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Welcome Home: Part 2

A WELS member loves listening to the gospel regularly after coming back to church. 

Rachel Hartman 

Kristin Young grew up in Wisconsin and learned about Jesus at an early age. “I was in a WELS church since I was a baby,” she says.  

Hearing the old story  

In the mid-1990s, Kristin and her son Matthew joined St. Mark’sWatertown, Wis. Her son was confirmed there, and the two attended worship regularly for several years. As he grew older, however, Matthew stopped coming to church as consistently. “Like some young people, he fell away from the church,” notes Kristin. “He went through some rough times. I was still going to church and encouraging him to go as much as possible.” Despite her efforts, Kristin’s son didn’t return to the Lutheran church. 

As a young adult, Matthew began working at a restaurant in Watertown. While there, he became friends with a coworker who was associated with a Baptist church in the area. The friend invited Matthew to visit a Baptist service and see what it was like. Matthew accepted the invitation and soon after started attending services at the congregation. After getting to know the church, Matthew decided to join the Baptist congregation and asked Kristin to go there with him.  

“I started going to church with my son and discontinued going to St. Mark’s,” Kristin says. She didn’t always attend services at the Baptist church, as she worked night shifts as a nursing assistant at a nursing home in the area. “I would go to church when I could,” she says. “I never knew if that was the right decision in my heart.”  

A tragedy strikes  

During the next years, Matthew grew more involved with the local Baptist congregation. Kristin continued to go to church with her son when she could and watched him take on leadership roles. “He became very strong in the Baptist church and very strong religiously,” she says. “He went preaching in prisons in this area to the inmates.”  

In addition to taking on more duties at the Baptist church, Matthew continued working at a restaurant. At the age of 27, he appeared to be a healthy, active young adult. During the month of January 2014, he grew ill and suspected he had the flu or a cold. “It was more life threatening than he and I both thought,” Kristin says.  

Several days after developing flu-like symptoms, Matthew passed away. “He had a blood clot in his left lung that entered his heart, and he died from that,” says Kristin. “The autopsy revealed where the clot developed and how it developed.” Grief-stricken and heartbroken, Kristin decided not to pinpoint the exact cause of the blood clot. “I just left the death in God’s hands. This helped as I tried to find peace and acceptance with everything that happened.”  

A change of direction 

“After my son passed away, it wasn’t the same for me,” Kristin says of the Baptist congregation. She stopped attending. She then looked for a place where she could continue to learn and grow on a spiritual level. After time and thought, she decided to return to St. Mark’s. “I felt more comfortable at the WELS congregation setting, and I felt a strong need to come back to St. Mark’s. I was longing to get backI felt like a lost soul.” 

On her first Sunday back to St. Mark’s, the pastors welcomed her warmly. “Different members came up and said ‘Hello.’ The congregation had changed a little since I had been there, and there were some people whom I didn’t know. The ones I knew were happy that I came back to church, she says. 

Once she made the initial return to the Lutheran congregation, Kristin was satisfied with her direction. The pastors of the congregation asked her to take a Bible information class to review the teachings of the Bible. “We met every Tuesday and went through different parts of the Bible,” Kristin says. “If you’ve been a member of the church for a while, it’s like a refresher course.” 

Kristin appreciated going through the different highlights of the Bible and reviewing the story of Jesus. She enjoyed taking another look at Jesus’ death on the cross and how his resurrection brings victory for us over our sins. She started attending weekly worship as often as her work schedule would allow. The Bible information class ended, and she was reinstated as a member. After that, she started coming to a different Bible study during the week.  

Gaining peace at heart 

Reflecting on her start at the Lutheran church, shift to a different congregation, and eventual return to WELS, Kristin is content with her path. “I feel in my heart that I made the right move to come back,” she says. “I think it was God’s will and God’s direction. I have peace of mind knowing that I made the right decision.” 

Young had long sensed a spiritual need, which she traces back to her childhood. “I’ve always felt a strong desire to be near God. I’ve always had a strong spiritual side since I’ve been a little girl, especially in the past few years. Losing my sonthe only thing I can say that has helped me gain the acceptance of the death and go on through my life is the strength that God has given me through the Holy Spirit. For household decisions and life decisions, I always lean on God.” 

