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Our Christmas Efforts: What Happened & What’s Next

The goal of C18

When we began C18, we said our goal was “to reach” one-million souls prior to and on Christmas Eve. I realize “reach” is a nebulous term. That was intentional. It is impossible for congregations to track how many people a member invites to Christmas Eve. Congregations do not ask members to submit reports. “How many people did you share the gospel with this past month?” So it is hard to quantify.

What I can report on is certain verifiable numbers.

  • Approximately 70% of WELS congregations participated in C18 in some way, i.e. they used some of the resources that Congregational Services provided.
  • There were over 32,000 downloads of C18 resources that took place in the past four months.
  • There were at least 1.2 million Light in the Darkness Christmas Eve postcards that were shared in a variety of ways.
  • At least 2,400 families used WELS online daily devotion and accompanying booklet.

Later in January, we will send a survey to parish pastors to ask about a) total number of Christmas Eve worship visitors and b) how many, if any, of those visitors have ended up in a Bible Information Class (BIC).

Ultimately, however, we will gauge the impact of C18 in early 2020. If a guest who came on Christmas Eve joins the congregation, it is likely they will complete BIC in 2019. Those numbers will not show up until the 2019 statistical report is published, which will be in March 2020. Adult confirmations in WELS have been trending down for some time now. If they would trend up significantly in 2019, it would be logical to say that C18 played a small role in that.

Ancillary benefits

While C18 was an attempt to reach people with the Christmas gospel, we believed there would be ancillary benefits. The exit survey seems to indicate that is the case. (You can still participate in that exit survey by answering three short questions HERE.)

Refocus on evangelism

It seems people appreciated the effort to refocus congregations on doing whatever they can to increase their evangelism efforts. Some responses from the exit survey:

I have prayed for years for God to make me bold enough to share the gospel. I have now done this… several weeks in a row for C18 and have had very positive results. I plan to continue this method of inviting neighbors to my church year-round for different events.

The best part of C18 was the widespread publicity, a cause we could all rally behind as a synod. It makes it exciting to be a part of something bigger.

Our congregation did more evangelism in the past three months than we have done in the twenty years I have been a member here.

You provided the materials and training that made outreach easy for our church.

We hope C18 helped some WELS members experience the joy of sharing their faith. We pray that those efforts continue even without some special synod program taking place.

See the potential for worship

The C18 program offered a lot of worship resources. It seems to have helped congregations see the potential for worship in two ways.

First, C18 illustrated the potential for liturgical variety. There was the special Advent Gathering Rite. There were a variety of styles for psalm options. Liturgical worship has been proven for centuries to let the gospel predominate. When done properly, it also demonstrates a rootedness, illustrating that the Church deals with ancient threats and universal problems. However, the liturgy also allows for appropriate flexibility, opportunities “to bring out… new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52). It seems people appreciated that.

Second, C18 illustrated the potential to use worship as a part of your congregational evangelism efforts. Worship folders make it extremely easy for someone who has never been to church in their life follow along and not get lost.

Some quotes from the exit survey:

The worship folders did a great job of showing how all the parts of the service fit together.

That Advent gathering song was a wonderful way to begin worship. It was so meaningful!

I have at times been afraid to invite friends to church because I was not sure if they would get how it works. The worship folders take away that fear. It was the first time my church has used them. I hope we use them more often.

Stress the family altar

We saw Advent as a good time to encourage parents to realize how important it is to have a family devotional life. We shared materials which explained that what goes on in the home is by far the biggest factor in retaining children in the faith when they reach adulthood.

So, we used the very popular WELS online daily devotion. In the late 20th century, dad might read a devotion out of a book. Today, we figured he could just drop his smart phone on the table and play the devotion. We published a devotional book, sort of a mini-hymnal for Advent and Christmas.

Based on exit surveys so far, we know thousands of families used the online devotion this way. (The season of Christmas still has a few days left. The exit survey is technically supposed to be done after Christmas. So we expect this number to rise.) It seems, for many WELS families, restoring “the family altar” enhanced their Advent and Christmas worship.

