“Lutheran schools/preschools are the front door our central Florida communities are using as welcome mats for the gospel,” says Donn Dobberstein, pastor at Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla.
Dobberstein says that even as there have been concerns about decreasing enrollment in WELS elementary schools, enrollment in WELS childcare and preschool ministries is growing in his area. Our Savior’s is a great example of this.
To better connect with the community, Our Savior’s began a Moms Morning Out in 2001. When the group began to number 15 to 20 kids, mothers began asking, “What else do you have for us?”
Our Savior’s worked with a WELS Forward with Lutheran Schools consultant team to conduct a feasibility study in 2002. In fall 2004, the congregation opened Small Steps Academy with 27 three- and four-year-olds. Enrollment grew into the 40s and 50s, and Small Steps Academy added a two-year-old program in 2012. Enrollment grew into the 60s, so in 2014 the congregation began a one-year-old program.
Present enrollment is 105 children with a staff of 17. Of those approximately 100 families, Dobberstein notes that 44 indicated that they do not have a church home, 19 indicated that they do, and 38 left the answer blank on their registration form. Only those with a church home have baptized their children, so Dobberstein estimates that sixty to seventy percent of the children are unbaptized.
“The ministry needs are great,” says Dobberstein. “We are working hard at developing an intentional harvest strategy.”
Part of the harvest strategy is creating “connect” points with school families. For example, the school hosts family events after school and on weekends so that families connect with church members, other school families, teachers, and the pastor. These connections help build relationships. In particular, Dobberstein is able to minister to these families as they encounter difficult times. It also offers him the opportunity to invite families to his “Fresh start” Bible study that covers key truths of the Bible.
God has blessed Our Savior’s hard work. Since 2004, Small Steps Academy has served 450 preschoolers and baptized more than 50 children. Twenty-five families have joined the church. Our Savior’s is now making plans to open an elementary school by 2020.
As Dobberstein notes, “The rise in Christian education is creating a path for the next generation of families to learn more than ABCs and 123s. These families are real people who really hurt just like you and me. It is such a privilege for this pastor, our teachers, and our congregation to love them.”
Christian education booming in central Florida
Donn Dobberstein, pastor at Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla., shared the following:
It was January 2014 at our pastor circuit meeting. The guys were going around the table telling what’s going on in their local ministries. A remarkable outcome—six of the ten congregations were either planning for, at the cusp of, or already in the process of building for Lutheran education.
• Risen Savior, Orlando—The congregation is putting the finishing touches on initial classroom expansion to open a new Lutheran elementary school in fall 2015.
• New Hope, W. Melbourne—Walls are going up on a four-classroom expansion for a growing Lutheran elementary school.
• Our Savior’s, Port Orange—The congregation is adding four classrooms to expand the childcare and preschool.
• Good Shepherd, Deltona—With 200 enrolled in childcare, preschool, and a recently-started Lutheran elementary school, the congregation is making plans for a building expansion within a year that would allow them to double their enrollment.
• Christ the King, Palm Coast—With an enrollment of 250, the congregation is on the cusp of a nine-classroom/early childhood center addition.
•Crown of Glory, Orlando—A new early childhood education building is being planned for 2016 to serve this childcare/preschool ministry. The long-range plan is to add grades K-2 on a second campus.
Ten years ago, only two of the above had fledgling preschools. In the coming five years, the gospel is projected to touch the hearts of one thousand children through the above schools.
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Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015
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