Churches in Chicago

City Guide: Chicago

Matthew ThompsonBy Matthew ThompsonJanuary 7, 202019 Minutes

Compared to other major cities like New York and Los Angeles where young people tend to stay around for a season, Chicagoans are often looking to put down roots and stay for the long haul.  Chances are if you’re a 20 or 30 something in town, finding a place to belong, building authentic relationships and starting a family might top your list of near-term goals.  But there are several challenges towards achieving those things, such as racial, political, religious and socio-economic tensions that have plagued the city. As one of the most segmented places in the country, neighborhoods radically change in as little as a mile. Bad religion has also been a story in the city for quite some time, as you’ll meet many people who once identified as Catholic, but now are skeptical because of what they’ve experienced.  In the midst of all these challenges, something beautiful is happening. In the past five years, new churches have sprouted up that are unexpectedly providing answers, both in your search for community and to the tensions felt in the city. Step inside their doors and you’ll find thousands of young people who aren’t interested in religion, rather they’re being captivated by a way of life that’s modeled by Jesus. It’s in embracing that vision for life where people are finding a sense of love and wholeness that they’ve never experienced before.

A wellspring of life for the restless soul

One close-knit community that has built a beautiful culture around the radical hospitality of Jesus is Oasis Church Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood. Planted by Pastors JP and Rachel Troglio in 2016, they’ve been really intentional about creating a space where you can be honest and real with people, without feeling judged. For all the disunity that we feel in the outside world, Oasis has brought a community to Chicago that shows Jesus has no partiality. One member reflected on this culture, saying that they “felt at home” the moment they walked in the doors, while another was taken aback by how welcoming Oasis was to “all backgrounds and ethnicities”.

Oasis offers many opportunities to build relationships and spiritual growth, primarily through O Groups and mid-week prayer gatherings where they worship and intercede on behalf of the city. In traveling through the city, we were most struck by how much this community’s passion and hunger for Jesus. The worship video below captures that same kind of spirit from the Oasis worship team.

Refusing to be defined by color, creed or background

Another church that has been making waves through Wicker Park and South Loop over the last five years is People Church In modeling Jesus’s approach, their community has embraced a culture-setting attitude, which includes innovative and unconventional methods of connecting with people.   Rather than staying confined to man-made traditions and rules, People Church is constantly challenging the status quo by showing the outside world how God is taking his church into the future. This has empowered people to embrace their God-given creativity, as evidenced by the spoken-word video below, produced for their 5th anniversary.

With a heart to bring people together, People Church also strongly emphasizes how Jesus has always welcomed everyone to the table, regardless of color, creed or background. In a city like Chicago, this message can be uncomfortable because of how segmented the people and neighborhoods are. Collectively, this philosophy encourages people to be open about what life is truly like for them, while also empowering us to have the compassion we need to support them. It’s in modeling how Jesus interacted with people that People Church has been able to help its members find the type of authentic community that we all so desperately crave.  One person reflected on being part of this by saying, “I spent probably the hardest few months of my life in Chicago and the people and community at People Church were the only things that really kept me hanging on.” Another came into People Church with the type of skepticism many Chicagoans have, saying, “We entered in broken, with an overwhelming sense of abandonment— stemmed from unsuccessful friendships and support. We literally didn’t trust anyone! But we walked in with the idea that possibly something could change... that there was a potential for hope.” After spending some time in the People community their stance dramatically changed, commenting, “Hope has crept in and it’s made its home in the depths of our hearts. We are so blessed to be a part of this church community! And honestly— if you’re reading this review, I challenge you to test my comment and visit People Church. Because I know that once you step foot in your life will not be the same…” For many of us, taking this step into the unknown for a chance at a better future is scary. Turning the corner of our lives involves drawing a line in the sand. And for People Church, baptisms supply us with the powerful type of symbolism that we’re ready to embrace something new.

That something new starts by considering the role that Jesus is meant to play in our lives. Because Chicagoans have typically been put off by ritualistic and religious church experiences that have distorted the message of Jesus, we’ve written him off and put him in a box.  But as people started discovering People Church, they’ve gotten a glimpse of what life can be like and have experienced the type of inner transformation that happens when we follow the way of Jesus. Holistically, this involves equipping you with powerful teachings, passionate worship and the people you’ll need for the ride. Watch below as Armando talks about his “drawing the line in the sand” moment.

It's true, seven days are better than one

Over in the West Loop, Soul City Church has created a space for many young people to come back into the church and explore the way of Jesus in a practical way. The name of the church is rooted in the idea of transformation and that it’s necessary to do the soul work of discovering how our pasts have impacted our present, so that we can experience wholeness in every part of our lives. Soul City pushes back on the notion that church is just a Sunday experience, empowering their community to live out this transformation through all seven days of the week. One member described Soul City as, “Absolutely a come as you are church, pouring out only positive vibes and challenges to make you a better loving person. Either if you are a long time believer or you are seeking/curious this is the place for you.” Another pointed out how different this was from what they’ve experienced in Chicago, saying, “Was a different environment for me. I was mesmerized walking in. The people and energy were so powerful. The delivery of the message gave me chills. I’m definitely going back next Sunday.”

One of the biggest passions of Soul City is to empower their community to follow the way of Jesus by serving the oppressed, overlooked and under-resourced.  From the very beginning, the church has been intentional about getting behind key nonprofits and schools who are doing great work in the city. This includes mentorship programs for low-income communities and opening up doors of opportunity for those that are in poverty. On Saturdays, Soul City gathers together on initiatives each week to serve the city. Quarterly, they also hold meet-ups to put a spotlight on issues that are affecting the city so we can learn how to approach them as Jesus followers.

What's your next step?

If you’ve made it this far in the city guide, you might be at the point of trying to figure out which community is best for you. Or at the very least, you’re intrigued. The common theme between all of them is the overwhelming response to how hospitable, welcoming and loving they are. In an age where the church is phasing out in Chicago, these communities have burst on to the scene and attracted floods of young people. So if you’re tired or burnt out, looking for community or just generally not feeling good enough, we invite you to explore the way of Jesus through one of these communities. It’s worth giving it a chance.

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