“I triple dog dare ya.”

“I triple dog dare ya.”

Doubtless, you’re familiar with the scene from the classic movie “A Christmas Story.”

Ralphie explained: “Now, Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat…. Flick’s spine stiffened. His lips curled in a defiant sneer. There was no going back now.”

The scene closes with a boy stuck by his tongue to a frozen pole crying for help.

There’s something about dares, isn’t there? We might pretend we’ve outgrown it. But, let’s be honest, a good challenge has some pull.

That’s why A God-Lived Life stewardship challenge is designed the way it is. It is designed to challenge God’s people to live the life to which he has called them. The hope is that being challenged in specific ways will urge them on to a closer walk with God and a life of love toward others.

A God-lived Life lasts for four months. Each month is kicked off by a special “God-Lived Life” Sunday with a sample sermon, worship helps, and a Bible study which are followed by a month’s worth of devotions for weekly emails or meetings. On that special “God-Lived Life” Sunday, members get a chance to commit to challenges they want to take on for the next four weeks. For example, the first month is understanding that a “God-Lived Life” is a life lived as a disciple, so people can choose to challenge themselves to do things a disciple does. Some of the challenges connect people to the community of believers, like “attending Sunday morning Bible Study every Sunday this month,” or “connecting on Zoom to four midweek Bible Studies.” Some of the challenges are fulfilled personally, like “having family devotion at least three times a week this month” or “reading my Bible for 15 minutes each day.” Since they are only committing to one month of activity, these things we all want to do and know we should be doing become a little more doable. Lord willing, as he works in people’s hearts and they experience the blessings of these activities, they will continue in them. As my congregation piloted A God-Lived Life this past year, we saw it do that. We saw people excited for opportunities to use who they were in God’s service. We saw people appreciative of the variety of ways to live out their callings. That’s what the monthly challenges gave them.

One interesting aspect of the program is the opportunity for the leaders of the congregation to come up with their own challenges. The program provides a list of ideas, but you’ll be challenged to come up with your own as well. The discussions and brainstorming among leaders can produce a broader congregational buy-in as they come up with some great opportunities for people to do the kinds of things they want to do because Christ’s love lives in them. For our congregation, a food drive for the homeless shelter made sense because there was a real need right in our backyard and we could demonstrate that a God-lived life was a “Life lived for Others.” With people struggling for connectedness through Covid, “A Life of Hospitality” showed as members committed to connecting with those who were shut-in to encourage them each week that month. With the purchase of new hymnals right around the corner, we could exercise “A Life Lived Shrewdly” by sacrificing something to participate in our “Christmas Gift for God’s House” which went toward our pre-order. When given the opportunity, God’s people stepped up to the challenges.

Will you? Or, as Schwartz asked in the movie, “Are you chicken?” Seriously though, I challenge you to take advantage of all the free resources designed to bless you and your congregation. Challenge your people to be what God has made them, to be more of what they want to be. Do it. I triple dog dare ya.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf
Abiding Grace, Covington GA

This blog anticipates the May release of A God-Lived Life congregational stewardship challenge.



Giving God Glory and Going All In

Everything we have is a gift from God. If you think through the gifts God gives, the most important ones fit nicely into five categories. They can be called the 5 “T”s. God gives us everything we have, and he wants us to put him first when it comes to our time, talents, treasures, temple, and his truth. Ask the average Christian what “stewardship” is, and they will tell you it’s when the church talks about money. That’s only part of it. A steward is another word for “manager.” So, stewardship is managing God’s resources God’s way because of God’s love—not just 10% of our money but managing 100% of everything God gives us. A God-Lived Life stewardship challenge seeks to stress the “whole life” approach to stewardship.

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my talents…

I love how God describes our relationship to him and to one another. The apostle Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). You are the body of Christ. What’s Paul’s point? First, in the body, there is nothing I want to sacrifice. Do you think you are unimportant to the Jesus’ body? Think again! Every part is useful! Do you think your toenails are unimportant? Well, I once golfed with someone who needed to wear flip-flops because of an accident where he lost his big toenail. He would tell you just how important it is! Second, in the body, you are unique. There is no one with the exact same set of gifts as you. The body needs you! And because you are part of a body, there is no need for jealousy inside of the church. Because your gift is mine and mine is yours—we are part of one body! When a pitcher throws a no hitter, the headline does not read, “Pitcher’s right arm won the game!” No, the whole body gets credit.

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my time…

How much time in an average day would you say you waste? Probably more than we’d like to admit. Prime suspects? TV, devices, internet, Facebook… it’s ironic that so many of the things that are meant to save us time are the very things we waste time on. Not that those aren’t great things. Is watching a 21-minute Netflix episode at night to wind down a bad thing? No. But what if hours of binge watching begins to take priority over time with family or friends? Or worse, God? You see my point!

Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Jesus says that the fact that our earthly lives don’t last forever means time is limited. So make the most of every opportunity in the time God has given you on earth. We are using this time to “get ready” and “get other people ready” for the paradise that is waiting for us. Managing our time well is something that gives God glory!

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my temple…

God wants us to be managers of the body or the temple he has given to us. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That puts how I treat my body into perspective. How do you treat temples?

He says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” We were once penniless and alone, destined for the fire of hell and an eternity of suffering. Then someone saw us, took pity on us, and simply put… loved us. Jesus went to the Father in heaven and said, “How much will it take to buy them?” And the Father said, “Only the most priceless offering will do.” So Jesus offered himself on a cross. You were bought at price. That’s almost an understatement. What is the only thing we can think to do? Honor God with the body he has given you—it brings him glory!

