Training leaders for challenging times

Dear Christian Friend,

Leadership matters—especially as we strive to proclaim the hope of Jesus in these challenging times. Consider:

  • In 1980, one out of three Americans who did not have a church home was looking for one. Today, that has dropped to only one out of twenty.
  • In 2020, for the first time in U.S. history, the majority of citizens identified as having no religious affiliation.
  • In one generation, atheism has doubled.
  • A recent Pew Research survey asked people about the statement, “Religion does more harm than good.” One-third of those under the age of thirty agreed.
  • In the 1990s, WELS had about one church close every twelve months. In the past five years, WELS has averaged one church closing every seven weeks.

So, in 2020, we held the first WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. The presentations discussed our cultural and strategic challenges, charted an optimistic path forward, and shared ministry best practices that the Lord seems to be blessing around our synod. The conference included attendees who serve in formal leadership capacities in their congregations—pastors, teachers, church officers—as well as church members who simply wanted to support their church’s mission by providing the type of leadership that comes by example. Here are some of their comments:

  • “This was the most helpful conference I’ve ever attended. It was extremely encouraging.”
  • “We had a group of six come from my church. What we learned will definitely shape our next ministry plan.”
  • “My wife and I are almost 80. We were a bit nervous about driving in a big city, but we are so thankful we came. God willing, we will be at the next one too.”

The next WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership will be held at the Hilton Chicago on January 16-18, 2023. The conference is open to anyone passionate about gospel ministry: called workers and lay members, men and women, retirees and high school students. We believe there is enough interest that we could double attendance from last time to about 1,500 attendees. We do not want costs to prevent anyone from attending, so we’d like to offer a number of grants. For every $250 we receive, we can help another person attend. We’re thankful that some generous donors have made initial gifts, and request your help in building on that momentum. We see these grants especially benefiting three groups:

  • WELS campus ministry and high school students—our future leaders
  • Members of the several hundred challenged congregations that are wondering how much longer they can survive and that usually do not have the budget to send multiple members
  • Lay people who are open to the possibility of second-career ministry (see Pastor David Rosenau’s presentation from the last conference where he discussed his move from a career in law enforcement to being a pastor)

Leadership matters. Next to God’s Word and sacraments, nothing contributes to the health of a congregation more than good leadership. Thank you for considering supporting this effort to encourage zealous gospel ministry in our church body.

In Christ,
Jonathan Hein
Coordinator, WELS Congregational Services

Prayer: Jesus, Lord of the Church, we praise you for helping us face increasing challenges to gospel ministry in the U.S. As our culture drifts further away from you it becomes more evident that we have a living hope in you. Thank you for using gatherings like the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership to equip our congregational leaders. We pray that the next conference in January encourages all attendees, particularly high school and college students, members of challenged churches, and second-career ministry prospects, to confidently serve others in your name by the power of your Spirit. Amen.