Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach

WELS maintains one of the largest private school systems in the United States. The greatest growth in WELS’ school system over the past 20 years has been in early childhood ministries. Many congregations have started early childhood ministries to reach into their communities to share the gospel with nonmember families and create a gateway for new members to join the church. Research has shown, though, that while these ministries are doing a wonderful job sharing God’s Word with their young students, most are not reaching their students’ families. To help congregations create a harvest strategy that might better share God’s Word with these families, the Commissions on Evangelism and Lutheran Schools created Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach.  

Telling the Next Generation is a daylong workshop (pictured: below, left) that helps congregation and school leaders focus on their joint mission, build relationships within the church and with school families, and develop an organized program to connect school families with the Word. From April 2016 through September 2017, 17 workshops were held in 11 of WELS’ 12 districts. Almost 800 people from 109 congregations participated.  

“The Telling the Next Generation workshop has had an incredible impact on the early childhood ministry of Apostles,” says Rev. Jay Bickelhaupt, pastor at Apostles, Billings, Mont. “We walked away with a detailed ministry plan and a refreshed focus to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus to children and their families. Our meetings and future planning have become more streamlined as we go forward with our agreed upon outreach and evangelism goals.”  

Bickelhaupt also reports that within two weeks of the workshop, God blessed Apostles with two preschool families in the congregation’s Bible basics class. As he notes, “Telling the Next Generation has empowered our ministry team spiritually with the gospel and has provided the practical lessons we needed to position our early childhood ministry as an outreach arm to our community.”  

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Preparing principals to lead

Serving as a principal in a WELS school has grown in complexity over the years. The 21st-Century Principal Initiative recognizes that fact and encourages a shift in thinking and action from the traditional WELS principal approach. This initiative, coordinated by Lutheran Schools and Martin Luther College, encourages congregations and schools to structure the principal position in a way that respects the complexity and importance of the task and the training it requires. In addition, Lutheran Schools and Martin Luther College are providing training before a teacher is called to be a principal to help prepare a worker for this important role. The first cohort of seven teachers with leadership potential began Leadership Candidate Training in 2017.