Even though the congregation has around three thousand members, Kristin has made personal connections during her time there and feels a sense of community. “It’s a very close-knit group,” she says. “It’s nice to know that I truly belong. 

She also notes the spiritual concern the ministers show for the people they serve. “I’ve known some of the pastors here for a long time, and they care about their members,” she says. “Even though there are many people, they all know how to address the needs of the congregation and how to address everyone’s individual needs.  

Kristin continues to look forward to the Bible-based teachings, which focus on Jesus’ forgiveness and promise of eternal life in heaven with God. She will often send an e-mail or note to the pastors, referencing a message in a sermon that was especially meaningful to her or expressing her appreciation for the preaching of the gospel. 

To those who attended a WELS church at one time but no longer come, it’s worth taking the time to attend a service at a Lutheran congregation in your area, Kristin says. “If you’re uncertain, just talk to one of the pastors and say you’re thinking about coming back. Always pray, and God will lead you in the right direction. I’m so glad I made the switch.”  

And if you know someone who was once regularly present in a Lutheran congregation but now is not, consider reaching out to them. “Never tire of inviting back your family and friends who wander, says Karl Walther, pastor at St. Mark’s. “You might catch them at the right time.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida. 


This is the second article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 

 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Welcome Home: Part 1

man finds a sense of belonging after returning to a WELS church.  

Rachel Hartman 

After growing up in a WELS congregation in Wisconsin, Kyle Oppermann left to join other church bodies as an adult. Two years ago, he again stepped through the doors of a WELS church. Now he can’t imagine going anywhere else. “This is what I was taught, and this is what it’s all about,” he says. 

Heading away 

During his early years, Oppermann’s family took him regularly to church. “I was born and baptized in a Wisconsin Lutheran Synod church,” he says. “I went through Sunday school and confirmation class.”  

But after getting confirmed, Oppermann started being pulled in other directions. “Once you get out of school, you kind of drift away from church,” he says. “During that time, I floated around.” 

Oppermann got married, and his wife attended a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod congregation. Oppermann went with her to that church. Then the two got divorced, and Oppermann started looking for a different congregation. 

When he remarried, his new wife attended a Congregational church, and he went there with her. “That church went against everything I was accustomed to,” says Oppermann“I went through the motions with that church, but I wasn’t connected.” 

During his time in the Congregational setting, Oppermann noticed teachings that were different from those he had been taught at WELS. “I remember one Sunday there was a lesbian couple that had a baby together, and it was time to baptize the child. I was ushering the service. I would take head count, and I remember a couple of people coming out of the sanctuary and saying, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this.   

The incident caused Oppermann to remember the Bible’s words on Baptism and that the child would be a child of God. He also recalled what he had been taught regarding marriagethat the Bible explains marriage is between a man and a woman.  

Twenty years later the couple divorced, and Oppermann found himself again looking for a church. “I floated around again and went to the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America],” he says. He got to know the minister of the ELCA congregation and asked him how to join. “I told him I had been baptized and confirmed in WELS, and he said, ‘Oh, you’re one of those people.’ He was the first person to hit me with that.” After that, Oppermann found others responded the same way when they learned of his background. “It carries that stigma that we’re fire and brimstone, he notes. 

Returning to WELS 

Around the same time, one of Oppermann’s friends asked him about WELS. “He said to me, ‘Didn’t you used to go to a WELS church? Why don’t you come back to WELS?  

Oppermann decided to give it a try. His first time back to a WELS church was on a Sunday. He walked through the doors and was greeted right away. “The pastor wanted me to go through the new membership class again just to make sure we were all on the same page, says Oppermann, who was eager and willing to take the class to refresh what he had learned. He joined a class that ran during the autumn of 2017.  

The pastor who taught the class comments, “Kyle was the last one out, and he just said, ‘This is so good.  With a big handshake the pastor replied, “Welcome home, Kyle. You are home.” 