Going all in and giving God glory by managing his truth…

God wants us to manage his truth. He has entrusted it to us. 1 Corinthians 4:1 says, “People ought to regard us servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” Okay, so how do you manage God’s truth? Think about what you have in the Bible. You have a love letter from your Father in heaven signed in the blood of Jesus that tells you all the answers to life’s biggest questions, provides you with counsel for every situation, comforts you in every tragedy, and promises you the riches of heaven because of Jesus’ life and death for you. This is the truth you have been entrusted—what does it mean to manage it? Read it every day. Keep it pure by not trying to explain away plain truth or let other’s attack the truth without a response. Read it every day. Share it with everyone in your life. Read it every day. Let it alone guide your life. Did I mention, read it every day?

Going all in and giving God glory by managing my treasures…

1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up.” Let’s break down what this teaches us about how we want to give. “On the first day” – This is what we were just talking about with priority. What would you rather have, contentment or a billion dollars? The right answer is “contentment.” You can’t have contentment unless God is the priority. “Of each week” – We will want to give an offering regularly or whenever we have been blessed. Do you get paid once per month? Then regular can be once per month. As we are blessed, so we give. At my previous congregation, looking at the records from 100 years ago, it looked like every October the church was woefully behind budget, but then come December, budget was always met. Were they not regular in their offerings? They were because they were farmers and farmers get paid when the crops come in! “Each one of you” – Everyone who has received can give—even kids! This is remarkable training both for the child and you. When Grandpa and grandma gives my 4-year-old $5 for her birthday and I ask her how much she wants to give to Jesus, do you know what they say at that age? “All of it.” And then I’m in the awkward position of saying, “Well, you don’t have to give all of it.” But there’s a lesson in that. Why is she willing to give it all? Because she implicitly trusts me to provide for her needs. We should, too! “Set aside…in keeping with your income” – In other words, God wants us to plan our offerings and make them a proportionate amount of what we make. Is $10,000 a generous offering? Yes, if you make $50,000… but not if you make $1 billion. Managing our treasures is one way we say “Thank you, Jesus” and give God glory.

The great church musician, Johann Sebastian Bach, inscribed many of his music manuscripts with the initials “INJ” (In nominee Jesu—In Jesus’ Name) and “SDG” (Soli Deo Gloria—To God Alone be the Glory). Isn’t that a beautiful summary of our lives? This is how we wake up and live each day. We awake with the name of Jesus imprinted on us in our baptisms. And with the name of Jesus on our hearts we live the day to God’s glory alone. We carry out the everyday callings of father, mother, worker, employer, child, Christian for an extraordinary audience. An audience of One. At the end of the day, having washed you clean of every imperfection, he looks at you and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). You do this each day until the best day of all when God will say to you personally at the gate of heaven, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). And for all eternity, you will serve him, seeing him face to face.

The apostle Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). In view of God’s mercy with the cross of Christ before their eyes, I see Christians going all in and giving God glory. I see a mother feeding her child and showing that child how to love a husband. I see a father having a devotion with his son and wife. I see a factory worker making his quota and a high school boy studying hard for a test. I see an elderly man in a nursing home alone in his room with his hands folded and eyes closed in prayer. I see you, dear reader, reading of God’s love and how to serve him right now. There may be no else who sees them giving glory to God with their lives. But that’s okay. They all do it for an audience of One. And he’s smiling. To God alone be the glory!

Prof. David Scharf
Martin Luther College, New Ulm MN

This blog anticipates the May release of A God-Lived Life congregational stewardship challenge.



You don’t know…

Everyone has a story. You don’t know me until you know my story, and even then, you might not see my heart as Jesus sees it.

You don’t know me even when you hear I have an addiction. Because you don’t know, you might not guess: I’ve been told I need more than human help, and I’m wondering if that means church. You don’t know that I’m afraid I’d look like a hypocrite if I came to church. You might not suspect I worry that people at church might discover what a mess my life is and reject me.

You don’t know me even when you see I am angry or depressed. You might not guess that I am a gentle person whose trust has been violated. I seem disconnected from God, but could you guess it’s because I feel I sinned against by letting my abuser do what he did?

You want to see the hearts as Jesus sees them. “He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) The Lord who had compassion was not a bystander. Love for the lost drove him to the cross to take away the sins of the world.

You don’t know people’s stories but love for the lost drives you. You have found hope and eternal life at church, and you want others to find what you found. You want your church to be a place where people struggling to be sober are supported and encouraged. You want your church to be a place of healing for the survivor and protection for the trusting. Don’t be a bystander. Learn what you don’t know and then look at my heart with the compassion of Jesus.

New this month on the Congregational Services website:

A Compassion Ministry interview with Pastor Phil Merten on “Recovery Friendly Churches” – be sure to look for the “Download” tab to find a discussion guide you can use with your leaders or in Bible class!

WELS member “Anita” talks about the devastating spiritual effect of abuse she experienced. Take her words to heart and get the Standing Up for Children training for all who work with children at your church.

Rev. Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries



In 2018, Congregational Services coordinated the synod-wide C18 program, which had the ambitious goal of reaching one-million souls prior to or on Christmas Eve 2018. It was an outreach focus. In 2019, Congregational Services will roll out two programs, both more focused on WELS membership.

First is 10 for 10, a comprehensive financial stewardship program. We pray this program will help congregations enable members to grow in their trust in the providence of God, which is what leads generous giving.

Second is the Welcome Home initiative, an effort to aggressively pursue the 155,000 WELS members who attend worship twice a year or less. We pray that through Welcome Home, the Holy Spirit moves some of those individuals to begin gathering in Christian community more regularly. We also will provide resources and training, if needed, so that congregations might strengthen their Elder program in an effort to decrease levels of delinquency through earnest and prompt proclamation of law and gospel.

Let me describe both programs.

