The National Multi-Site Conference for WELS Churches met November 14-16, 2016, at Grace Lutheran Church of Southern Arizona, a WELS multi-site church in Benson, Sahuarita, Tucson, and Vail. One hundred forty-four pastors, teachers, staff ministers, laypersons, and other ministry leaders attended.
What is multi-site? Multi-site is a strategy for gospel ministry and mission work: one church carrying out gospel ministry at more than one physical location, created for the primary purpose of expanding gospel outreach. In addition to simply positioning churches to share Jesus with more people, there can be other benefits such as shared resources, efficient organization, cost effective programs, reaching a new community or target audience, expanded volunteer and leadership opportunities, and more.
Why a conference? This conference provided a venue for networking and building relationships with the growing number of WELS churches investing in this work. It was designed for churches already doing multi-site ministry, as well as churches just getting started or merely considering it. The conference workshops covered a wide selection of presentations to meet the needs of everyone regardless of their level of experience. Some workshop topics, for example, focused on key multi-site components such as communication, staffing, volunteers, budget and finances, merging two or more churches, organizational structure, and more.
Who is doing multi-site? The multi-site strategy is a good fit with our Lutheran beliefs and values that have stood the test of time. While the multi-site strategy is just one of many ways to expand mission work, it is significant to note that five of the eight new mission starts authorized by WELS Home Missions in April 2016 have a multi-site component.
The keynote address set the tone for the conference. Pastor Rick Johnson shared the multi-site story of Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Corona, Beaumont, and Riverside, Calif., “bringing the gospel to more people, and more people to the gospel.” The multi-site strategy at Crown of Life has developed over the last eight years, and the church plans to add more campuses.
Pastor Ron Koehler, representing our host church, Grace Lutheran in Tucson, presented an overview of their four locations. A video demonstrated the different look and layout of each location’s facility. Pictures also helped tell the story of Grace’s multi-site ministry, which includes “saving sacred spaces.” Grace has responded to requests of neighboring churches, declining in numbers, desiring Grace’s leadership and ministry to assimilate their church into Grace’s multi-site strategy.
Pastor Daron Lindemann, chairman of the conference planning committee, and pastor of Holy Word, a multi-site church in Austin and Pflugerville, Tex., says, “The level of interest in multi-site amazed our planning committee. We had hoped for 80 people to attend, set up plans for possibly 100, and needed to make some exciting adjustments to accommodate over 140 who registered.”
“I believe that the multi-site strategy, and its variations such as mergers, offer both an answer to some challenges, and a plan for expanded gospel outreach in the WELS.”
By Rev. Nathan Strutz
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