In addition to the class, Oppermann was excited to hear the Bible read and taught again in church. “From day one when I went in, the stuff we were talking about rang a bell because I was born and raised in a WELS setting,” he says. “It felt like coming home.” 

He noticed a difference between the WELS congregation and the other churches he had attended. As each week went by, he read the Bible more and reviewed its teachings. He recognized that WELS instructs its members according to what the Bible says and bases its beliefs on Scripture. When questions came up, the answers came from the Bible. “Some of these other churches take bits and pieces of the Bible and interpret them in a way that fits with what they want the Bible to mean, says Oppermann. 

Oppermann discovered a sense of belonging after coming back to WELS. He found the teachings of his youth to be applicable and meaningful for his current life. He realized that the instructions haven’t changed; they are still based on the Bible. “It feels like I’ve been a member here for a hundred years.”  

Bringing in others 

Oppermann isn’t deterred by any stigma that being a Christian or being a WELS member can sometimes bring. He says, “People think you’re a stuffed shirt. But I tell them, ‘You can read the Bible and see what we’re all about. ” 

He has also come across ideas that some have regarding how Christians view themselves and the world. “People think we’re better than everybody else, but we’re no different than anyone else,” he says. It goes back to interpreting the Bible. You need to sit down and go over it to really know what it means.” 

Rather than focusing on what others might think of him attending a WELS church regularly again, Oppermann has looked for ways to help others with their spiritual lives. When his father, a WELS member, moved into a nursing home near Oppermann’s church, Oppermann called his pastors and asked them to visit his dad. “All four of the pastors saw my dad,” Oppermann says. “He was spiritually well taken care of when he passed.” 

Reflecting on his past years, Oppermann concludes he is in a better spot now than before. “My divorce was just finalizing around the time I came back, and I was looking for something else and praying about it.” Now Oppermann finds himself in a more stable position. “My life is better now. I have a good job and am able to do things. I feel better about myself because I’ve come back.” 

His favorite part of the week coincides with the worship times. “I’m like a little kid at the end of the week. I look forward to going to church.” He appreciates hearing the message that no one is perfect, but rather we all have sinned and have forgiveness through Jesus because he has paid the penalty for us all 

He also is thankful for the open arms that have received him in WELS. “I feel blessed to have a church like this accept me back in,” he says. In other places I felt like they didn’t listen to me and were just looking for more numbers to fill the pew. Here they listen and really care.”  

To anyone who is considering coming back to WELS, Oppermann says the return is invaluable. “Just come back and leave all your worries and cares at the door. For me, it was an eyeopener as far as how good this feels.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida. 


This is the first article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 

 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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For the Generations to Come UPDATE

Dear Friend,

WELS membership is declining

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,
Jonathan Hein
Coordinator, Congregational Services

10 for 10 encourages thoughtful Christian giving

A new congregational stewardship program called 10 for 10 is now available from WELS Congregational Services.

10 for 10 is based on three weeks of preaching and teaching on the topic of giving. Then congregation members are asked to contemplate if they are able to give one-tenth of their income to the Lord for ten straight weeks—hence the name 10 for 10. This is based on the Old Testament practice of tithing.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship, explains that the goal of 10 for 10 is much greater than amassing gifts. “10 for 10 is not a church fundraising program,” he says. “It is a gospel-centered stewardship emphasis that asks people to consider how to respond to all of the many graces that God has shown to them.”

Some WELS congregations have already implemented initiatives similar to 10 for 10. Members of these churches have expressed an appreciation for the scriptural roots of these stewardship programs. Notably, 10 for 10 opens the conversation on the often difficult topic of money in a Christlike manner.

“Jesus talked often about money because he knew the vicelike grip it can have on our hearts as it seeks to replace him as our greatest treasure,” Dobberstein says. “When it came to money, Jesus was blunt. He was bold. 10 for 10 strives to mirror Jesus’ biblical boldness.”

While it is not the focus, congregational stewardship programs like that of 10 for 10 have successfully increased weekly offerings significantly during their periods of enhanced giving, explains Dobberstein. Afterward, numbers will often decrease again slightly, but rarely do they fall as low as previous levels.