10 for 10

10 for 10 begins with a three-week worship/Bible study series. The suggest start date is Sunday, September 8, the weekend after Labor Day. It is typically a very well attended Sunday, as family vacations are over, and kids are heading back to school. The 10 for 10 program addresses financial stewardship evangelically and comprehensively.

On those three Sundays, the worship plan is for services to last approximately 45 minutes. Before people are dismissed, they participate in a coordinating 15-minute Bible study. Why do it this way? It comes down to the difference between a sermon and Bible study. A sermon is meant to show us both our sin and our Savior. Through the gospel, our faith is strengthened. This—the gospel—provides the motivation for all sanctified living. While sermons certainly contain application, typically there is not time to go into great depth with that application. That aim—in depth application—is better met in Bible study. However, only 11% of WELS members attend Bible study. Our hope is that by moving the Bible study into worship, not only will people get to apply Biblical principles of financial stewardship to their lives, but they also will get a taste of how fulfilling Bible study can be.

In the sermon during those three weeks, God’s people will hear how their Savior has rescued us from the punishment we deserve for our materialism and stinginess. God-willing, the Spirit will move them to want to live the new life—one of radical generosity—made possible in baptism. The Bible class will then give them the spiritual guidance on how to do just that.

This three-week series concludes with the people producing a giving plan for the next ten weeks. They are asked to consider striving for a target of ten-percent of their income. It is stressed repeatedly that while the tithe was mandated in the Old Testament, it is not in the New. Instead, ten-percent is suggested simply as a number which has frequent Biblical precedent. However, people can plan to give however the Spirit moves them—less than 10%… or more.

For the ten weeks after that series, people give according to the plan they prayerfully produced. We will provide ten weeks-worth of bulletin inserts and two-minute video vignettes for congregations to utilize if they choose. Those resources will always contain two things. First, they will contain ongoing spiritual encouragement to members as they follow through on their giving plan. Second, they will share a very quick summary of how our offerings make a world-wide impact through our synodical mission efforts.

NOTE: There is no synod “mission Sunday” this year. 10 for 10 replaces it. Instead of setting aside one Sunday to talk about our joint work, congregations can highlight various synodical efforts—world missions, home missions, special ministries, ministerial education, etc.—through the bulletin inserts and video vignettes over those ten weeks.

Where this program has been tested, the Holy Spirit has produced remarkable results. What is easy to measure is the numbers. Offerings typically trend up for those ten weeks between ten and thirty percent. When the ten weeks is over, the offerings almost always trend downward. However, they typically do not revert to the same level as before. Giving remains higher than before the program began, even though it is not as high as during the ten weeks.

What is harder to measure is the spiritual impact on the hearts of our people. In exit surveys, not a single person has said, “This was legalistic, taking about 10% offerings.” Instead, there was appreciation for the honest way the sins of materialism and stinginess were talked about. Most importantly, the giving was done joyfully in response to Christ Jesus saving us from those sins.

(If you would like to hear how 10 for 10 impacted one of the test congregations, you may contact Pastor Aaron Christie or Pastor Donn Dobberstein. Pastor Christie serves at Trinity Lutheran in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and is the author of the latest iteration of 10 for 10. Pastor Dobberstein is the director of WELS Commission on Discipleship, which coordinated the production of 10 for 10. He is also a member at Trinity. The offerings at Trinity rose 22% in the ten-week giving period. People repeatedly commented on how much they appreciated the program.)

One commonly identified need seen in Congregational Services is churches that are facing budget issues. Sometimes, this is due to dwindling membership. But often it is due to the fact that materialism is the modern-day Baal, and WELS members are not immune. The 10 for 10 program deals with financial stewardship aggressively, yet evangelically. The ultimate goal is not to shore up a church’s budget! It is to apply law and gospel to the hearts of God’s children so that their faith might be strengthened. As that happens, we will rejoice in any other fruits the Spirit wishes to produce.

All the resources for 10 to 10—worship plans, Bible studies, leader’s guides, promotional materials, etc.—will be available at welscongregationalservices.net by the end of May 2019. You can sign up there to receive weekly e-mail updates that keep you on track for the implementation of 10 for 10. For now, we’d suggest you set aside September 8, 15, and 22 for that three-week worship/Bible study series. (Ultimately, you could do the series whenever you wanted.)

Welcome Home

There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who come to church only one or two times per year. Many of those have not set foot in church in multiple years. They are drifting toward becoming what we call a “back door loss,” members who slip away from churches. In the Welcome Home initiative, Congregational Services will provide resources, training, and encouragement to go after those people. We want to welcome them back to their church home.

Churches will need to pick a date–October 20 or October 27—as Welcome Home Sunday. Why two possible dates? This Sunday is “pitched” to all members as an “everyone in attendance” type Sunday. “We want a service where 100% of our members are there! Let’s pack the place.” That way it does not seem to someone who has been absent that they are going to be singled out. “It’s great to have Joe back! He hasn’t been in church in fourteen months!” This is simply a day for everyone to attend. However, many of our congregations have teachers’ conferences in October. Thus, we have two optional dates for Welcome Home Sunday. Your church should pick the weekend which doesn’t have a teachers’ conference.

Worship that Sunday will focus on the blessings… the need… for Christian community. Christians simply are not wired to exist as rugged individuals. We need one another.

The resources will suggest ways to make that Sunday special: a fellowship meal, Fall Festival, activities for kids, etc. The goal is to get 100% of your members there, including those who rarely come to church, maybe who have not been in church in years.

Welcome Home Sunday will be followed by a Welcome Home sermon series that will coincide with the season of End Time. Those are perfect days to stress the blessings our God provides in Christian community. On Reformation, we talk about the freedom and truth that we have in the Church. On Last Judgment, we talk about how the Church provides safety, even as mountains are falling into the depths of the sea. On Saints Triumphant, we talk about how in the Church, we have a family who never breaks apart, not even in death.

