting is the younger generation folks that are great at technology. They’re not great at talking about themselves with other people.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good.

Father Peter Wojcik — And so we create a space for them to really have comfortable conversations. And that really leads to our fall programming. So we we have four Alpha for people who want to you know, engage in exploration of faith. We have we have our Lydia course, you know, taken from at the Acts so specifically for professional women. It’s it’s it’s a way for professional women to grow in community. We have about 600 women in that group.

Rich Birch — That’s incredible.

Father Peter Wojcik — And then and then the last one is the men’s executive speaker series and again and kind of will continue this topic of finding purpose as as men and in leadership. And so so there’s pathways in which we try to build on the sense of belonging, and welcome, and keep inviting people to return, but also keep inviting them to bring friends because it’s an easy way to get engaged.

Rich Birch — There’s so much there – that was like a master class. I love that. I love the the intentionality. I love the, hey, we’re kind of building through the summer. I love the idea of the church as a social platform. Like I think that is a powerful idea that I think um, you know, I think so we we may forget about that in in a lot of our churches that something like, you know, Theology on Tap—know a number of churches to do things like that—that that obviously there’s a lot going on there, but a part of that is actually just providing a way for for people to connect. And then I love how you’re kind of weaving purpose through all of those to kind of lead people from one, you know, to the next. How did this start though? Like so you know that’s a tremendous tremendous amount of momentum that’s already begun begun. There has it just always been the case? I love the history, the fact that, you know, St Clement has been an innovative parish, has been a kind of church that that is trying new things. Was there any innovation that kind of got this ball rolling, that ended up saying you know hey we’ve kind of been in an inflection point to reach more…

Father Peter Wojcik — Sure.

Rich Birch — …you know, younger generation?

Father Peter Wojcik — I think COVID in many cases accelerated the need because you’ve been reading so much [inaudible] about how high was the level of isolation. And ah and loneliness in especially among young adults. And the surgeon general here in the United States just published study on isolation. And it was a striking thing. He said he said in it, you know, um, being isolated equals, healthwise, to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s, wasn’t that crazy? That was unbelievable. And I saw that. Yeah, that’s unbelievable.

Father Peter Wojcik — Isn’t that something? Like that that really is the impact loneliness have on your heart and your life.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — And we felt really passionate to say, listen we we are going to do anything we can to keep saying you are welcome. We want you to be part of the community. And we want to meet you whatever you are. And so part of um that that really was was the beginning of it. And second thing is we we really engage a small group of young adults—I would say about 30 of them—and we really started a listening to them, talking with them, and praying with them.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Father Peter Wojcik — And we said what would it look like for you to minister to to other young adults, right? And and that group from 20 grew to about 120 young leaders now which is doing incredible amount of work every week. And so you can see how now they they’re shifted right from being customers of services, which really struggle in the Catholic Church – a lot of people come and they, you know, they kind of treat the church as a provider of services. So they come when they want a service and there will be a customer and then when they don’t need the service they’re out, right? Versus then being part of the community that develops and changes, and and fosters a spiritual life. And so that was our big goal and young adults is to move them from what the culture teaches them they are, which is customers, to really being kind of collaborators in bringing mission together. And it was incredible to watch that shift early on about two, three years ago when they really started driving, you know, first courses, Alpha, book clubs, all the stuff that they fought was relevant for young people their age. And now they they really are driving and building more courses around it…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Father Peter Wojcik — …and you know after Alpha we have 3 different choices people can choose from um, as as to engage more in faith, for more in community. And the beauty of it is that at this point I would say at least 90% of all our leaders are younger than thirty-five.

Rich Birch — Wow. That’s amazing. That’s incredible, Like that’s very unique. That’s ah, you know, there’s lots of churches that would love that, but haven’t been able to engage at that level. That’s incredible.

Father Peter Wojcik — Well I think it’s it’s really empowering people and calling them to it. I really believe every church can do it but where you have to step back is to say, Okay, do do we really need them? Are we going to empower them and really listen to them?

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Father Peter Wojcik — And third are we going to be okay with the fact that not everything will be perfect, that they will make mistakes? They’re young adults in their 20s. There are some things they will do really well and there are some things they won’t do well at all.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Father Peter Wojcik — But that’s part of the collective learning. And if you don’t create that space for them to learn how to do ministry better if you only want to keep rescuing them, and fixing, and improving, then what happens is they get discouraged and they say, well you don’t need us.

