New program helps schools intentionalize outreach

A new program from the Commissions on Lutheran Schools and Evangelism is now available to guide congregations on how better to use their Lutheran elementary schools and early childhood ministries for reaching out into their community with the gospel’s saving message.

Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach is a daylong workshop that helps congregation and school leaders focus on their joint mission, build relationships within the church and with school families, and develop an organized program to connect school families with the Word.

“Our schools are recognizing the growing opportunities to reach out to the community with the gospel,” says Mrs. Cindi Holman, national coordinator of early childhood ministries. “They are finding that just having a child and a family enroll in their school isn’t enough. What they are looking for—and what we’re trying to share with them—are specific ways they can do both outreach and harvest strategies within their school ministries so they can connect people with the means of grace.”

Besides offering information and resources, the workshop allows time for a congregation’s ministry team to meet and work on developing a specific ministry plan to facilitate the outreach they want to do. Assigned advisors also will stay in contact with the congregation to answer follow-up questions and provide additional resources and encouragement.

Risen Savior, Orlando, Fla., hosted the pilot workshop in April 2016; 10 different churches attended, including Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla.

Our Savior’s started its part-time three- and four-year-old preschool program in 2004 with 27 children in a portable classroom. Twelve years—and two expansion projects—later, the congregation’s early childhood ministry has 145 children in eight classrooms with a staff of 25 and includes an infant room, childcare, and a preschool.

While the ministry has been blessed with amazing growth, Rev. Donn Dobberstein, pastor at Our Savior’s, says the growth presents challenges. That’s why he appreciated the opportunity to bring a ministry team to the workshop. “We really needed to keep the biblical focus—especially with so many changes going on,” he says. “You can get so focused on classroom and program that you start to lose sight of why you are doing this.” Dobberstein says that the ministry team at Our Savior’s wanted to walk away with an intentional harvest strategy—how to connect families with the gospel not just in the classroom but in other settings as well.

Since the workshop, the congregation has started movie nights, which brings together school families for fellowship as well as an evening devotion. They have intentionalized meetings with prospective parents, focusing on preparing each team member to tell and show what makes the early childhood education center distinctively Lutheran. Dobberstein greets parents every morning and last May even conducted a Baptism survey to encourage parents whose children weren’t baptized. “Twenty parents said they were interested in Baptism for their kids,” he says. “No one had ever asked them about this before. What a blessing that has been.”

He continues, “It was awesome to go into this workshop and get away from everything that is going on and focus on something that is truly important—how we can use our school for outreach.”

Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach is meant for all Lutheran elementary schools, early childhood ministries, and high schools, whether small or large, growing or struggling. Holman says the goal is to provide one workshop in every district, more if requested, by the end of the 2016–17 school year. For more information or to schedule a workshop in your area, contact evangelism@wels.net or lutheranschools@wels.net. Learn more at wels.net/tellingthenextgeneration. Watch this month’s WELS Connection to learn more about how Lutheran Schools is working to train school leaders.