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.)
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
You can make a difference. Your prayers and gifts can help WELS ministries carry out their missions.