WELS Youth Rally wraps up

From June 26-29, Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, hosted the WELS International Youth Rally. Approximately 2,100 WELS teens and youth leaders gathered for worship, learning, and fellowship under the theme “Never Alone.” This theme was based on the message of Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Attendees were assured that God is ever-present in their lives and that they are not isolated in their belief.

The teens and leaders alike were encouraged and entertained by the events of the rally.

Sophia Busse, Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., remarked, “It’s been really incredible. I’ve never been with so many people who share the same faith.” This was Busse’s first time attending the rally, and she called it a “really cool experience.”

Tabitha Vannieuwenhoven, Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., enjoyed discussing topics of faith with new people at the rally. “I loved all the workshops and hearing everybody else’s point of view on stuff that my friends and I talk about.”

Youth Leader David Denninger, Redeemer, Maple Grove, Minn., gathered a great deal of knowledge from other leaders to take back to his home congregation, “It’s eye-opening, and you know you’re not alone. There are resources out there, and they’re plentiful. People are giving you ideas about what you can do, and you can do it in your church no matter what the size.”

Rev. Donn Dobberstein was installed as the director of discipleship for WELS’ Congregational Services on the final day of the rally. Affirming the mission of the event, he shared a story he heard from a Florida pastor about his group of teens: “One of them was a teen girl who had just been baptized six months ago. To be able to see this event through her eyes—the eyes of someone who is new to the faith—and then to experience it on a large scale with youth from all over the nation . . . to me, that is what the event means: To let the kids know, like the rally theme says, ‘You are never alone.’”

Rev. John Boggs, a member of the rally planning committee and chairman for the WELS Commission on Discipleship, hopes that the event has a lasting impact on the attitudes of all the WELS teens who were in attendance. “It’s to give them—even if it’s just for a few days—an opportunity to celebrate the fact that their God knows who they are, their God deeply loves them, and he has put people in their lives who want to build them up instead of tear them down,” says Boggs, pastor at Divine Savior, West Palm Beach, Fla. “That’s hopefully something they’ll take with them throughout their lives at this critical time.”

The rally was organized by the WELS Commission on Discipleship. View photos from the rally on Flickr.

View WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder’s welcome to the attendees.




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WELS teens gathering for biennial rally

The 2018 WELS International Youth Rally will host over 2,000 WELS teens at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Bowling Green, Ohio, for four days of entertainment and fellowship from June 26-29, 2018. This is the largest gathering of WELS members for any regular event.

Attendees will attend worship, workshops, devotions, a comedy show, and a live concert performance by the Christian band Koiné. They will also have the opportunity to participate in activities like swimming, ice-skating, rock climbing, basketball, volleyball, and more.

The theme for this year’s rally is “Never Alone,” based on the message of Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Member of the rally committee, Rev. John Boggs, believes this is a relatable and meaningful message for WELS youth: “Our kids live in an increasingly crazy world where they always have people around them and access to others via technology, yet they can feel as if they have no one to turn to,” he said. Boggs says he hopes attendees cherish the message that God is with them even when they are troubled by the chaos of the world.

The keynote speaker for Wednesday is Rev. Dustin Blumer, who will discuss building courage though faith. Blumer currently serves at Amazing Love, Frankfort, Ill., a church he was called to establish ten years ago.

The keynote speakers for Thursday are Steve and Sarah Schroeder, who will talk about how God’s presence eases all of life’s worries. Steve and Sarah will share how their faith has supported them throughout Steve’s military career.

“WELS youth are not just the future of the synod; they are the here-and-now and need our focus, our love, and training in God’s precious Word,” Boggs says.

WELS Director of Discipleship Rev. Donn Dobberstein echoes this perspective, saying, “We need to equip and encourage young people as much as possible. We have the opportunity and responsibility to hand the baton of the gospel to the next generation.”

Follow the rally as it happens at; on Instagram @WELSLutherans; and on Twitter @WELStweets, using #WELSYouthRally2018.



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Registration opens for 2018 youth rally

Registration is now open for the 2018 WELS International Youth Rally, June 26-29, in Bowling Green, Ohio. WELS teens from around the country and the world will meet under the theme “Never Alone,” based on Matthew 28:20, to learn about how God’s Word applies to their lives and to meet fellow Christian youth.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, WELS director of discipleship, says, “Our church body can never over-invest the time spent with the youth of our congregations. In a day and age that makes it increasingly easy to ‘drift away’ from faith or the church, a youth rally experience gathers WELS teens together to see undisputable proof—they are not alone in their faith! It’s an event that personally encourages WELS teens to confront their doubts in faith and understand better how they truly are a highly-valued part of Christ’s church.”

