Annual Report 2020


As church bodies go, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is not among the largest or most visible. With about 350,000 members, WELS is the third largest Lutheran church body in the United States. It pales in comparison to several Lutheran church bodies in Africa that number five or six million members each.

Yet, despite our relatively small size, God continues to allow our synod, our church, and you to carry out his work in a variety of ways. Our ministerial education schools prepare our called workers for lives of service as pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. Home Missions supports outreach in new locations throughout the United States and Canada. Our world mission efforts in more than 40 countries reach more and more people with the gospel, in places that only a few years ago were not even thought possible. The commissions comprising our Congregational Services provide training and resources in evangelism, worship, discipleship, special ministries, and strategic analysis and planning. Our congregations operate one of the largest Christian school systems in the country.

God has blessed us with opportunities to carry out our mission, and by his grace we are working and walking together to do that. We also recognize the challenges we face in a changing and often hostile world. Many of those challenges were discussed very openly at our synod’s convention last summer. Plans are being made to seize the opportunities and to meet the challenges—all with the sincere trust that God’s Word, as he promised, will not return to him empty.

This annual report will give you an overview of those opportunities and challenges. As you review the ministries we support together, keep our synod and its work in your prayers, and thank God that he has given you an opportunity to be a part of the soul-saving mission he has placed before us.

Serving with you in Christ,


Rev. Mark Schroeder, WELS President


As a Christian church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s calling is to nurture the faith of our members and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

WELS is the third largest Lutheran church body in the United States with 1,276 churches, 353,753 baptized members, and 281,880 communicant members.

Known as the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, the synod’s headquarters in Waukesha, Wis., welcomed 46 scheduled tour groups in 2019. These guests learned more about the work of the synod in its visitor center, which includes a visual timeline of WELS’ history as well as informational kiosks on areas of ministry. Materials from the archives are also on display. Guests are shown a video highlighting WELS’ ministry and receive a tour of the synod’s headquarters. To schedule your visit to the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, e-mail or call 414-256-3202.

For more information about the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, including a directory of local congregations, visit




baptized members


communicant members

WELS has 12 districts to allow for more area-specific ministry, personal contacts, and member involvement.

WELS Congregational Services provides resources, training, and personal assistance to congregations, schools, and their leaders so that they may carry out gospel ministry in the most faithful way on the local level.

WELS congregations—either individually or as federations—operate one of the largest parochial school systems in the United States. This system includes 304 Lutheran elementary schools, 393 early childhood ministries, and 27 area Lutheran high schools

WELS maintains four schools for the education of our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers—Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis.; Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn.; Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich.

WELS supports work in mission fields in the United States and in countries around the world.

WELS is a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, an organization of 32 confessional church bodies throughout the world.

Five separately incorporated entities work closely with WELS to provide resources necessary to carry out WELS’ ministry.


Lutheran elementary schools


early childhood ministries


area Lutheran high schools


WELS Ministerial Education works to provide workers for the more than 1,200 churches and 700 schools in the synod. WELS provides this education through a system of four schools: two high-school-level preparatory schools, a college, and a seminary.


Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

On May 24, 2019, 26 men graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary…

Martin Luther College

Martin Luther College’s mission is to train a corps of Christian…

Preparatory Schools

Featured photo: A group of five students from Michigan Lutheran…


Missions conducts gospel outreach in the United States, Canada, and 50 foreign countries through seed sowing and evangelism efforts, congregation and church planting, training ethnic and national workers for ministry, and providing religious materials in foreign languages.


WELS Home Missions is called to proclaim God’s Word to those in the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking West Indies. It also supports campus ministries, cross-cultural ministries, and a variety of other outreach activities in North America. In 2019, the Board for Home Missions authorized one new mission start and approved funding for one ministry enhancement.


  • 123 home mission congregations received ministry support from
    Home Missions
  • 92 home mission congregations received funding support from
    Home Missions
  • Home missions in 36 states
  • 32 campus ministries financially supported by Home Missions
  • $4.5 million in approved grants from WELS Church Extension Fund to home missions

Hope, Texas

WELS Home Missions authorized funding for one new mission in…

Shepherd of the Valley, Candelas, Colo.

Shepherd of the Valley, Candelas, Colo., held its official launch…

Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

Qiang Wang (pictured standing reading) is a recent graduate of…

Mission Journeys

WELS Mission Journeys offers WELS members the opportunity to…

Christ, Denver, Colo.

His body language spoke loud and clear. Arms crossed. Slouched…

Campus Ministry

The WELS campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens…


WELS World Missions conducts gospel outreach in 40 foreign countries and is exploring outreach opportunities in 14 prospective new mission fields. World Missions brings the light of God’s Word through seed sowing and evangelism efforts, church planting, training national workers for ministry, and providing religious materials in foreign languages. Forty-two world missionaries partner with more than 400 national pastors to conduct outreach and train more than 250 seminary students for service in Christ’s kingdom.

World Missions supports mission work:

  • on the Apache reservations in Arizona, where more than 3,500 Native Americans are hearing the gospel through nine congregations and two schools;
  • in Africa, where missionaries and national church partners are exploring mission work in additional African countries such as Uganda, Liberia, and Mozambique;
  • in the Asia-Pacific Rim, where the training of national pastors is opening the door to opportunities for gospel outreach in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam;
  • in Latin America, where the Academia Cristo Facebook page and training resources reach more than 1.3 million people with the gospel;
  • in East Asia, where more than 900 people gather each week to hear the gospel and where Asia Lutheran Seminary is training more than 30 nationals for ministry;
  • in Europe, where national churches are partnering with WELS missionaries and the Pastoral Studies Institute to train the next generation of church leaders;
  • in South Asia, where security is always a concern, but the gospel message is still shared through hundreds of churches in Pakistan, Nepal, and India; and
  • through Multi-Language Publications, which has produced print items, audio and video resources, and online training resources in more than 54 languages.

Training disciples around the world

Academia Cristo provides online and in-person training in doctrine,…

The world’s best preacher

WELS’ friendly counselor to South Asia shares this story: “As…

New missionaries commissioned

On July 13, 2019, three new world missionaries were commissioned…


In 2018, God's grace opened the door to an unprecedented mission…


WELS supports several areas of ministry that strive to “go and make disciples.” These WELS ministries not only reach out to the world, they also support WELS congregations and members. From missions, to humanitarian aid, to special needs and evangelism, each group faithfully serves to reflect Christ’s Love as Our Calling.


WELS Congregational Services launched the Welcome Home initiative in 2019 to address the challenge of members drifting away from church. Members like Kyle Opperman.

Opperman grew up in a WELS congregation in Wisconsin but joined a variety of other church bodies as an adult. Two years ago, he again stepped through the doors of a WELS church. Now he can’t imagine going anywhere else. “This is what I was taught, and this is what it’s all about,” he says.

The pastor at his current church thought he might like to take the congregation’s Bible information class as a refresher. As Opperman left the first class, he told the pastor, “This is so good.” With a big handshake, the pastor replied, “Welcome home, Kyle. You are home.”

Oppermann found the teachings of his youth to be applicable and meaningful for his current life. He realized that the instructions haven’t changed; they are still based on the Bible. “It feels like I’ve been a member here for a hundred years.”

WELS congregations across the United States and Canada hosted Welcome Home Sundays during the fall of 2019, encouraging all members to come to worship. These Welcome Home Sundays included special worship services and fellowship opportunities. Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wis., and Rock of Ages, Nashville, Tenn., both hosted Oktoberfest celebrations after their worship services. St. Andrew, Chicago, Ill., took the opportunity to photograph its ministry council and post the picture on Facebook with this message: “We are here every Sunday to welcome you home.”

For more information, visit


Responding to God’s grace In 2019, WELS Commission on Discipleship…


WELS Commission on Evangelism built off of the success of the…


The New Christian Worship The new WELS hymnal is scheduled to…

Lutheran Schools

School Leaders The 21st-Century Lutheran Principal Initiative…

Special Ministries

Prison Ministry Wanda Markland (pictured, far left), warden…

Christian Aid and Relief

WELS Christian Aid and Relief approved $466,212 for humanitarian…

Ministry of Christian Giving

WELS Ministry of Christian Giving serves on behalf of the Conference…

Communication Services

WELS Communication Services helped coordinate WELS’ 65th biennial…


These organizations work closely with the synod to support ministry, missions, congregations, and workers. They offer health and retirement benefits for called workers, investment opportunities that support missions, legacy giving options, and literature and resources rooted in Lutheran doctrine.


“WELS is financially sound and the budget is balanced,” noted Mr. Todd Poppe, chief financial officer of WELS, after synod convention delegates passed the Synodical Council’s proposed ministry financial plan and unfunded priority list on July 31, 2019.

Rev. Jonathan Schroeder, chairman of the Synodical Council’s Ministry Committee, explains that the development of the ministry financial plan—or budget—is a collaborative process between the areas of ministry, synod leadership, and the Synodical Council.

“It’s that collaboration that has impressed me most during my 10 years serving on the Synodical Council,” says Schroeder. “These groups work together to develop a plan that balances resources with priorities and emerging opportunities. President Schroeder and his advisory committee bring a kingdom-wide perspective to the task.”

The Synodical Council divides the responsibility for the ministry financial plan between the Finance Committee and the Ministry Committee. The Finance Committee determines the financial support levels and the total size of the budget. The Ministry Committee then allocates the resources to the various areas of ministry.

“The hardest part comes when we have to determine which initiatives or projects won’t be included in the ministry financial plan,” says Schroeder. “For each synod convention we prepare a list of unfunded priorities to show the delegates the ministry programs we could accomplish if God blesses us with more resources.”

At its fall 2019 meeting, the Synodical Council voted to fund one of those items, a congregational counselor to serve on the Congregational Services team. The Commission on Congregational Counseling offers one-on-one counseling to WELS congregations. A lack of manpower meant that many congregations’ requests for assistance could not be fulfilled in a timely manner. The approval of a full-time congregational counselor will allow the Commission on Congregational Counseling to be more responsive to congregations’ requests and allow for more follow up if needed.

“Every year God’s people provide these amazing gifts through Congregation Mission Offerings and individual offerings,” notes Schroeder. “It is a high privilege to be involved in organizing how they are implemented to fulfill Christ’s mission to call the elect to faith through the gospel.”

WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc.

WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., (WELS CEF) provides financing…

WELS Foundation

WELS Foundation exists to help God’s people support gospel…

WELS Investment Funds, Inc.

WELS Investment Funds is a self-supporting subsidiary of WELS.…

WELS Benefit Plans Office

The WELS Benefit Plans Office (BPO) serves WELS and Evangelical…

Northwestern Publishing House

Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) provides Christ-centered,…