End Time, of course, transitions into Advent, a favorite season for just about everyone. Thus, starting with Welcome Home Sunday, we will have two-months’ worth of services which provide great opportunities to encourage those straying members to keep returning.

Part of the Welcome Home initiative will include online elder training and resources that help congregations track member attendance. The prayer is that we not only get those straying members to come back on one day, but through zealous elder work, we keep them in the fold. WELS averages about 38% of its members in worship on a given weekend. That is not healthy. It is worse if there is a perception that there is no system in place to deal with delinquency. It sends a message to people. “We say that being connected to the Means of Grace is important, but we don’t really mean it. Because if you aren’t connected, nothing is going to happen.” We want our people to know that part of “encouraging one another” includes the encouragement to “not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). Thus, we will notice if you’ve been gone for a while. We will come after you, because we love you.

The resources for Welcome Home will be available at welscongregationalservices.net the first week of June 2019. Sign up at that site to receive weekly e-mail updates which will help provide schedule coordination for this program. For now, pick a Welcome Home Sunday—October 20 or 27. Also plan on having worship resources for the season of End Time.

If you do both programs—and we hope you do—you will see they overlap. Welcome Home Sunday falls in the 10 weeks of giving. Not a big deal. First, in those 10 weeks, the only reference to 10 for 10 comes in that bulletin insert and/or video vignette. That video is only 2 minutes long. But second, it is a bad tactic to try and hide church programs (like stewardship) in order to win back delinquents. Just do both, and let the Spirit do what the Spirit wants!

We’re very exited to offer these programs to our WELS congregations. We pray they will prove beneficial in many ways to you and your people.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jonathan Hein
Coordinator, Congregational Services



The fourth and final evangelism movie from WELS, titled To the Ends of the Earth, is complete. The video tells the story of the apostle Paul’s work in Philippi. There are literally dozens of ways to use it. We thought it might be good to summarize.

Immediate Uses

To the Ends of the Earth can be used to encourage members to invite their unchurched friends and neighbors to your Christmas Eve service. You will find a two-session Bible study HERE. In that study, members fill out a “My Personal Mission Field” document, listing twenty individuals/families that they might encourage to come to church that Christmas Eve. In a 50-minute session, the participants spend about 16 minutes watching a portion of the video, and then the rest of the time talking about the mission Christ has given to his church. This helps your church take part in WELS C18 effort which has the goal of reaching one-million people with the gospel prior to and on Christmas Eve.

To the Ends of the Earth can be used in connection with WELS Mission and Ministry Sunday. The suggested date is October 21st. The encouragement is that WELS congregations use that day to discuss and commit to the mission God has set before our synod. You can find worship resources for that Sunday HERE. The video could be incorporated into the Bible study time, shown after worship, etc.

To the Ends of the Earth can be utilized as part of an Advent by Candlelight celebration. Advent by Candlelight programs provide an opportunity for women of all ages to set aside the business of holiday preparation and focus their minds and hearts on the birth of Christ. It also presents an opportunity for these women to reach out to unchurched ladies they know, inviting them to come to Advent by Candlelight as well. These guests would then be invited back to Christmas Eve worship. You can find Advent by Candlelight resources HERE.

Long-term / Anytime Uses

To the Ends of the Earth is all about the mission of the Church. Thus, it can be used to help congregations refocus on that mission. This might be an especially useful study if a congregation were working at producing or editing a congregational mission statement or core values statement. You can find a six lesson Bible study HERE.

Because To the Ends of the Earth is video based, it makes it very easy to use in a home-based small group study. You can find a four lesson small group study HERE.

To the Ends of the Earth could be used with children in a Lutheran school, helping them to understand the mission of the Church. Resources for children–studies, devotions, coloring pages–can be found HERE.

May this video do more than educate you. May it inspire you to boldly witness for Christ as you do your part to carry his gospel to the ends of the earth.




That is a question many more WELS school leaders are asking themselves. Government-funded programs that give parents vouchers or tax credits for school tuition are on our national landscape for the foreseeable future. Accepting state funding for tuition in WELS schools has been implemented for at least 20 years. It is a somewhat controversial concept in our Lutheran schools and congregations. Leaders have to decide whether they will participate. And why!

Common arguments for participation include increased enrollments and huge income sources that, in some cases, fund big building campaigns.

Common arguments against participation are government intervention in school ministries, potential for compromising Lutheran values and beliefs to meet government requirements, and sudden loss of funding in the event the subsidies stop.

What criteria should school leaders use in determining participation in such a program?

The place to start is the school mission statement. School leaders need to ask, “What is our school mission and purpose?” Then ask, “Does participation in a voucher program fit in our school’s mission?” The mission of every Lutheran school should boil down to Christ’s Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Does it fulfill the Great Commission to accept state funding so that students who could not afford a tuition-based Lutheran school can receive a Christian education?

I recently completed a study on WELS schools and the use of voucher programs. Of 51 principals in funded schools who were surveyed, 96% of them believe the state funding program fits within the mission of their school. Nearly 80% of all the schools that participate in a program find the program to be a blessing to the school. Nearly 100% of the principals in those schools identified one or more specific blessings, such as financial stability, increased enrollments, funding for salaries and facilities, and a more diversified student body. Most importantly, 48 of 51 principals identified the blessing of more ministry opportunities through the funding program. More kids are being connected with the gospel.

Not only are voucher programs a blessing to school ministries, they are a blessing to the young souls who come to our Lutheran schools through them. My survey results identified numerous blessings students receive because they were able to enroll with a voucher. Most importantly, these students benefited from a Christian education and were nurtured in their Christian faith. They also were blessed with Christian role models, improved academics, and more opportunities to use their talents.

