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Encouraging and equipping congregations and members

WELS Congregational Services’ mission is to encourage and equip WELS congregations for faithful and fruitful ministry. It does this by identifying trends and needs in local ministry and offering free resources to assist congregational ministry. WELS’ global mission of spreading the saving gospel message to all nations begins with healthy congregations.

In addition to the long-term trends the broader Christian church has seen in North America, congregations are also facing the collateral from the past year of pandemic upheaval. Doors are opening again, neighbors are gathering again, and WELS Congregational Services has released a suite of resources to help congregations seize the opportunity for outreach and growth. “These are the kinds of resources that in the coming year, or years, are going to be able to feed a congregational hunger, if congregational ministries have stalled, to get ministry up to speed again,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of the WELS Commission on Discipleship.

God’s People Gather
Already before COVID-19, some churches were utilizing video and streaming technology for worship and Bible study. The pandemic forced many more congregations to make this pivot. In much of the country, in-person worship was prohibited for months. As lockdowns lift, congregational leaders are wrestling with two key questions:

  1. How can we encourage our members to return to in-person worship?
  2. How should we think about virtual worship post-pandemic?

The first is a timely, virus-related question. That second question is timeless, something churches may be asking until Jesus returns.

Dobberstein says, “How do we keep that balance between realizing that while electronic/virtual/digital ministries are definitely a blessing from God, they are not meant to replace God’s good intent for us to be gathered.”

He continues, “God’s People Gather was created to help congregations as they’re coming out of COVID. If congregations are going to make a splash, to celebrate the fact that we have the ability and we can re-gather like we once did, it’s flexible so that congregations can pick the right time to celebrate depending on where they’re at.”

God’s People Gather provides resources that help churches put together a congregation-specific plan that reaches out to the various types of members who have not yet returned. Access videos, elder encouragement, Bible study, worship plan, and event ideas at welscongregationalservices.net/gods-people-gather.

A God-Lived Life
A God-Lived Life is a whole-life challenge to God’s people to live the life to which he has called them. The hope is that being challenged in specific ways will urge members to put into practice a closer walk with God and a life of love toward others.

There’s a double meaning in “God-lived.” God lived for his people. His life is now theirs. And that produces in Christians a life lived for God. When the Word touches people, it changes them forever. It changes how they view everything God gives them. Jesus talked a lot about money, but it was never far apart from a greater conversation about life and things that have a pull on hearts and minds.

The goal of A God-Lived Life is to encourage greater growth in four key areas:

  • A life of being a disciple.
  • A life of service for others.
  • A life of hospitality for all.
  • A life lived shrewdly.

“It’s not just talking about money. As we come back post-COVID, it addresses how we demonstrate what God looks like in our lives, how he lives in our lives, and how that shows God to others. I think that’s going to be huge in the coming years,” says Dobberstein.

The program is designed to last four months with a variety of resources to bolster each monthly emphasis. View and download the resources at welscongregationalservices.net/a-god-lived-life.

For WELS Commission on Evangelism, the focus for its latest programs is on personal evangelism. Rev. Eric Roecker, director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism, explains why: : “The number of never-churched people in our country has gone up dramatically in the last 20 years. Because they’ve never been churched, they have zero interest in church; it’s not even on their radar. Because the way the church is portrayed in media a lot of times, it’s a negative. Fewer and fewer people in our culture are churched. Some have never been churched, which means that traditional methods of outreach like corporate outreach events and inviting people with postcards is becoming less effective. At the same time, studies are showing that people in our country don’t trust the church as much as they used to, but they do trust their Christian friends. So, while they probably won’t come to church because of a postcard or an advertisement, they might check it out if a friend brought them, not necessarily because they’re interested in the church, but because they trust their friend.”

Everyone Outreach
Everyone Outreach is designed to help congregations build a culture of outreach so that every ministry and every member is thinking about and participating in outreach. The Everyone Outreach workshops are designed to reveal the unconscious and invisible thought habits people hold and provide participants with unique insights to help begin the journey of transformation.

“Everyone Outreach is a culture-shaping program. If a congregation is not outreach minded, if it’s just not part of who they are, it would be great for them to use this program to shape the way they think so they think more about outreach,” says Roecker. “And then, after that, they can use some of the personal witness training Bible studies, like Let’s Go, so now that members are fired up to [reach out], they can become equipped to do it.”

All members of a congregation are encouraged to attend. Learn more or sign up your congregation to host a workshop at everyoneoutreach.com.

Let’s Go
While Everyone Outreach is designed to develop an outreach culture congregation-wide, Let’s Go is designed to encourage and equip Christians to become more comfortable and confident personal witnesses. The course is divided into seven lessons, each consisting of a video and an accompanying study guide and leader’s guide. The lessons are designed to be used by either large or small group Bible study gatherings as well as by individual Christians. Let’s Go dials in the conversation from “what can the congregation do for outreach,” to “how can I talk to my friends and neighbors about Jesus.” Get the resources at welscongregationalservices.net/lets-go.