If congregations haven’t already, it’s time to get a group together to attend. To register, each group needs a contact youth leader who will be the main point of communication prior to and during the rally. The contact youth leader registers first, and once the university processes their registration, the rest of the group can register individually. New this year, every youth leader must submit information for a background check. Also, the cost went down this year. The registration fee is $345 until April 30 and then $370 until May 31 when registration closes.

The theme, “Never Alone,” seems an important message now more than ever. Mrs. Kris Snyder, the youth rally planner, says, “From social media to politics, random violence to racial tensions, we are constantly on edge. We are surrounded by a tornado of information and activity, yet we can feel isolated. What a comfort to know that God remains in control. He sent Jesus to make us God’s children. And Jesus promises, ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).”

Attendees will participate in worship services with 2,000 of their peers as well as choose from a range of workshops with topics relevant to their lives, including “Can I be a ninja when I grow up?”, “#notawkward: dating and relationships,” “Got self esteem?”, “Discover your mission,” and more. In addition to the spiritual workshops for teens, recreational workshops will also be offered as well as workshops for the youth leaders.

Snyder says, “Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is an excellent campus for the 2018 WELS International Youth Rally. It’s self-contained and compact, no more than a ten-minute walk from one end to the other, and no major streets to cross. BGSU has a wide variety of recreational buildings including an ice rink and indoor facility with artificial turf in addition to the rock climbing wall, large pool, and several basketball courts. They also have a great deal of green space to fill with inflatables, bands, and fun!”

Dobberstein says, “My hopeful prayer is that on the return trip home, our youth are challenged to see themselves as called and equipped by Christ for meaningful works of service in their churches. The way the gospel is unleashed is through THEM as they carry Christ’s light into their homes, their schools, their places of work, and their neighborhoods. WELS teens are vital to the mission of our churches. Let them participate actively in it!”

Learn more and register at

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.”

New youth ministry resource available

Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders, a new downloadable resource for church leaders to help them develop youth ministry programs is now available for purchase from Northwestern Publishing House to download.

“About two-thirds of the young people who are confirmed in WELS churches are still attending church as often as once a month by the time they are 19 years old.” That is one of the findings of a study WELS conducted in the early 2000s about youth membership in our churches. It was also estimated that less than 20 percent of WELS young people are retained in the church from the time of their baptism until age 30.

More recent studies by independent research groups have shown similar trends with youth in other denominations. For example, a 2013 Barna Group survey found that nearly 60 percent of Millennials with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out of going to church after having gone regularly.

“Research shows that youth are falling away from big mega churches, just as much as our churches,” says Rev. Jon Enter, pastor at Hope, West Palm Beach, Fla., and youth coordinator for the South Atlantic District. “We need to do something about this, but many congregations don’t know where to start.”

That was the impetus for creating the new eight-part video series that includes presentations by youth workers from around the synod and shares ideas and resources to help congregations transform their youth ministries.

“It all boils down to the spiritual aspect of our kids,” says Enter, who is leading this effort. “If they continue to grow in their faith and they have ownership in our churches, then they stay engaged.” That’s why the videos — which include topics like Christian mentoring, games and activities, youth-driven Bible studies and faith experiences — focus on helping youth create meaningful relationships with each other, with their churches, and with God’s Word.

“We have done a great job of training our kids in school and in confirmation class,” says Enter. “They have a very informed faith. But they struggle with sharing it and using it. So instead of just a cerebral thing, we want this to be a heart and soul thing. We want to completely connect kids into the DNA of their local church and get them to actively serve. We want them to feel like this is ‘my’ church.”

Along with the downloadable videos, which focus on the importance of the different aspects of youth ministry, congregations can also access a collection of Bible studies, recommended reading, and “how-to” resources for their youth ministries. To purchase Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders, visit Within one business day of purchase, you’ll receive an e-mail with access information and a password to view the videos and download the resources.

For more information about the program, watch Enter’s presentation at the 2016 Youth Rally at




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Summary of the September meeting of the COP

The Conference of Presidents (COP) held its fall meeting on Sept. 20-23 at the Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The COP received a number of reports and presentations from groups such as Martin Luther College, the Reformation 500 Committee, the Commission on Lutheran Schools, the Commission on Congregational Counseling, WELS Christian Aid and Relief, and the Compensation Review Committee. The Conference of Presidents welcomed four newly elected members: Rev. David Kolander (Southeastern Wisconsin), Rev. Michael Jensen (Western Wisconsin), Rev. Chuck Westra (South Atlantic), and Rev. Phil Hirsch (Nebraska).