Some may assume that voucher programs must cause some problems for the school. On the contrary, only 4% of principals surveyed believed the program creates problems. Several principals did identify more challenges with higher enrollment and increased paperwork. Over 80% of those surveyed identified increased administrative responsibilities as a big challenge.

Even though the blessings seem to far outweigh the problems and challenges, big question marks remain. What happens if the government attaches new strings to these vouchers or tax credits? What happens if state legislation brings a sudden end to these programs? Then what? Schools are wise to have an exit plan in place in case such changes arise in government policy. The large majority of the participating WELS schools in my survey have some type of exit plan in place, such as temporary emergency funding or downsizing the staff. Funding or legislation could possibly change in the future, but only the Lord knows for sure.

In the meantime, what should Lutheran schools decide when faced with this funding opportunity? WELS leaders need not be fearful about participation in such programs. Following the careful and thoughtful process of many WELS schools and their leaders who have instituted these programs, educational leaders should seize the opportunity that is before them to reach out with the gospel to more people in their community.

The conditions today for this strategy may work very well for expanding ministry. Make the most of it! Those conditions may change next year or next decade, but that is no different from other challenging changes WELS churches and schools have experienced over the years.

The door has opened in recent decades for early childhood ministry, and many WELS churches have seized the opportunity. The door has opened for congregational ministry to immigrant groups in a number of U.S. cities. How long the door will be open for WELS schools to participate in state funding programs is unknown, so WELS school leaders should be bold and seize the opportunity while it is here.

Read Rendy Koeppel’s Thesis here:

Written by Rendy Koeppel. Rendy Koeppel (DMLC ’81, MLC ’18) is a principal and teacher at St. Paul’s-First Lutheran School – North Hollywood, California. He recently completed his MS in Educational Administration at Martin Luther College. This article is shared with permission from MLC Graduate Studies


If you Google “know your audience,” you will find that the first returns are all about marketing. To sell a product, you need to know your audience. Yet we don’t “market” the gospel. We proclaim it. Moreover, we do so with the confidence that the power behind our proclamation isn’t some clever hook we use to reel in our “audience.” The power behind our gospel proclamation is the Holy Spirit himself, who with supernatural power leads people to believe things that are offensive to their human reason and sinful nature. Frankly, you can’t “market” the Scripture. The sinful nature would let no one “buy it.” It’s entirely up to the Spirit.

That does not mean it isn’t helpful to know your audience when conducting ministry. It absolutely is. In 2 Timothy, Paul tells us that one of the qualifications for public ministry is “correctly teaching the word of truth” (2:15). That begins with rightly dividing law and gospel, but it doesn’t end there. A fuller reading of Scripture demonstrates that “correctly teaching” would also include using reason in a ministerial capacity to determine how best to share the gospel with our specific audience. (Look at Acts 17 for a great example of this.) Thus, know your audience.

To help you do this, WELS Congregational Services and the Board for Home Missions have contracted with MissionInsite to give you access to comprehensive demographic data. MissionInsite data is fresh, updated every six months. Utilization of this powerful tool is free for every WELS congregation. Other WELS entities—like area Lutheran high schools or district mission boards—can also use MissionInsite for free and will find the information it provides valuable.

Click HERE for a document that tells you how to. Once registered, you can use the information about your community to begin wrestling with all sorts of tactical ministry questions.

  • Would starting a preschool be a good way to create opportunities to share the gospel in your community? Or would senior ministry create more opportunities, given the demographics? (If you can do both, fantastic. But congregations do not have unlimited resources. So good stewardship may require you to use demographics to make a sound judgment.)
  • Would your church be able to serve more people with the gospel if it operated as a multisite ministry—two or three campuses spread apart? If so, what might be the best locations in your area to consider starting another campus?
  • If you are on a district mission board, what are the fastest growing cities in your district that also have the lowest number of Christian churches per capita?

I want to encourage you to use MissionInsite with a discerning heart. The way some information is provided would make it easy to let “marketing” trump gospel confidence.

For example, one of the reports in MissionInsite breaks your population down into Mosaic groups and segments, such as marketing classifications of population by age and worldview. In other words, that report will not just tell you how many Baby Boomers you have in your area, but it also will break them into subgroups. There is the group called “Booming with Confidence: Golf Carts and Gourmets.” Those tend to be couples in their 60’s who are more conservative types. But there’s also a group called “Blue Sky Boomers: Rooted Flower Power,” who tend to be a bit hippy-ish.

Some of this detail is beneficial. Mosaic group data can tell you if using direct mail in your parish area is a good tactic, if it might be better to use Facebook ads, or if it might be better to utilize door-hanger canvassing. Mosaic group data can tell you about certain widely-held religious views in your community. There is some use to this, but there are also two potential dangers.

The first is that the leaders in your church begin to view people homogenously rather than as individuals. Yet the rubber hits the road in gospel proclamation in a one-on-one exchange. A Christian sits down with someone who is an unbeliever, or at least a dischurched weak believer. That Christian listens. He gets to “know the audience.” The Christian is now able to “correctly teach the word of truth” in that situation, to share the message that individual needs to hear at that time. If a church gets too caught up in demographic study, it can lose sight of the fact that the greatest spiritual impact is made, not in trying to reach an entire group, but in trying to reach individuals one-on-one.

The second danger is mentioned in the first paragraph—congregations conflating marketing with evangelism. Marketing can help pull an individual into a group which might be called “a church.” Marketing can’t pull an individual into the Church. That’s what matters. Being a member of your congregation will do absolutely no good on the Last Day. If one is going to stand on that day, he must be a member of the Una Sancta, the one, true Church that you joined when the Spirit gave you the gift of faith. Marketing cannot create faith. Evangelism—the proclamation of the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation”—can (Romans 1:16).

