What would happen if you gave 15 minutes of your day completely to God?
That’s what Mike Lorenzo is asking the community at St. John the Evangelist Parish in St. John, Indiana. Mike is the Pastoral Associate for Evangelization at the parish. He works closely with the pastor and his colleagues to instill a desire to be closer to God and strengthen their prayer lives. Over the Lenten and Easter seasons they launched an initiative called the 1% Challenge, which has inspired at least one couple to want to become Catholic. We had the opportunity to talk to him about what he’s doing and how it’s making a difference in the parish.
Loyola Press: What is the 1% Challenge?
Mike Lorenzo: The 1% Challenge is a parish initiative inviting parishioners to spend one percent of each day (15 minutes) talking with God through lectio divina. The idea for the Challenge was shared by a ministry we’ve been working with for the past year called The Evangelical Catholic (EC). The EC, based in Wisconsin, has helped our parish develop a sustainable strategy for evangelization. Key parts of that strategy are commitment to daily personal prayer with Christ, reading his Word in Scripture, and taking the quiet time to sit, process, and listen to God’s will. Evangelization takes a commitment to encountering Christ everyday.
It’s easy in a busy world to treat our faith as just another box to check once a week. Our Catholic identity calls us to an intimate connection with Jesus and his Church that extends far beyond Sunday Mass and into every aspect of our lives. Often quiet time with anyone, let alone God, is treated as a luxury, but it’s important that we prioritize that time with our Lord, because it’s this personal connection to Christ and the action that flows from it that marks us as disciples, and prayer makes this possible.
The Challenge calls people to examine their prayer and look at the quality and dedication they’re giving it. The Catechism tells us, “We cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we don’t first pray at specific times, consciously willing it” (CCC 2697). We make time for the important people in our lives, strong relationships just don’t happen without it, and it’s no different with God. As a parish we believe that if people really make the time to listen to God, he’ll speak, and when God speaks, big things happen. That all starts with the little step of one percent of your day!
LP: Why did your pastoral team find it important for the parish to begin this program?
ML: By encouraging parishioners to commit to the 1% Challenge, we hope to foster stronger relationships with God. Once that happens, people are eager to share the Good News through evangelization.
Our parish tells people to volunteer for parish events all the time. We ask them to go to classes to learn their faith; we certainly ask them to come to Mass. We found that if we’re not challenging and teaching them to meet Christ in daily prayer, we’re failing the community in some way…. Our relationship with the EC has challenged us to put less emphasis on programs. They’ve invited us to put more focus on the people in our pews and beyond. With their help, we developed a clear strategy for changing our parish culture, and it started with the 1% Challenge. They came up with the name and gave us lots of ideas to begin conversations, and we were off!
LP: How did you develop a strategy for evangelization with the 1% Challenge?
ML: The 1% Challenge is one important piece of a larger process that we hope will become the identity of our parish in the next few years. The goal with this process is to have more integration of community, prayer, and social justice into one cohesive unit that moves parishioners deeper into relationship with God. We hope to connect all people to supportive small-group communities that will challenge them to strengthen their faith through hands-on service, study, and spirituality.
LP: What resources do you use for the 1% Challenge?
ML: As we continue to promote and educate on the Challenge, we’ve found several resources to be important:
- Brochures available all over our campus that summarize the Challenge and how to get started.
- A bi-weekly newsletter with tips, encouragement, and practical instruction.
- Videos we produce with short lessons and testimonies from parishioners sharing how the Challenge has transformed their faith.
- Various prayer books and devotionals that help guide daily prayer habits. We recommend a variety to help people with reading Scripture, including devotionals that Loyola Press offers. The 15-Minute Prayer Solution by Gary Jansen is an excellent example for practical tips from someone who’s made this a part of his daily life.
- Small groups help walk people through the Challenge. This was great for our Lent and Easter kick-off for the parish.
- We offered workshops to go in-depth with the theology beyond the Challenge, and to practice lectio divina as a large group.
- The most fruitful practice is meeting one-on-one with participants and talking about their experiences. I have a unique role as Pastoral Associate for Evangelization with dedicated time to meet, but this could take place with strong small-group leaders and other staff.
LP: What difficulties and joys have you encountered since launching?
ML: People really struggle setting aside the time! It’s both funny and sad that in the world we live in 15 minutes seems impossible for people. We see parishioners trying to take shortcuts: breaking up their time throughout the day or trying to put in the time driving to work, etc. It’s important that we lead by example and emphasize how vital this prayer discipline is to discipleship. In a parish like ours, with numerous events and programs, it’s tempting to see the Challenge as just another fad and not foundational to our community.
It’s been a joy to see the response to the Challenge. The feedback from those who have embraced it is powerful, and far more influential than any brochure or workshop! Word-of-mouth has really given this effort wings. After a few months people have come into our office wanting to become Catholic because they took part in the 1% Challenge. It’s amazing what happens when you listen to God and how 15 minutes a day can make such a huge difference!
LP: Is there advice you would offer a parish working on helping their community to form intentional prayer habits?
ML: There are a few steps that our parish followed to start the 1% Challenge:
- Introduce the goal of strengthening prayer life to a small group of people—staff and leaders in the parish.
- Pray and talk about it as a staff and then as small groups.
- Set a timeline.
- Teach the method of prayer. In our parish we focused on Scripture with lectio divina.
- Meet together once a week or bi-weekly and support each other. Key questions to reflect on: Where have you seen God while participating in the 1% Challenge? Where are you struggling? How is your prayer life?
- Preach, like our pastor did, on discipleship and intentional prayer before we featured our first videos during Lent.
- Invite one friend to take part in the 1% Challenge. Both staff and parishioners did this.
Overall, keep praying and diving into that experience on your own as a minister. You’ll become an example of the discipline. It was important to remain humble and listen to where we were being led as a parish. It’s a beautiful encounter!
The 15-Minute Prayer Solution
Loyola Press author Gary Jansen talks about how one percent of your day can transform your life in his book, The 15-Minute Prayer Solution. Jansen draws from numerous prayer practices like the Examen and lectio divina that illustrate what spending 15 minutes with God everyday did for him and how the practice leads to all of life becoming a prayer.
About Mike Lorenzo
Mike Lorenzo is a proud convert to Catholicism, a passionate speaker, and a musician. His experience in formation work ranges from campus ministry at the University of Texas to volunteering for a year in Ireland with NET Ministries. After putting on 115 day retreats for teens across Ireland, Mike served as a youth minister in the Diocese of Charleston, SC. He currently focuses on intentional discipleship as the Pastoral Associate for Evangelization at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in St. John, IN.