We bought Advent candles for the first time. I didn’t know what they were all about. This year has been the best year for me and the family focusing on Christmas throughout the month.

I loved that C18 focused on reaching unbelievers. But I also love that it stressed feeding our children with God’s Word.

Ease workload

A simple prayer we had for C18 was that by providing plug-and-play resources, it would help take work of the plates of pastors and lay leaders at a busy time of year. It seems that was the case.

Having the Advent worship mostly prepared for me freed up time to do some other things I had been wanting to do but never had the time—most notably, holding an evangelism seminar to help people feel prepared to do the work of outreach we asked them to do.

I think you saved us a good forty hours of work in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We used that time to do more evangelism.

What we will do differently

Another ancillary benefit of C18 was learning ourselves, within Congregational Services, how to better help the people God has called us to serve—you! The exit survey has yielded great information there too. Let me highlight two things we will do differently in the future.

First, all materials for Congregational Services initiatives will be released at the same time.

With the timing of new Congregational Services team members arriving on staff, it would have been impossible to have all 342 C18 files ready to go in July. For future initiatives, that will be a goal. Rather than releasing resources week by week, they will all be uploaded to welscongregationalservices.net at one time, four to five months in advance. Weekly e-mails will still be used to encourage congregations to use those resources in a timely manner.

Second, the online resource center will be formatted differently to make those resources easier to find. Some of you had trouble finding new resources or figuring out how to download them. We will try and make that easier. One possibility: we have all the resources located on one page and numbered. Then, the weekly e-mails, would say, “This week, you want to be sure to download file #45 and share it with your choir director.” You could have downloaded it weeks in advance of that e-mail blast. But if you haven’t, you’ll be able to find it quickly.

Thank you for the kind words you shared in the exit survey. Thank you also for the loving, constructive critiques, which will allow us to make future programs better!

Some stories

The final question in the C18 exit survey asked people to share stories of how their personal or congregation outreach efforts went. Here are a few responses.

We had nearly 50 prospects attend. We are a mission church and we had 265 in attendance Christmas Eve, so having this number of prospects in attendance is exciting.

We had the best turnout at church that we can remember. (172 souls. I think the record had been in the 120s.)

One of our campuses, which was averaging only 20 people in worship on an average week just 18 months ago, had 120 people attend worship on Christmas Eve. Of those 120 nearly 60 were guests. Of those 60, 38 were prospects. God be praised!

A Hindu family worshiped with us due to the efforts of one member who knew them and made an effort to invite them. This was their first time in a Christian house of worship… It was a thrill for me as a pastor on so many fronts!

We had our largest Christmas Eve service attendance ever! It was great! And so many first-time visitors, family members that never come, and coworkers of members who were so happy they came. It was wonderful to see the smiles!

It was great to see the members of our congregation involved in inviting friends, family, etc. We had a record attendance of 1,000+ for our services, with 230 of them being visitors and guests.

One woman in the congregation was wishing she’d be able to fill a pew [with worship guests]. She arrived about 30 –minutes early and was pretty bummed that she’d be all alone. Then, about 10-minutes before the service they all piled in as a Christmas surprise to her, and did fill a whole pew.

People were inviting others. We sent postcards to members of the congregation, inviting them to worship. Members we had not seen in a long time attended and were able to hear the gospel message. The Christmas Eve services were the highest attended that we’ve had for quite some time. All due to the Lord blessing the efforts to reach out with the gospel!

We set an attendance record at our C18 service. We ran out of pews, service folders and candles.

Our congregation normally has 80 to 90 people on average for a Sunday morning. On Christmas Eve, we had 165 people in worship and almost 50 of them were visitors. God be praised!

However, I don’t want to only share stories that stress the number of visitors that came on Christmas Eve. Because that number is up to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, don’t you dare think that if your congregation did not have a ton of visitors, you don’t have a good story to tell! Here are a few others.

Our outreach committee became re-energized and found so many ideas that it sparked ideas on their own. We also reached out to other WELS congregations in our area to work together in outreach.