I pray that MissionInsite serves you well. It will, if you use it well. Use it to help you know your audience. But as you go to your audience, don’t “market.” Proclaim.

Written by Jonathan Hein

P.S. – Training resources are found on the MissionInsite website. They also offer technical support. If you have questions about how to use the site, please contact MissionInsite directly. They can answer the question better than anyone in the synod offices. However, if you have any trouble in getting registered to use the site, please contact Maxine Neumann at maxine.neumann@wels.net.




The Boy Scouts have been in the news a couple times in recent years. In 2013 it ended the ban on openly homosexual Scouts that had been in place from its formation in 1910. In 2015 the Boy Scouts began accepting openly gay Scout leaders. In 2017 the Boy Scouts began accepting applications from transgender boys, i.e. individuals who were born female but identify as male. Recently, the Boy Scouts announced that they would now allow girls to become Scouts, and that they will be changing the name to “Scouts BSA” in February 2019.

There has been a cumulative effect of all these moves. Between 2013 (when openly gay Scouts were first allowed) and 2016, membership in the Boy Scouts fell ten percent. They May 2018 announcement that scouting would not be co-ed was the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back for the Mormon church. They have announced they are pulling their 185,000 Mormon members out of the Scouts.   If you read the prognostication many (including strong supporters of the Boy Scouts) have for the Scouts, it is not pretty. Many believe that families with more traditional values feel abandoned by the Boy Scouts and will move on. Considering that demographics studies indicate that couples that identify as “traditional” or “conservative” have children in higher numbers than couples who identify as “liberal” or “progressive,” the Scouts are facing something of an existential crisis.

Does this present an opportunity for our congregations? 

In many of our WELS congregations, we have members who grew up in other Lutheran church bodies but left as their church slipped deeper into false doctrine. They were looking for something in line with their beliefs. They will tell you, “Really, I didn’t leave my church. My church left me.”

Likewise, many feel the Scouts has left behind what it once stood for. Many will be leaving the Scouts. Again, I wonder if this doesn’t create an opportunity. Could we fill the void?

Even before the Scouts adopted a progressive sexual agenda, WELS did not participate for other reasons articulated below. Instead, WELS started Lutheran Pioneers. However, the Pioneers has seen participation decline for quite some time now. Why is that? Anecdotally, it seems that kids are busy with other things: sports teams, involvement in community programs, Tae-kwon-do and music lessons, etc. Also, some parents may think Pioneers is about red neck-kerchiefs and learning to tie knots. But the Lutheran Pioneers of today is not identical to the Pioneers of my generation. I recently spoke to the national executive leaders for Boys Pioneers (Loren Lange) and Girl Pioneers (Christine Bohn). The Commission on Discipleship and the Lutheran Pioneers want to keep this dialogue going, also working with the Commission on Evangelism, to see if there are outreach possibilities for the Boy and the Girl Pioneers among our 1,275 congregations.

I believe there are. Consider some of the core activities of Lutheran Pioneers, listed on their website (lutheranpioneers.org):

  • Through devotions and interaction, the Pioneers proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and teach obedience to all he has commanded.
  • The Pioneers teach useful skills (both historical and modern) for living in God’s world.
  • The Pioneers share an understanding of God’s creation and our role within it.
  • The Pioneers cultivates Christian leadership skills.
  • The Pioneers encourage serving our Lord by providing opportunities to serve our fellowman in our family, neighborhood, church and community.

Useful skills. An appreciation of nature. Service of community and country. That is exactly what parents of children in the Boy Scouts were hoping for their child. If we would provide that, it might fill a void.

Best of all… Where the Scouts presented a false, unionistic, “all-paths-to-God-are-equally-legitimate” approach to eternity, Lutheran Pioneers “proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Below, you will find an article about the Scouting situation. You’ll also find a Bible study from WELS Conference of Presidents on the Scouts. It makes it clear why WELS continues to not participate in the Boy Scouts. But we have another option. One that has proven to be a blessing for generations.

Something to consider, my friends. If you have thoughts, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Written by Donn Dobberstein


Welcome to WELS Congregational Services Resource Center. I’d like to explain why we spent time building this site, and why we’re going to spend a lot more time populating it with all sorts of resources.

Our mission statement: “WELS Congregational Services exists to encourage and equip congregations for faithful and fruitful gospel ministry.” Congregational Services has done this for decades through things like: the School of Outreach; the National Conference on Worship, Music and the Arts; the School of Strategic Planning; the International Youth Rally; the Forward with Lutheran Schools program; the Self-Assessment and Adjustment program.

All of those have something in common. They are all done face-to-face. Either you come to an event offered by Congregational Services (like the rally or conference), or an agent of Congregational Services comes to you (like a “school of” or one of the self-assessment programs).

There is always going to be a need for boots-on-the-ground type assistance. However, “encouraging and equipping congregations” in this way also poses some major challenges.

Challenge #1—There is a limit to how much help can be offered. Most of the boots-on-the-ground type help comes from pastors or teachers who have full-time calls. They donate their time to help with these synod-wide efforts. There is only so much they can do without neglecting their responsibilities to their calling body.

Challenge #2—Congregations might have to wait a long time to receive desired help. For example, a congregation knows they need to improve their evangelism efforts. It might be two years before a School of Outreach is offered in their area.

Challenge #3—There are cost constraints for some. Airfare. Rental car. Hotels. If a church sends multiple participants to a school or conference, or if it has consultant(s) come work with the congregation over multiple visits, the costs can be substantial. While these are worthwhile expenditures, the reality is that for many WELS congregations, even with subsidization, the cost can be prohibitive.