While 10 for 10 can be held at any time, WELS Congregational Services encourages congregations to begin planning this summer and to implement the program this fall.

Materials to help congregations with their planning, including a step-by-step timeline, are available on welscongregationalservices.net/10-for-10. Other introductory and promotional tools plus worship materials, midweek devotions, Sunday sermons, PowerPoint slides, videos, letters, and more can be downloaded for free to help congregations promote 10 for 10 before and after the period of advanced giving.

Visit welscongregationalservices.net/10-for-10 to begin your congregation’s planning today.

 

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New task force focuses on special education

A new 20-member Special Education Task Force has been formed to provide special education resources and support to teachers and students.

“Our goal is to lay out a common, reliable, and researched path for identifying and supporting learners who struggle in academics and behavior,” says Ms. Kelli Green, a special education professor at Martin Luther College (MLC). “How do we support these children as well as provide school leaders and teachers with the support systems they need to offer this assistance?”

The task force will be researching the special education services already happening in WELS schools as well as the needs. It will also be exploring how to educate current students as well as administrators and teachers already in WELS schools about the resources available to help those with special needs, including ways to collaborate with one another and with public schools.

“We’re looking at how we can provide more support to our schools so more kids can hear the gospel at our schools on a daily basis,” says Mr. James Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools.

The group includes representatives from the Commission on Lutheran Schools, MLC, Wisconsin Lutheran College, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Bethany Lutheran College, Jesus Cares Ministries, and Christian Educators for Special Education, along with special education teachers from WELS area Lutheran high schools and Lutheran elementary schools.

Currently MLC offers two special education programs. Undergraduates can receive an Academic and Behavioral Specialist (ABS) Minnesota state teaching licensure, and graduates can return to pursue a master of science in education with a special education emphasis. Seventeen students are in the undergraduate program, and 12 are in the master’s program. MLC is working on adding a master of special education in learning disabilities.

Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis., offers special education undergraduate and master’s degree majors resulting in cross-categorical special education licensure. Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., also offers an ABS undergraduate major as well as a post-baccalaureate program for ABS licensure.

For more information about the task force, contact James Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools, at jim.rademan@wels.net.

Women’s ministry conference highlights being “living stones”

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

The focal point of the upcoming 2019 WELS Women’s Ministry Conference, being held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., July 18–20, is “living stones” and how Christian women are called to be a part of something bigger.

Mrs. Dawn Schulz, conference coordinator, says the committee chose 1 Peter as the conference’s inspiration because it’s a great encouragement to women. “A ‘living stone’ is a woman who uses her God-given talents and gifts to build up God’s kingdom and to bless those around her, wherever that may be,” Schulz says. “Just like Jesus, we are special to God. We are chosen for a reason.”

A range of speakers will discuss the topic of living stones in keynote addresses and breakout sessions. One of the main points of the conference is how Christians fit together, like stones on a building. Each stone possesses unique qualities to serve God’s kingdom. To emphasize this point, the speakers have a range of backgrounds, including a lawyer, a pastor, and a ministry coordinator.

“We wanted to provide opportunities for a wide scope of presentations,” Schulz says. “The speakers who were chosen are people who have been speaking and researching God’s Word and will bring light to the fact that God uses every single person in his kingdom.”

The conference also will dive into how Christian women should look at the individuality of each person to more effectively share the gospel. For example, a young adult ministry professional as well as a panel of college students will emphasize how to reach younger generations today.

At the end of the conference, Schulz hopes women walk away feeling more confident in their purpose as a part of God’s spiritual house. She says, “This conference is going to nurture women in God’s Word, encourage them by bringing them together with other Christian sisters, and equip them with resources.”

For more information on the Women’s Ministry Conference and to register, visit wels.net/wmconference.

WELS members support Christmas outreach program

Approximately 70 percent of WELS congregations participated in the synodwide Christmas outreach program known as C18. WELS Congregational Services created myriad materials for congregations to use to encourage members to reach out to the unchurched and to promote the theme “A Light in the darkness.”

