WELS Congregational Services exists to encourage and equip congregations for faithful and fruitful gospel ministry.
The more ministry the better
After analyzing WELS’ 2022 statistics, Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, wrote the following:
A little over a decade ago, some WELS congregations began exploring multi-site ministry. In a multi-site ministry, the congregations are one entity: one governance, one budget, and typically one name. The one church simply operates on multiple sites.
In more recent years, this has evolved to the next step—consolidation, where multiple churches merge into one. A recent WELS Connection told the story of Living Hope Lutheran Church in West Allis, Wis., which is a merger of three WELS congregations that were located within two miles of each other.
In 2022, WELS had almost 460 congregations with an average weekly worship attendance under 50. A little more than half of those congregations (about 230) are within a 10-minute drive of another WELS congregation, many in a similar worship attendance situation. If those congregations were to consolidate at a 2:1 ratio, it would mean 115 fewer congregations.
One might ask, “Why do that? The more congregations the better.” But in our shared effort in WELS to proclaim the gospel, is the total number of congregations what really matters? Or is it the ability to do zealous ministry? Could consolidation help some congregations achieve a sort of “critical mass” that might potentially assist ministry efforts?
Imagine three WELS congregations in close proximity. Each has a sanctuary that can seat about 120. Each has a weekly worship attendance in the low 30s, which means the church is about 25 percent full.
Now imagine those three congregations consolidate at one location. Worship attendance is now in the 90s, meaning the sanctuary is more than 70 percent full. Does it enable the church to better do certain things—youth group, a choir, simply singing during worship? Does it help evangelism efforts when a guest walks into a church that is mostly full versus mostly empty?
If nothing else, that consolidation allows the same number of people to be served by one pastor instead of three. In 2022 WELS had almost exactly the same number of active pastors as it did in 1990. Yet, at the end of 2022, WELS had almost 91,000 fewer members than in 1990.
There is a common obstacle to this strategy
—an understandable sentimental attachment to location. Overcoming that understandable attachment will require time and the Spirit-wrought understanding that “the end” is Christ’s glory and mission. Church facilities are a means to the end. Thus, a strategy of consolidation will also take something of a culture shift, away from the mindset of “the more churches the better” to the mindset of “the more ministry the better.”
WELS Congregational Services is available to help leaders learn more about collaborating with area congregations to carry out more ministry. Contact [email protected].
Resources to build up Christians of all ages
Who am I? Your identity in Christ” is a three-part youth ministry resource that takes an in-depth look at real-life problems that overwhelm teens. The videos explore the identity crisis among teens and look to root teens’ identity in Christ through the facts of God’s Word rather than personal feelings. The series is adaptable for use in a youth group setting, home setting, or for personal teen viewing.
“Never too young to talk about Jesus: Why your witness matters” is a two-part video study for teens that shows why sharing their faith is their responsibility and privilege. Multiple “pause points” give teens a chance to engage in discussion with one another and apply what they learn about sharing their faith. This study highlights the important role teens have in sharing Christ with their generation.
“Fostering faith in the next generation: Making time for what matters the most” is a webinar from WELS Women’s Ministry that features panelists who are parents in the trenches of discipling children for a lifetime of spiritual growth. These women speak to the challenges that come with the desire to live counterculture in a world that is so good at keeping us distracted and busy.
“Helping the hurting with hope” is a five-lesson Bible study to help Christians appreciate the role of compassion in their personal and congregational lives. It provides gospel motivation to go beyond our comfort zones and act in compassionate ways through the Holy Spirit’s power.
WELS Military Services produces a weekly video devotion for members of the military, their families, and their loved ones. You can subscribe to have these devotions e-mailed to your inbox each week at wels.net/subscribe.
WELS Military Services commissioned two new full-time chaplains in August 2023 to serve WELS members in the military and their families. Robert Weiss was commissioned as the new European civilian chaplain. Paul Horn was commissioned as the new WELS national civilian chaplain. To receive support from these pastors, visit wels.net/refer.