In 2017, as part of a strategic planning process, the directors and chairmen of every commission in Congregational Services concluded that we could make much better use of technology to provide the encouragement, assistance, and resources in the fulfillment of our mission. We believe this online resource center provides solutions for those challenges.

Solution #1—Training and assistance is not done just face-to-face. Instead, there are online, video-based resources. For example, all Congregational Service’s “schools of” will eventually be broken into video components with printable PDF resources. There is some drawback to this. It can be beneficial to have periods of question and answers with a live presenter. We believe, however, that this type of give-and-take can still happen through e-mail or video-conferences.

Moreover, we believe there are some pedagogical benefits of operating this way. In a “school of” weekend, congregations get a lot of information pushed at them over a very short amount of time. It is like drinking water out of a fire hose. By having a school broken into multiple components, a congregation could complete the school over multiple weeks, letting them absorb concepts at the speed that works well for them. This is the concept behind training sites like Lynda.com or Udemy.

Most importantly, there will be no limit to how much help can be offered at one time. You could have five-hundred congregations receiving assistance at the same time, since that assistance is video based.

Note that the option to have a presenter come to your area and conduct a face-to-face “school of” live will always be available. The resource center provides another way to receive that assistance.

Solution #2—Help is immediate and asynchronous. I gave the example of a congregation needing to wait years to attend a School of Outreach. When it is converted for online use, a congregation could receive the training and assistance offered in that school immediately. They do not even need to go online at any scheduled time. Because the presentations are video-based, they can access resources anytime. Have insomnia? You could be receiving elder training at 3 a.m. while sitting in your pajamas.

Solution #3—Almost everything is free. There will be no access fee to utilize the resource center. There will be hundreds of resources you can download. Those will all be free. At times, we will provide links to recommended resources that Congregational Services does not own, such as a Bible study produced by Northwestern Publishing House, a piece of music, and so on. We do not own the rights to those. But we do own everything on this resource center. That is free.

If we have something on this site, it is because we believe it satisfies an oft-identified need. There is a challenge that we have seen many of our congregations face. So, we will create resources that we hope help meet those challenges. They will always be free.

When I think about it, that isn’t entirely accurate. You support the work of our synod through your generous congregational mission offerings! A portion of that supports Congregational Services. Thank you for that! My prayer is we can support you, by “encouraging and equipping” your congregation for gospel ministry.

We need your help.

One final, but important, point to make. In our recent strategic planning process, the directors and chairmen vowed to make Congregational Services’ efforts more driven by grassroots input. This resource center is in Beta stage. The structure is built, but it will take two years to add the resources. As you peruse the resource center, you’ll find what we hope to produce, and when we hope those resources will “launch” on the site. There will be new materials almost every week for years.

But we need your help. What are we missing? What needs to be a higher priority? Is there something that we have scheduled to be produced in 2020 that you think our church body needs ASAP? What would help your congregation the most? What would take work off the plate of the pastor and lay-leaders, so that they might spend more time sharing the gospel with the lost and the straying?

To borrow a Scriptural metaphor—You are the shepherds, serving under the Good Shepherd, on the front line, standing between the wolf and the sheep. In Congregational Services, we help make the staff and sling—whatever you need to help you keep the wolf away—whatever you need to help you guide your sheep into green pastures.

What do you need? What would help? We are here to serve your congregation.

Written by Jonathan Hein


The Parts of the Resource Center

Why another WELS website? The primary audience for wels.net has been very wide. WELS members can go there for news or devotional thoughts. Non-WELS members can go there to learn about our church.

This site, welscongregationalservices.net, is meant for all types of congregational leaders: pastors, teachers, councilmen, elders, or simply members who play an active role in the volunteer life of the congregation. It is meant to be a resource center, one, central, easily-navigated location where congregational leaders can find training and tools dealing with every topic under the sun.

Here are some of the things you will find of the resource center.


A module is a collection of resources that deals with one often-identified issue or challenge within our congregations.

Think of the module page as a filing cabinet. There are currently eight drawers: Leadership, Worship, Evangelism, Discipleship, Youth Ministry, Schools, Compassion Ministry, Facility.

Each drawer contains multiple folders. For example, the Leadership drawer holds L001-Congregational Planning Overview, L002-Producing a Mission Statement, L003-Clarifying Core Values, and so on. Located in the Evangelism drawer are E001-Equipping Members for Evangelism, E002-Personal Evangelism vs. Corporate Outreach, etc.

In each folder, you can find a wide variety of resources: Bible studies, articles, videos, MP3s, templates, and so on. It depends on the issue being addressed. The module also contains suggestions of a sequence for using the resources to deal with the issue or challenge.

Again, a module deals with an issue or challenge. For example, your congregation has trouble finding enough volunteers to carry out your ministry. That is a discipleship issue. You would select the discipleship drawer. In that drawer is the folder D004-Increasing Volunteerism.

We need your help. All the other modules will be produced over the course of the next two years. As you look through the file cabinet, you can see what is available now and what modules are in the pipeline. The issues and challenges are ones that have come up repeatedly in the consultation work of the Commission on Congregational Counseling and the Commission on Lutheran Schools, which are the two commissions that help congregations do some comprehensive self-analysis in those respective areas: church and school. We do not assume we’ve covered every possible issue a congregation might want help with. So, what are we missing? As you look at the target launch dates, is there something that needs to be prioritized more highly? Let us know. You, ultimately, are the ministry experts, as the ones who are on the front lines of gospel proclamation.