The WELS Congregational Services website, welscongregationalservices.net, has a host of additional resources, including National Hymnal Week (Sept. 19-26, 2021) information; Marriage Moments videos; Marriage Maintenance Bible study; One By One personal witnessing Bible study; compassion ministry resources about ministry to military members, learning to be a recovery-friendly church, ministry to the deaf and hard of hearing, and training to identify and respond to child abuse; resources for different aspects of worship and worship planning; and much more.

 

 

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New videos encourage married couples to “take a moment”

“Marriage is foundational to so many things in our society, including our congregations,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship. “If we want solid congregations, healthy marriages are so important. Yet biblical marriage is under intense attack in our current culture.”

Rev. Tom Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and an advisory member of the WELS Commission on Discipleship, agrees. “Every marriage has its moments,” notes Kock. “Moments of boredom or even some not-so-good moments. So every marriage needs moments of encouragement and refreshment. That’s the thought behind Marriage Moments.”

Marriage Moments is a new series of videos in which one marriage thought is briefly explored and then one question or “for further thought” exercise is added—all in two minutes or less. Kock hosts the videos and uses Scripture to anchor each lesson. One new video is released each week, so couples can focus on that one aspect of their marriage for the week.

Karrie and Dave Balza, members at Divine Savior, West Palm Beach, Fla., have watched several of the videos together. “In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, it’s nice to have a bite-sized piece of God’s Word to place on your heart,” says Karrie. “We think the questions are the best part because they are a great way to dig deeper and really connect with your spouse.”

Although the videos were originally designed by the Commission on Discipleship for individual couples to use at home, Dobberstein encourages congregations to also consider how they could use these videos in their ministry, including as a tool for pre-marriage or marriage counseling or in small group Bible studies.

For more information or to subscribe, visit welscongregationalservices.net/marriage-moments.

 

 

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WELS Family Devotions

New family devotions from WELS Discipleship

WELS Commission on Discipleship has started offering devotions developed for the entire family to use. The devotions will coincide with the previous Sunday’s Bible readings. Each devotion is complete with a set of questions for different age groups, a prayer, and hymn verses that can be sung or spoken. Downloadable printable versions are available as well.

You can subscribe to have the devotions e-mailed to you at wels.net/subscribe, find them on the WELS Facebook page fb.com/welslutherans, or visit wels.net/family-devotions.

“The foundation of the Christian family begins at home. What an opportunity in coming weeks for parents to commit to starting and sustaining a good and godly habit,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Commission on Discipleship.

These family devotions will be offered three times a week. Dobberstein says this should more likely set up families for success. “We didn’t want to set up families to feel like they are failing if they miss a devotion. The goal is to create a doable program to help families who may have no devotional life or who struggle to keep it going. With this model, families can use them as they have time throughout the week.”

He says the devotions have been developed to assist parents and children in the spiritual life at home, encourage people to follow God’s instructions for home devotional life, teach families how and when to have home devotions, and encourage congregations in their support of their member families.

“Just a few short weeks ago, family calendars were blissfully filled with future events, meetings, games, and activities,” says Dobberstein. “These devotions can help parents spend spiritual time with their children during this time of upheaval and uncertainty.”

 

 

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Youth rally registration opening soon

It’s time for congregations to round up their teens and start planning for the 2020 WELS International Youth Rally. The theme for this year’s rally is “Vision 2020.”

“We want thousands of teens to see Christ clearly, and seeing Christ clearly will be the motivation to serve Christ boldly,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Commission on Discipleship. “This rally will position Christ and the cross in front of teenagers for clarity of faith and motivation to boldly serve.”

The 2020 youth rally will be held June 23-26 at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Registration opens March 2 and is $375 per attendee through April 30. Registration from May 1–May 29 is $395 per attendee.

In addition to a wide variety of workshops and fellowship opportunities with more than 2,000 fellow Christians, the rally features two keynote speakers. Rev. Joel Russow, Faith, Tallahassee, Fla., will present “Focused Living” based on Colossians 3:12-14. His address will focus on the characteristics with which Christian’s should clothe themselves: “Instead of stressing over concerns like ‘What will I do with my life?’ or ‘How can I make a difference?’ what if we put on the outfit God has given us to wear and then serve? God has already given you the perfect outfit for a heroic life of faith and for a difference-making life of service. Wear it!”

Rev. Jon Bare, Pastoral Studies Institute, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, will present a keynote on a Christian’s “Clear Purpose,” based on 1 Peter 2:8,9. His presentation will discuss: “As God’s children, we live with a clear purpose—to praise God! . . . But what about when we face the realities of living in a broken world? What about when all we can see is very real persecution for who we are? What about when our own failures or lacking blur our sight?”

Contact Youth Leaders—the main point of contact between your church’s group and the youth rally office–can preregister their group members starting March 2. After preregistration, members of the group will receive personalized links to complete their registration and payment.

Detailed registration and rally information is available in the youth rally registration book.

Learn more and view videos about the 2020 WELS International Youth Rally.

 

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Lutheran Leadership Conference to kick off 2020

WELS Congregational Services will host the first WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 21-23. WELS Congregational Services works under the Conference of Presidents to help congregations assess, plan, and carry out gospel ministry.