Items of business and actions taken included:

  • The Reformation 500 Committee continues to make plans for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The committee is producing books and Bible study materials for use in congregations and also has been directly involved in the production of a documentary that will be aired nationally on PBS. The committee also will compile and publicize a list of various Reformation-related activities throughout the synod.
  • The COP received an update on formal doctrinal discussions taking place between WELS, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), and the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). A joint statement on when church bodies need to sever fellowship for doctrinal reasons was adopted by the nine-member committee. The statement was adopted by the ELS convention last summer, shared with WELS district conventions (and will be considered at the 2017 WELS convention), and was discussed at the CLC convention last summer with directions for further study in CLC pastoral conferences. The committee plans to meet again in August 2017.
  • The COP received an update on the synod archives project. The space for the archives has been prepared, and the archivist (Susan Willems) has been working at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to prepare the archives collection for relocation. The first phase of the move will take place this fall, with the remainder of the materials to be moved in the spring. In addition to the archives, the space on the lower level of the Center for Mission and Ministry also includes a visitor center with displays depicting synod history and current ministry programs.
  • The COP received an update on the development of a revised catechism, scheduled to be released in 2017.
  • A special committee had been appointed to review the Military Chaplaincy to determine if military policies had changed sufficiently to allow WELS to participate. After a yearlong review, the committee concluded that the original reasons preventing WELS from participating had not changed and recommended that WELS continue to serve military personnel with civilian chaplains. The committee also encouraged all WELS congregations to do as much as they can to provide ministry support to military personnel.
  • In keeping with a resolution of the 2015 convention, the COP will appoint a committee to oversee a thorough review of the newly revised Christian Standard Bible (formerly the Holman Christian Standard Bible). The Translation Liaison Committee has been providing suggestions to the translators of the Christian Standard Bible, and many, if not most, of those recommendations have been accepted.
  • In an effort to assist organizations and groups as they plan conferences and seminars, the COP adopted guidelines that can be used when speakers and topics are chosen for such events. The guidelines encourage early communication between the planners and the president of the district(s) in which such events are planned.
  • The COP once again reiterated its support for the calling of a director of Family Ministry. This position would provide leadership to the Commission on Youth and Family Ministry and to the Commission on Adult Discipleship. Some discussion has begun about whether or not it would be beneficial to combine these two commissions into a single group assisting congregations in addressing spiritual needs of both adults and youth. The Synodical Council will now consider this position as it develops the Ministry Financial Plan for 2017-19.
  • The COP is working toward the timely submission of both Congregation Mission Offering subscriptions and congregational statistics. The goal is to have all congregations submit this information in a timely way, with district presidents encouraged to follow up with congregations that do not provide the information.
  • The COP is working with the director of communications to improve the process for preparing delegates for the synod convention.
  • The COP is making plans to give appropriate expressions of thanks to God when the synod capital debt is fully eliminated in the coming months.
  • A special committee conducting a thorough review of the Ministry of Christian Giving has submitted a preliminary report. Initial recommendations from the committee include the calling of additional Christian giving counselors who work with individuals to encourage current gifts. The COP resolved to request that the Synodical Council approve the addition of one counselor in the next biennial ministry financial plan if possible.
  • The COP encouraged WELS Lutheran high schools to complete their study of the COP-produced Bible study dealing with fellowship principles and applications in our schools. The COP looks forward to hearing reactions, questions, and input from all of the schools.
  • The COP was informed that People of Grace, an organization that has made many presentations throughout the synod on the subject of same-sex attraction, has announced that it is an educational and informational organization (not a ministry) no longer affiliated with WELS. Even though the main presenter is a WELS member, non-WELS members are now serving on its board of directors. Congregations, schools, and other groups will need to be aware of this when they consider inviting this organization to make presentations.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder



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Transforming Youth Ministry

WELS youth ministers are recognizing the importance of Christian mentoring and working to create meaningful relationships with young adults.

Alicia A. Neumann

It all started two years ago at a conference at St. Croix Lutheran High School, West St. Paul, Minn. Approximately 40 WELS youth workers from around the country met to talk about their ministries. “We spent a weekend talking about what’s going on with our youth,” says Kory Henkel, member at Rock of Ages, Madison, Tenn., and one of the presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family. “We found out that regardless of where we are in the country, we are all having the same issues and the same challenges with youth ministry.”