Servant Training

In surveys of congregational leaders and servants, the clear majority felt they received inadequate or no training to fulfill the duties the congregation placed upon them. A man elected to church council is just tossed into the leadership process and expected to learn as he goes. Someone is recruited to teach Sunday School. They are shown how to use the ChristLight leader guides and invited to watch maybe one or two classes, but that is the extent of it.

Congregational Services wants to build a servant training component into the resource center. Obviously, this would not be intended to replace the pastor or other congregation leaders in their role as “equippers of the saints.” It would simply be a tool to make that responsibility easier.

Once again, we need your help. You see some examples of the training courses we will be producing over the next two years. What is missing? What is a service position in your congregation for which you believe members would like to receive additional training?

Ministry Resources

Here is where we share ready-to-use Bible studies, worship plans, evangelism materials, etc. It is also where we will “push” ministry resources tied to synodical efforts.

For example, C18 is a synod-wide effort to reach one-million people with the gospel prior to and on Christmas Eve 2018. There will be worship templates, outreach resources, a service for children with special needs, even outreach training material for our Lutheran schools. The materials will all be available under ministry resources.

To the Ends of the Earth is the fourth of Commission on Evangelism’s outreach movies, this one geared toward training to people to witness. Accompanying training materials will be located under ministry resources where you can use them to equip your people for C18.

We believe there is great potential to help congregations in multiple areas. For example, consider a season of the church year, such as Lent – Year A. We might publish a worship plan that includes files to be loaded into the new hymnal’s Service Builder software, giving you ready to go (yet editable) worship folders. We could provide royalty free evangelism materials: invitation cards, videos you could use on your website or Facebook page. We could provide home devotions and/or small group discussions based on the previous week’s lesson. This would all be free. Our prayer is that it would utilize the principles of giftedness and stewardship to take work off the plate of those in the local congregation, freeing them up to do more gospel ministry.

Timely Topics

I was working with a congregation the Sunday after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. It was not mentioned at any point in the service, not even the Prayer of the Church. That can make a congregation seem unaware of its surroundings; but worse, it can miss opportunities to make gospel application to challenging life circumstances.

Timely topic posts are meant to help congregations utilize on those opportunities. If there was a national tragedy, we might push out a customized Prayer of the Church and perhaps take-home devotionals that families might use to process that tragedy.

Timely topic posts are also how we will share new resources that correspond to the Church Year or calendar.


Blogs provide a way for us to discuss ministry issues before us. They allow us to share some “best practices” in our circles, ministry tactics that seem to be bearing fruit. They provide us opportunities to share details about upcoming synod initiatives, such as C18.

An ongoing effort

This is the Alpha version of the Congregational Services resource center. The skeleton is in place. Each week, you will see meat on the bones as new modules are added and the servant training component is built out.

At the bottom of the homepage, you can register for our Congregational Services newsletter. It will let you know when new resources become available.

Written by Jonathan Hein


Churches should be the safest, most loving places on earth. Church leaders should be on the front-lines of protecting children. So why is child abuse so prevalent in churches? I believe there are two reasons:

Satan targets churches.  The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study found that 21% of the population are victims of childhood sexual abuse. That’s one out of five people in your pews! The study also found that victims are much more likely to participate in behaviors like sexual promiscuity or drug or alcohol abuse. (Learn more at cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy.)

The shame and sadness lead victims to look for ways to cope. They are plagued with spiritual questions:  “Was the abuse my fault? Why didn’t God come to my aid? What do I do with all my shame and anger?”

Satan knows if he can hurt a child, he might just have them for life.

Perpetrators target churches.  Where would perpetrators find easy access to lots of children? In church, where there are often fewer policies and restrictions than other places. Churches are also happy to see volunteers, accepting almost anyone eager to participate in ministry.

Consider how one sex offender described his mindset:

I consider church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians…They tend to be better folks all around. And they seem to want to believe in the good that exists in all people…I think they want to believe in people. And because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words.  (Quoted in “Ministering to Adult Sex Offenders” by Victor I. Vieth, Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 112, No. 3, p. 214)

Four steps to prevent child abuse in your church

Jesus has called us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We don’t need to be paranoid about everyone who works with children. But we will be wise, always keeping in mind the health and safety of children. So how do we prevent child abuse in our churches?

Enforce an up-to-date child protection policy. When I arrived at my church, we didn’t have such a policy. And I didn’t know where to start. So I borrowed one from another WELS church. Then our Children and Youth Committee adapted it to fit our church and ministry. Having a professional social worker on that committee added great insight.

If possible, every church should have a committee to update and enforce its child protection policy. Make use of social services professionals. Make sure your leadership, e.g. church council and elders, are familiar with the policy so that they know how to respond to a child abuse claim.

Require volunteers to read and sign the child protection policy. Having everyone aware and on-board will create a unified culture that desires to protect children and serves as a deterrent for perpetrators.

Require background checks of volunteers. There are different ways to do this. Check with your church insurance provider for options. Background checks will flag prior offenders and deter future offenders, letting them know that you take this seriously.

Require child abuse prevention training. Freedom for the Captives (freedomforcaptives.com), a WELS ministry for survivors of abuse, has released “Standing Up for Children,” a free online video training course for churches and schools. (See “Standing Up for Children” among the Compassion Ministry modules.) This training, or something similar, should be required of every volunteer who works with children.

Child abuse is a difficult topic to acknowledge, especially in church. But Satan is using this sin to harm the people whom Jesus loves. We must be wise in how we minister to children. We must find ways to encourage the many survivors who are suffering in silence in our pews. We must follow the example of the Good Shepherd in protecting his sheep. His precious lambs are worth the effort. 

Churches should be the safest, most loving places on earth. Church leaders should be on the front-lines of protecting children. So why is child abuse so prevalent in churches? I believe there are two reasons: