January 29, 2017, was the date chosen for our new mission church and student center’s Grand Opening and Dedication. The Word in Stevens Point, Wis., needed to be ready for that special day. To me, the amount of work ahead of God’s people at Divine Word in Plover seemed insurmountable. I can only assume others had similar feelings. Would we be ready to welcome guests and visitors into a completed worship facility? Only time would tell.
On New Year’s Day, our core group started attending The Word for a set of four preview services. The community was welcome to join us as well. After each of those four services we set aside time to evaluate what had just happened in worship. Evaluation forms helped guide our discussion each week under the following categories: Worship, Sermon, Interior Feel, and Exterior Feel. The goal was improvement from week to week as we geared up for our Grand Opening and Dedication services.
Slowly, new interior items began to be delivered. Basic metal folding chairs were replaced with new, padded chairs. Lighting fixtures were installed, an improvement over bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Steady progress was being made toward January 29.
Getting the word out about The Word was also important to the core group. Radio ads about our upcoming opening aired on local Portage County stations. Facebook events were created and shared again and again. A local reporter from the Stevens Point Journal was contacted to run an article about the exciting launch of a new church and student center in downtown Stevens Point. Fifteen different individuals helped to distribute about 4,000 postcards to the communities around The Word, which invited them to join us for our Grand Opening and Dedication.
One week before the big day we recognized the amount of work that needed to be put in to make The Word presentable for visitors. Our core group, other Divine Word members, and UW-SP collegians set aside time every evening to sweep and mop floors, paint doors, clean bathrooms, set up the worship space, and prepare thank-you-for-coming gift bags for all first-time visitors at our January 29 celebration of God’s blessing on our efforts to reach our community with the good news of Christ our Savior.
What seemed like a workload too overwhelming at the beginning – was accomplished by so many individuals that volunteered their time and ability to make sure everyone’s first impression of The Word was a positive one. All that was left to do was to wait for January 29 to come.
No one had a crystal ball to tell us how many people God would lead through our doors that Sunday morning and evening. 161 people came to The Word’s Grand Opening at our 10:00 a.m. service. At least three family units worshiped with us for the very first time. 198 people came together for our dedication service at 4:00 pm in the afternoon. Numerous families from area WELS congregations were in attendance, as well as a handful of first-time and second-time visitors. UWSP collegians and their families attended our services on that Sunday as well.
Recognizing a completed project such as this one in Stevens Point is a great blessing God has granted to Divine Word, The Word, and our Wisconsin synod. Stevens Point is no longer the largest Wisconsin city without a WELS presence. But, we also recognize this renovation project is not the end goal. With God’s blessing, we will strive to proclaim the Word, the good news of Jesus as Savior, to the people of Portage County until Jesus comes again. We implore our Heavenly Father to keep us focused on the only two numbers that matter: the total number of people who are in God’s family versus the total number of people who aren’t.
By: Rev. James Roecker
The Word, Stevens Point, Wis.
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