Reaching the youth

Those challenges include youth members becoming disconnected with the church after they are confirmed, particularly in high school and college. “We’re living in a post-truth society, and we see how all of this is impacting youth ministry as well,” says Henkel. “Faith priorities are made by the time you’re 18. If you’re not actively involved in a church, the chances of you becoming involved are very slim. It’s a very important, formative time. As a church, we have a great opportunity to reach people who are forming their opinions and their entire lives.”

According to Henkel, one of the biggest thing kids are looking for is affinity. “With social media, we’ve never been more connected, but they’re not real relationships,” he says. “Relationships with their friends, classmates, and peers are oftentimes fragmented and shallow. So we have the amazing opportunity to show the youth of our congregations what real, genuine relationships look like by showing them the love of their Savior Jesus—not just in Bible study, but in everyday life.”

He says the best youth ministry happens when adults grow in faith and live authentic lives with teenagers. “Do normal things; live your life with kids and show them Christ through that,” he says. “Mentor-based relationships are important, and they are missing in the lives of kids today. By equipping families, lay leaders, and pastors to mentor kids through their formative years, we can transform that head knowledge into heart knowledge.”

Practicing Christian mentoring

Tad Schubring, director of youth education at St. Mark, De Pere, Wis., is doing just that. Schubring has been involved with Christian mentoring for the past five years. During that time, he has started a program to provide training and encouragement for other adults who want to start mentoring.

When he first started looking at Christian mentoring, Schubring went to a youth ministry conference that spent a lot of time explaining what it meant to be a mentor. “In Mark 3:14, it says that Jesus appointed 12 that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach,” says Schubring. “Jesus could have had 5,000 people with him all of the time, but he chose not to. He wanted to go deeper with a few. So Christian mentoring is modeled after that—spending quality time with youth and having an intentional relationship with them.”

Schubring says that motivated him to get involved with mentoring, but he didn’t know where to start. “I remember sitting down when I first heard about this, thinking, How am I going to do this? Where do I start? I don’t feel qualified. I don’t have enough time in the day. How is this going to work?” he says. “But thankfully the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up.”

He said a book called The Be-With Factor helped clarify some things for him. “I looked at all of the people God had already put in my life; I needed to be intentional with those people and share the gospel with my actions,” says Schubring. “It’s very clear in James and throughout the Bible that that’s what you’re supposed to do and that is how we love God—by obeying his commands, by being intentional and being held accountable to those people God has put in your life.”

He talked to families in his congregation about the ministry and began looking for young people who were interested in being mentored. One of them was Macario Sierra. “I was up for it,” says Sierra. “I thought that it would be good for me to be mentored by someone like Tad because I looked up to him and I saw how happy he was with his life. I wanted to be as happy as he was.”

Schubring and Sierra met each week after school for several months. “We’d go out to grab a bite to eat or hang out around the church and discuss what was going on with my life,” says Sierra. “Tad would often give me great advice on how to deal with things.”

According to Sierra, that was one of the best parts about being mentored. “It was great having someone to talk to, someone who went through what I was kind of going through in high school, and also just having a friend,” says Sierra. “Tad was able to lead me in the right directions in choices that I made. It gave me sort of an idea of what I wanted in life and what I should expect from myself.”

Sierra says he would definitely recommend mentoring to others. “It’s a great thing to be a part of, because it helps both people involved and it helps both of you grow,” he says. “It offers a chance to better yourself and to better someone else, creates a new bond, and gives you a friend you can rely on. Same thing for adults who have the opportunity to be a mentor—give it a chance and take the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Schubring says mentoring Sierra and others has made a big impact on him. “The biggest takeaway is remembering that mentoring is being about caught in the act of being a Christian,” he says. “Be yourself, have fun, and share the gospel through your actions when you’re with them.”

Schubring says mentoring has also changed the way he looks at youth ministry. “Jesus gave us the Great Commission and reassures that us that he’ll be with us always,” he says. “So knowing this, you look at things differently. When I started out doing youth ministry, the measure was the number of people. But now God has given me a new measuring stick. It’s not about the numbers anymore; it’s about depth with individuals. And what better way to create a deep, meaningful relationship than to be with them.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.

This is the first article in a four-part series on youth ministry. Next month’s article will focus on games, mixers, and activities and youth-driven Bible studies.


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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