Rich Birch — Right. Wow. That’s good. I was going to ask that – was there in that listening process or maybe as you’ve been launching, was there either like a surprise that you’re like, I wouldn’t have naturally thought or I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion that they kind of they tilted the ministry towards. Or is there been like a a stubbed tone moment that’s been like ooh maybe it didn’t go quite as well as we were thinking it would.

Father Peter Wojcik — Ah, there there were a number of those moments We we actually just recently served as some of our leaders specifically as we are working on our strategic plan. And ah and we were able to dig into some of the data and it shows a great difference between how young adult perceive faith, religion, and the role of the church versus other generations. I’ll give you a few examples.

Father Peter Wojcik — So one of the example was to um, propose some of our values that they think are very important to our community. And so everybody over 50 as one of the top five values selected ah “progressive”. None of the young adults selected “progressive”.

Rich Birch — Interesting. Huh.

Father Peter Wojcik — Um, and it was very interesting. Because again and and then we dig in into conversation with young adults and we said, why was that? And they said listen, the world as we live in is crazy enough. We don’t want now the church to become equally crazy. We actually come here so we find some enduring presence of God. So we find connection to a bigger history. So we find here some connectivity and deeper sense of belonging to something that is tradition-driven and that is 2000 years old…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Father Peter Wojcik — …versus three months old. Like we are just done with trends that change every three months.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Father Peter Wojcik — And so that is a very large driving, I think, energy for young adults is they’re really not attracted by flashy new technologies because that’s what they have on their phones every single day. What they’re looking for is really a thoughtful space when they can come and really have a conversation about things that don’t change. Because those are the things you can build your lives around. Not the things that change every single year because those are so fleeting that they’re just tired of it. So so we’ve learned that that, you know, what we have to do with young adults is we have to lead with with really a little bit more teaching and and leading them into understanding why we do certain things and that there is a meaning in all of it. And as they praise the meaning as they unpack some of those topics and conversations, it seems like they’re very willing to invite other people.

Father Peter Wojcik — The other thing that was just blew my mind is the fact that for, I think, Gen Zs and Gen Alpha now, religion is not private. In United States religion has been private for ever and ever.

Rich Birch — Yeah, true. Yep.

Father Peter Wojcik — But the problem is technology, right, took all the privacy away from things that were always private. Kitchen was private. There was never a doorway kitchen.

Rich Birch — That’s a good insight.

Father Peter Wojcik — Now kitchen concepts the kitchens are all open.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Father Peter Wojcik — Anybody who comes here your house sees your kitchen first. That was private thirty years ago.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — What you eat was private. Now it’s, you know, how your closet looked like was private.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — Now everybody has, you know, videos in their closets with their clothes. So all the things that traditionally were private are not private anymore.

Rich Birch — That’s true. Yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — That is the opportunity for the church to say, listen your kitchen is not private so isn’t your religion. Your religion actually is pretty up there in a public square. And so why don’t we engage in this conversation in ah in a much more public way. And I think Gen Zs are actually not afraid to do it. We see it with Alpha. They keep inviting their non-churchgoing friends with no problem the way that I would really hesitate, and they don’t.

Rich Birch — That’s interesting. I love that. That’s so there’s some fascinating insights there, you know, that I’ve that resonates with some of the the work we’ve done and then some of the research we’ve done and stuff you know I’ve seen with the churches I, you know, work with, particularly you know this whole invite culture thing is a massive deal. You know the difference and we, so we say in our circles, you know, the difference between a plateaued or or stuck church and a growing church is growing churches train, equip, and mobilize, their or motivate, their people to invite their friends. That they you know they they don’t just leave that the chance. They try to find they try to do things and frame things in a way that makes it easy for them to invite. Um and it sounds like you’re seeing that definitely with Alpha and other aspects of your ministry. Maybe talk more about that. What is what does that look like for your for your church. You know, how you know how are you cultivating that kind of culture? Is there what what are you doing to try to encourage you know Gen Z or Gen Alpha to to invite?