The conference will have five keynote presentations that deal with major cultural challenges before every WELS congregation. Twenty-five breakout sessions will deal with issues specific to certain congregations, including overcoming a consumer mentality in church, Christian apologetics, increasing volunteerism, retaining and gaining young members, fully utilizing the gifts of women in ministry, equipping members for personal evangelism, having a “high-expectations” church, strategic planning, using social media for outreach, operating a financially sustainable elementary school, and more.

“I hope individuals walk away from this conference with three things,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of Congregational Services. “First, I hope they are motivated to throw themselves into gospel ministry in every way: feeding the faithful, reaching the lost, and pursuing the straying. Second, I hope attendees better understand the massive challenges before our congregations but also realize that God will help us meet those challenges. Finally, I hope that they can take home some practical resources from the breakout sessions that they can immediately implement in their mission efforts.”

The National Conference on Lutheran Leadership is open to all: called workers and lay volunteers, men and women, lifelong Lutherans and new congregants. Congregations are encouraged to send multiple participants to the conference.

“A church gets the most out of a conference like this when there is a critical mass of members attending,” Hein says. “They can divide up and hit every relevant breakout. They can present a united, excited voice when they go back to their congregation.”

Travel rebates are available for congregations that send three or more individuals to the event.

Registration is now open, with an early registration discount through Oct. 31. Register online at lutheranleadership.com. There you can also find free promotional materials—including a video, posters, social media graphics, and other digital images.

 

 

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Learning to be a church that welcomes members home

As part of its “Welcome Home” initiative resources, WELS Congregational Services released a series of four videos with accompanying Bible studies to address some of the most common reasons Christians stop attending church and how to show love and minister to these members. The videos are meant to be used by congregational leaders and members to guide congregations as they strive to bring straying sheep back to the Good Shepherd. Rev. Nate Bourman, Mt. Lebanon, Milwaukee, Wis., was featured in the videos discussing how to be a welcoming congregation.

Bourman explains that a welcoming church is “a church where no one stands or sits alone; everyone feels comfortable and safe. A place where everyone knows what is going on and feels that they can navigate the facilities or get information about our congregation. A place where parents, adults, and children feel safe to hear God’s Word and can easily participate and are welcomed to participate.”

He says the most common reasons he’s heard that members haven’t felt welcome is because they weren’t greeted, no one talks to them, and they felt like an outsider. “It’s possible to be a stranger in your own house,” says Bourman.

It’s important that all members participate in being a welcoming church. “Care and concern for the members of the church is not just the pastor’s job. It is not just the elders’ job. It is the job of each and every member. Love calls us to participate in their care. None of us sits on the sidelines when it comes to welcoming God’s people home,” says Bourman. “All are coming to church with sin and weakness and brokenness and frustration. Be part of the throng rejoicing to gather for worship with each other.”

All congregations are encouraged to participate in the Welcome Home Sunday, either Oct. 20 or 27, 2019. The mission is to “pack the church” with every member. The four videos and accompanying Bible studies in the Welcoming Returning Members series—“Members drawn away because of sin,” “Members who left after being sinned against,” “Members whose needs were ignored,” and “Members who left for another church”—are available at welscongregationalservices.net/welcome-home.

 

 

 

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C19: Sharing the meaning of Christmas with others

According to current research, Christmas is the most appealing time for the unchurched and dechurched to attend a worship service. That makes C19, this year’s synodwide outreach campaign for Christmas, a critical opportunity.

Available from WELS Congregational Services, C19 equips congregations and individuals to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with others in their community and to invite them to Christmas worship services. This year’s theme is “God so loved the world.”

“Many people look at the pain and suffering in our world and conclude that either there is no God or that, if there is a God, he doesn’t love the world,” explains Rev. Eric Roecker, director of WELS Commission on Evangelism. “Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem proves that God does indeed love the world, a world that includes every single soul.”

Here are some of the resources that are available:

  • Worship materials for Christmas. C19 provides ready-to-use worship folder templates with liturgy and music that edify heart, soul, and mind.
  • Evangelism materials for Christmas Eve. Low-cost outreach postcards as well as free Facebook video advertisement and digital files to post on church websites are available to share the message of the theme.
  • School resources. C19 provides guidance for using schools as outreach arms during the Christmas season. The program resources help encourage even the youngest WELS members to invite others to worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Special needs ministry. C19 includes materials to help congregations reach out to families who have children with special needs.

About 70 percent of WELS congregations utilized some or all of the resources provided through 2018’s synodwide outreach campaign, C18. Its goal was to reach one million souls, and Roecker has high hopes again this year with C19: “With the Lord’s blessing, we would like to see more than one million people invited,” he says.

Many C19 materials will be offered as free downloads at welscongregationalservices.net/c19. Some materials are available now; others will be provided in the coming weeks. Pastors and interested laypeople should sign up now to receive updates, which will include notices when new materials are posted online as well as planning tips and timelines to carry out the program successfully.

 

 

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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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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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