“When we began C18,” says Rev. Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, “we said our goal was ‘to reach’ one million souls prior to and on Christmas Eve. I realize ‘reach’ is a nebulous term. That was intentional. It is impossible for congregations to track how many people a member invites to Christmas Eve. So it is hard to quantify. What I can report is that at least 1.2 million ‘A Light in the darkness’ Christmas Eve postcards were shared.”

Hein also notes that through follow-up surveys, he has discovered ancillary benefits to this Christmas outreach effort. One of those benefits is a renewed focus on evangelism in some congregations.

One survey respondent commented, “I have prayed for years for God to make me bold enough to share the gospel. I have now done this . . . several weeks in a row for C18 and have had very positive results. I plan to continue this method of inviting neighbors to my church year-round for different events.”

Another said, “I don’t know if we had more visitors than normal [attend our Christmas Eve service]. I can say our people were excited about trying to invite their friends and family to church. I think they will continue to do that, which will have a longer lasting impact than can be measured by one worship service.”

In addition to evangelism materials, Congregational Services offered worship resources as well as family Advent devotions.

As one WELS member wrote, “I loved that C18 focused on reaching unbelievers. But I also love that it stressed feeding our children with God’s Word.”

After hearing from WELS members about the blessings that this Christmas program offered, Congregational Services is now planning resources for C19.

To read Hein’s full report about C18, visit welscongregationalservices.net/c18-our-christmas-efforts.

Ministering to Millennials

In November, WELS Congregational Services launched a new set of resources aimed at helping congregations minister to Millennials, those born from 1980-2000.

“The Commission on Congregational Counseling has worked with so many churches that have identified that the Millennial generation is opting out of church on a large-scale basis,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services and director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling. “I hear it from individuals too. They have a relative in their late twenties who still confesses faith in Jesus but who does not see the benefit in being a member at a church.”

Hein continues, “The Ministering to Millennials resources are meant to help congregations think through how they might better retain and gain members from this largest generation in America. However, I think individuals might benefit from it too. It can help them learn how to better understand ways to personally witness to Millennial-aged friends or neighbors. So we are hoping that everyone—congregational leadership and individual Christians—goes to welscongregationalservices.net and utilizes the Ministering to Millennial resources.”

Four videos with accompanying discussion guides are available as well as a playbook that outlines 10 important ministry behaviors to consider to retain Millennials in our congregations and when reaching out to share the gospel with them. To view these materials, visit welscongregationalservices.net, choose the “Modules” dropdown menu, and then choose “Discipleship Modules.”

For more information about ministering to Millennials, watch this “Together” video update featuring Rev. James Hein, who serves at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis., which has a thriving ministry to Millennials. Hein helped coordinate the video modules on this topic for WELS Congregational Services.

 

 

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Outreach film bulk order deadline extended

Due to popular demand, the deadline for bulk rate orders of To the Ends of the Earth, the outreach film that tells the story of the apostle Paul and his work in Philippi, has been extended.

Now congregations and groups have until Sept. 28 to order quantities of 100 DVDs at a low bulk rate of $200 per box, plus shipping. Bulk orders that have been placed on or before Sept. 7 are shipping now. Orders placed by Sept. 28 will ship the first week of October.

More than 600 congregations have already ordered over 50,000 copies of the movie at this bulk rate.

“We are going to hand out DVDs at events in our area such as street festivals, etc.,” says Rev. Joel Petermann, pastor at Zion, Torrance, Calif. “It is our hope and prayer that those who watch this video will hear its gospel message and want to know more about Jesus so we can follow up with Bible class invitations and worship invitations.”

Petermann also notes that the outreach emphasis in the film will serve as a precursor to the upcoming C18 effort, a synodwide outreach campaign to reach one million people with the gospel message during the Christmas season. Film resources, including worship materials; adult, small group, teen, and children Bible studies; an Advent by Candlelight program; and personal reflections, discuss how to witness and share your faith.