Father Peter Wojcik — Well in order for them to invite they have to be comfortable that the places they invite people will be embracing them as they are, and will really focus on listening and respecting their perspectives, right? Where people won’t invite people is to places where they think they will be put down or disrespected or somebody would be unkind to them and so forth. And so I think um, you know, in ah in a Catholic Church from the tradition I’m coming from part of our um struggle always was that we had a lot of programming that was very deep theologically and rooted in our tradition. And therefore if you were deep theologically you had a lot of options to participate and deepen your faith. But if you didn’t, there was really no starting place for you, right? There was just no easy entry point. And so um I kind of use the analogy of the pool and I would say, you know, if you don’t have somebody who knows how to swim they would never jump into ten foot pool because that’s ten feet deep they would just drown. But if there is ah you know ten inches of water, they would put their their feet in it. And I think that’s what happens with the churches. The the churches have to have some really shallow entry opportunities that are very important for community creation, for belonging, for comfort that will keep leading people deeper and deeper and deeper into sense of belonging.

Father Peter Wojcik — And for us we kind of discovered through our own trial of an error way of doing things is that basically people are there just kind of three basic entry points for for us here. One is alpha; that’s our biggest one. Second one is the specifically around women and men ministry, just because our spirituality is so different. And what we found is that when the men are alone, they share much more freely.

Rich Birch — Right.

Father Peter Wojcik — And also that the professional women really appreciate a place where they are not compared to professional men. They just are being focus on their own and and appreciate that for who they are. And so so so those are kind of, this is one one place is Alpha. Second would be kind of those gender based ministries that that also are social, the social element, there’s community element, and there’s small group element to it.

Father Peter Wojcik — And the third one is service, right? That that we do actually a lot of service here, a lot of opportunities. But we, out of service, try to invite people into engagement in the community. So we do some kind of service every single week…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Father Peter Wojcik — …around St Clement or in one of our partner organizations. And we just keep inviting people to engage in that. Or engage in sports. We do a lot of open gym, and a lot of sports. And so that’s another way for people to jump in. So it’s social or service.

Rich Birch — Yeah…

Father Peter Wojcik — And what we discover is that once people get into one of those basic ways of engaging and out of that we can invite them to a deeper kind of sense of belonging. And and what we recognize is that, you know, when when people go through this first step, usually what they have kind of three different desires that we try to meet. One is they really want to learn more about the word of God, scripture. So we have we always after Alpha offer bible courses as a way for people to actually learn more about ah, the word of God.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Father Peter Wojcik — Second is we come to recognize that people really want to do more learning about Jesus. And so we use The Chosen series. We design a curriculum around it and and it’s called Following Jesus and so we we kind of look at characteristics of discipleship.

Father Peter Wojcik — And the third one we specifically look, you know, in in our own tradition around kind of some principles of Catholicism, of sacraments and stuff for people who really want to develop more of an understanding of who we are as a church. And so it seems like we we highly encourage, after the entry points, if you will, people will stay together as a small group as much as possible. And I think right now about 70% of our Alpha groups actually stay together for the next offering.

Rich Birch — Oh wow. That’s amazing. I love that. I love the I heard you mention The Chosen um, you know what you do there. Can you unpack that a little bit more because I that’s a really innovative idea and, you know, I seem that would seem like a great kind of next step out of Alpha for sure. Talk to us a little bit more about that.

Father Peter Wojcik — Well we, you know, everybody and when Chosen, came up everybody love Chosen.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s unbelievable. Yeah.

Father Peter Wojcik — And and talk about it a lot. And we thought, well why don’t we use it the same way, as a tool we use Alpha. And so we we kind of precisely the same thing. We, it starts, you know, we welcome people. We have hospitality – for our evening group we have dinner. For morning group we have breakfast. Then they watch the episode of Chosen. And then we divide them into small groups for 30 minutes and they have a discussion. And as Alpha is an entry to ah Christianity, Chosen we we treat Chosen as an entry to discipleship. So we kind of look at different episodes, and people’s interaction with Jesus and we say okay, what shifted in people’s lives because of their interaction with Jesus? What changes in the life of the disciple? And then therefore what should change in our lives once we encounter Jesus? So it becomes more of a discipleship course when we are invited not only to observe what happened to other other lives and and you know people who lived in the time of Jesus, but also what would do this, you know how our lives will shift because of our encounter with Jesus today.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. That’s so I’m like probably bad because I’m like cynical of so much Christian media. I’m like it’s just all so terrible. And so when The Chosen came out I was like I was a latecomer to that; I was like dragged into it. But I find it so compelling. It is so it just, you know, sucks me in and and it sends me back to scripture, and sends me back to my relationship with Jesus. And you know, I find it I get moved emotionally when I watch it. That’s what a cool cool idea. I just think that’s that’s fantastic.