Learn more at welscongregationalservices.net.
Area Lutheran high school enrollment is up five percent for the 2023–24 school year in comparison with the year before. Enrollment has been steadily increasing, resulting in 20 percent more students attending area Lutheran high schools today than five years ago.
“In these trying and troubling times in America, we are seeing more people saying, ‘I want Jesus for my kids’ or ‘I want Christian values.’ They want to know that’s what their kids are going to hear at high school,” says James Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools. “And our 30 high schools are excited and poised to share that gospel message.”
Leadership conference equips members to serve
More than 1,300 WELS members gathered in Chicago in January for the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. For three days they dedicated themselves to learning about leading in the congregation and community as well as enjoying worship and fellowship. The conference was for all WELS members, both called workers and laypeople, men and women of all ages, current leaders and future leaders. About 47 percent of attendees were called workers, 44 percent were lay members, and 9 percent were high school or college students.
Sixty-one teenagers from WELS high schools attended the conference. One of the breakout sessions even featured a panel of high school students discussing their experiences and views.
“[Our church body] is hemorrhaging young adults, and you often hear people my age (or even older) speculating on why that is the case,” says Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. “So we wanted to have some presentations where we actually listened to young people. What are their views on why their generation is quitting church? What do they think we can do better to attempt to retain and reach young people today?”
Hein adds, “Teens want to be more than consumers of gospel ministry. They want to be doers of gospel ministry.” The conference exposed them to some of the very real conversations happening in the synod surrounding leadership, ministry, and outreach.
Thirty-six WELS congregations participated in an Everyone Outreach workshop in 2023. Everyone Outreach was designed by Kurt Nitz (pictured presenting at the National Conference on Lutheran Leadership) and Eric Roecker, the director of WELS Evangelism, to help congregations build a culture of outreach so that every member and every ministry is thinking about and participating in outreach.
When a congregation participates in Everyone Outreach, a facilitator visits the congregation for a two-day workshop. During the workshop, the facilitator uses group exercises and reflection, grounded in God’s Word, to help members focus on outreach. After the workshop, the facilitator continues to encourage and support the congregation in maintaining an outreach mindset.
Learn more at everyoneoutreach.com.
“The prisoners are able to live their faith. . . . It’s amazing to see how God works [and] gets his Word out through these guys,” says Matt Brown about his ministry at the Harris County jail.
Since 2017, Brown, pastor at Abiding Word, Houston, Texas, has been ministering to prisoners at the Harris County jail, the third largest jail in the country with more than 10,000 prisoners. With the support of his congregation and help from volunteers, Brown has reached more than 3,000 prisoners with God’s Word. Not only have Brown and the volunteers shared God’s Word with the inmates but they also have preached the gospel to healthcare and detention workers.
“God’s Word does work,” says retired pastor Don Tollefson about his experience volunteering at the Harris County jail. “Many [prisoners] are open and willing to listen—they’re at this point in life that they need something that is more than themselves.”
Dave Hochmuth, director of WELS Prison Ministry, says, “Jesus died for these people too. . . . There are some huge barriers to getting people back to the body of Christ, and we need people who have the heart for that, who are willing to reach out to somebody who is not like them.”
Numerous partnerships have developed to support this ministry. WELS Prison Ministry provides training for the volunteers. Brown uses existing materials from Institutional Ministries, WELS Prison Ministry, Time of Grace, and WELS Multi-Language Productions to preach the good news of Jesus to the inmates. Having some of these resources available in both English and Spanish has increased the reach even more, especially as other chaplains have begun to use these materials.
Through the partnerships and relationships formed, thousands of people have heard God’s saving Word. “This is what God has called us to do—to serve in love,” says Brown.
Learn more about how you can get involved in prison ministry work in your community or through serving as a pen pal at wels.net/prison-ministry.
Did you know?
The 2024 WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts will feature a 120-voice festival choir with full orchestra, a 120-voice high school honor choir with full orchestra, and a 70-voice children’s choir.