“We hope the film reaffirms a mission mindset among our members,” says Rev. Michael Vogel, pastor at St. Paul, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “We will be doing a six-week sermon series and Bible study on the film in October and November. We will use the DVDs as part of our welcome package for visitors. We also will encourage our members to take one and share it with family and friends.”

Worship materials also can be used as an option for celebrating the synodwide Mission and Ministry Sunday planned for Oct. 21. All congregations received a free DVD of the film for this purpose.

To the Ends of the Earth is the final installment in a series of four outreach movies that are a collaboration between WELS Commission on Evangelism, WELS Commission on Discipleship, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc. Learn more, bulk order copies, and watch a film preview at wels.net/totheendsoftheearth.

 

 

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Social media expands reach and offers more connections

It started with wanting to offer more women in a congregation the opportunity to study together.

Corissa Nelson, wife of the pastor at Good Shepherd, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, decided to start a midweek women’s Bible class using 2000 Demons by Professor E. Allen Sorum as the base of the study. With short chapters, already included questions, and a riveting topic, the book seemed a perfect fit.

The problem: finding time during the week when most women could meet. Also congregation members are scattered, many living at least half an hour from church.

The solution: social media.

Nelson decided to create a Facebook group where she would post a question or two a day related to that week’s reading. Members of the group could comment and share their thoughts and ideas. While a small group from the church still met in person each week, this allowed more people who couldn’t make weekday meetings to participate.

But Nelson didn’t stop there. “Once I realized that we had bridged those miles, I determined we could invite anyone to be in the study,” she says. As part of the WELS Women’s Ministry Development Committee, Nelson thought offering this online opportunity for Bible study would be a great way to build community for all WELS women. So WELS Women’s Ministry began promoting this Bible study opportunity on its Facebook page.

More than 600 women from around the country (and even some from abroad) joined the group throughout the course of the monthlong Bible study, which concluded this past February. Nelson said between 300 to 500 of these were active, returning often to the site even if they didn’t always post comments.

Nelson says that having this broader group involved helped Good Shepherd, a smaller, isolated congregation, feel more connected to the synod and other WELS members. “They were able to connect with other mature Christians and learn from them,” she says.

Others commented on Facebook that they too had difficulty getting to a Bible study and appreciated this additional opportunity to study God’s Word. “Although it’s not as perfect as everyone sitting around a table and sharing ideas, it really can encourage more people to have some personal study and connect with other women,” says Nelson.

Nelson is offering another women’s Bible study, which will start April 9. This one, written by her husband Rev. Marques Nelson, will be on getting women involved in evangelism, based on the book of Acts. To join, go to facebook.com/groups/WMStudyGSLCR.

Learn more about WELS Women’s Ministry at wels.net/women.

New director of discipleship joins Congregational Services

“Encouraging and equipping congregations for faithful and fruitful gospel ministry.”

That’s how Rev. Donn Dobberstein describes his new position as the director of discipleship for WELS’ Congregational Services. In this new role, Dobberstein will serve the WELS Commissions on Adult Discipleship and Youth and Family Ministry. These commissions coordinate WELS Women’s Ministry, the Interactive Faith online Bible study series, marriage enrichment programs, the biennial international youth rally, the Kids Connection video series, and other ministry resources.

Dobberstein is not a stranger to Congregational Services, having served as the chairman of the Commission on Evangelism for the past 10 years. He also says, “Twenty-two years in parish mission settings have given me ministry experiences showing the importance of and the connection between ‘making disciples’ and ‘continuing to disciple.’ Evangelism and nurture are not at odds with each other but are complementary.”

Dobberstein served as pastor at Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla., for the past 17 years. He and his wife, Beth, moved from Port Orange to the Milwaukee, Wis., area in November as he began his work at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The couple have four children, two of whom still live at home.

Dobberstein clearly feels a sense of urgency for this ministry. He notes, “After years of the position being ‘dormant,’ clarifying a sense of direction and vision will be a priority. Evaluating and prioritizing resources needed for WELS congregations will help us set goals for the next five years. My intention is to listen and learn, support and serve my fellow coworkers and God’s people. I believe God has given us a unique moment in his kingdom that can be seized that, God-willing, can lead to ministry activity.”