Rich Birch — Um, can you talk a little bit about the community service thing. That’s a common trait we see in in lots of growing churches is they’re not the kind of place… I think there’s this common notion that which is not true the stereotype of like a growing church is the kind of place that’s like they’re just all about themselves or inward focus. They’re, you know, they’re just it’s just trying to gather people in a box somewhere. That’s not the case. They’re actually places that are that are moving people to actually serve. Talk to us maybe just unpack that a little bit. What does that look like for you guys?

Father Peter Wojcik — Absolutely. So so you know what we we actually seriously try to live out Matthew 28. I think the Great Commission is not only go and make disciples by proclaiming Jesus Christ – that is extremely important and we try to do it every day. But also by ah, really helping people to recognize how Jesus cares for them.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Father Peter Wojcik — And it’s very you know when you go to shelters when you go to um, serve the homeless, before you talk to to them about Jesus you you have to kind of ask them simple questions. You know, do you need the doctor? Do you need help? How how are you feeling?

Father Peter Wojcik — And all those basic questions that that that Jesus will ask first before he tells them about other. We have examples of it in the scripture. And so so I think Jesus modeled all of that for…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — …all of that for us. And so I think that’s what we try to do we. We do believe that in order to grow, we always have to be outward focused, that that…

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s good.

Father Peter Wojcik — …the only reason why we form disciples, why we lead them into transformation transformation in Jesus is so then they can help others to encounter the same the same gift. And it it is exercise in generosity. And so St Clement was very blessed to partner with other Christian churches about thirty years ago to establish a Lincoln Park community shelter. And we’ve been one of the partner organizations that started that organization and we’ve been supporting it ever since. So we have groups that do meals and help in the shelter. We have legal clinic that helps refugee um communities. We partner with Catholic charities and and sponsoring refugee families, and so we have meals. Right now we have a whole train meals that delivers meals to folks in in our police stations where the immigrants are leaving really…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Father Peter Wojcik — …to cross the border and were brought here on the buses, and now they have no places to go. And so so there’s many ways in which every day young people ah can engage in in really very practical and necessary service. And then here on our campus every Friday morning. We welcome our homeless neighbors for hospitality for breakfast, and then we have lunches for them. And and again it’s it’s, you know, because we have a Catholic school, it’s a great way for our young kids in the school. We have our middle school kids not only make sandwiches, but I also serve breakfast or homeless friends and so forth. And so it’s a way really for community to say listen, that’s what discipleship is. You come, you get to know Jesus, you worship Jesus, the worship transforms your heart, and you cannot help but you overflow with generosity. And you have to, you have to recognize that generosity toward other people, especially those who are less fortunate than you are, if you are a disciple of Jesus.

Rich Birch — Love it. This has been so fantastic, Father Peter. I really appreciate your generosity of being with us today. Um is there anything else you’d like to share just as we kind of wrap up today’s episode?

Father Peter Wojcik — You know we we always love to serve. So if there’s people who kind of listen to it and say, I’m intrigued and it makes absolutely no sense to me. Well welcome to my cloud. That’s what my teams does every single day when I tell them something. They said it sounds okay, we don’t know what you mean. Um…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Father Peter Wojcik — But that’s why that’s why we have a great team. So if if anyone, you know, needs support or or kind of unpacking, just reach out to us, we’ll be happy to walk you through it. But but I just I really believe that the revival is happening, that the holy awakening a church to a new chapter, leading us to 2033. And and I do believe that there is this outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is fresh, that is new, that is really renewing the church. And and I just hope we we are humble enough to recognize it, um interested enough to enter into it, and trusting enough follow the movement of the Holy Spirit. And I think it’s for the whole church. That’s the beauty of it.

Rich Birch — So good. Well, where do we want to send people online, Father, if they want to track with you, track with the church, where where do we want to send them?

Father Peter Wojcik — So we just visit clement.org is our website. We we have you know, social media. You can follow us on our social media. It’s @chicagopriest – I don’t know how ah in the world I got that one…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s amazing.

Father Peter Wojcik — …but I was I guess early in the market. Ah, and and then our website clement.org, there’s a lot of information, you can pull our information, reach out to us. We love to help anybody who needs help.

Rich Birch — Thank you so much, sir, I really appreciate you being on today. Thank you for your time.

Father Peter Wojcik — Well thanks for having me.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.