The chart to the right shows that for the past 30 years WELS membership has been declining. You will also notice that the rate of decline is increasing. Just consider the past five years, a span in which WELS lost 22,400 baptized members. In 2018 alone, WELS lost 1.6 percent of its members, the largest decline ever. Some of those losses are members going home to heaven. However, most of those losses are people simply leaving our congregations.
WELS’ decline should have us all concerned for the eternal well-being of the souls that are leaving and the impact this will have on WELS’ ability to bring the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ to a dying world. Everything WELS does to fulfill the Great Commission—opening new home mission congregations, sending missionaries to foreign lands, operating a ministerial education system so we have called workers to spearhead mission efforts—is predicated upon us having a base of support from congregations and members. If we lose members and close congregations, it affects our ability to carry out this mission on the scale we desire.
Therefore, last year WELS Congregational Services kicked off the For the Generations to Come campaign. The goal was to raise one million dollars to both fund the work of congregational counselors for boots-on-the-ground assistance to churches and provide online synodwide programs congregations can use to enhance ministry efforts.
So far, halfway to our goal, we’ve already been able to do much! For example, the aim of the “C18” program was to invite one million people to Christmas Eve worship by offering resources to train members how to identify unchurched friends and encourage them to attend Christmas Eve. We surpassed that goal, with closer to 1.3 million people invited. We have heard from 132 WELS congregations that reported their highest Christmas Eve attendance. WELS churches had thousands of worship guests. Our prayer is that many of those guests ended up in a Bible information class and became WELS members. C18 is an example of a synod program that brings people into church.
This fall, Congregational Services is releasing the Welcome Home initiative. There are 155,000 WELS members who rarely attend church. Welcome Home provides congregations training and resources to lovingly follow up with those members to joyfully welcome them back to their church home. Welcome Home is an example of a synod program that keeps members from leaving church.
Programs and resources like these—as well as others you can find at our new website welscongregationalservices.net—are possible because of the gifts provided to For the Generations to Come. But there are many more evangelism and discipleship resources we want to make available over the next five years! We ask for your continued prayers and, if the Holy Spirit so moves you, your gifts.
The numbers in that graph . . . Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that produces all growth, whether our growth in spiritual maturity or the growth of a congregation or synod. That is his work. However, the way the Spirit produces that growth is through the gospel, and the way he unleashes the gospel is by giving it to his Church and empowering us to do all we can with it. To do all we can with the gospel—that is the goal of For the Generations to Come.
Your servant in Christ,
Coordinator, Congregational Services