I don’t know if we had more visitors than normal. I can say our people were exited about trying to invite their friends and family to church. I think they will continue to do that which will have a longer lasting impact than can be measured by one worship service.

C18 gave something for our teens to do. They helped with the Facebook promotion and canvassing. My son seemed excited to do something for his church maybe for the first time ever.

We had six visitors. We would have liked more, but it is ok. An evangelism committee is now formed, and we are going to try doing more outreach in the future.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. It is a point that is echoed in one of our mottos in Congregational Services. If we are doing all we can with the gospel, then numbers don’t matter. Because growth—spiritual and statistical—is up to the Holy Spirit. But the way he produces growth is through the gospel. Typically, the way the Spirit unleashes the gospel is through the efforts of believers. So we do our job—doing all we can with the gospel. We then sit back and thank the Spirit for whatever fruit comes of that effort.

Thus, if you did all you could with the gospel and no one showed up to your Christmas Eve service, know that your effort is just as pleasing to the Father… just as glorious in the sight of the angels… as the effort of the congregation that had fifty visitors! Because, in your love for Christ, you did all you could.

So what’s next? Welcome Home!

There were many comments in the exit survey that sent like this. I can’t wait for C19! Except, we initially had no plans for C19.

Congregational Services’ 2019 initiative is titled Welcome Home. In C18, we targeted the lost… the unchurched… the dechurched. In 2019, we are targeting the 155,000 WELS members (about 43% of our baptized membership) that are largely absent from church, attending two or fewer times per year. We estimate about half of that 155,000 has not been in church in over two years. We are going to be offering training and resources for congregations to help them pursue those lapsed members and joyfully welcome them back home to their church family.

The goal is to have all those Welcome Home resources ready and online in early June 2019. We will encourage churches to have a Welcome Home Sunday on either October 20 or 27.

However, due to the overwhelming response to C18 and the many requests to repeat the effort, we may also produce some worship and evangelism resources for next Christmas Eve as well. Go to welscongregationalservices.net, go to the bottom of the page, and subscribe to receive e-mail updates. Those updates are where you would learn a) if we do a C19 effort and b) when and where those resources would be available.

But for now, I pray you and your congregation get ready for the Welcome Home effort. I think it will have the potential to reach a good number of straying sheep.

Thank you!

Thank you for all your ministry efforts throughout the year. Thank you for your participation in C18. And thank you for the privilege of working with you as you strive to do all you can with the gospel in your corner of God’s creation.

Rev. Jonathan Hein
Coordinator, Congregational Services
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling

 

 

Worship Guest Follow-up: A Vital Part of Outreach

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were one-million guests at our WELS Christmas Eve services this year? Wouldn’t it be awful if we were not ready for them?

One of the most important ways a congregation can prepare for worship guests is to have a well-designed follow-up system. The tactics will vary slightly from church to church, but every congregation will want to have a system in place. If your congregation has not historically had a system, it is time to create one as you prepare for Christmas Eve.

There are several important aspects to worship guest follow-up. No matter what system your congregation adopts, it will need to include the following.

Information Gathering

Connection cards are often an effective way to gather contact information from your guests. If you use a worship folder, you can put a connection card in every one. Connection cards aren’t just for guests, but can be used by members to let you know they attended worship. Be sure to instruct your members beforehand to fill out those connection cards too! Having members participate creates positive peer pressure for worship guests to fill their connection card out too. Members and guests can place the connection cards right in the offering plate. (PDF and MSPublisher connection card templates are available in the C18 evangelism resources.)

Another option is a pew register. This is a binder which is handed down the pew during the offering. Each sheet in the binder has room for six or seven families to list their contact information. Again, you need to instruct your members that the register is there for them too. Not only does it let you keep track of member attendance, but when guests see others filling out the registry, they are more likely to do so themselves. Another benefit of the pew registry is that, unlike connection cards, you see what others have written. You can learn the names of the people sitting in the pew with you.

Some congregations, rather than having the registers sit in the pews, have young children hand them out at the beginning of the offering. This does two things. First, it makes it more likely folks will fill it out. (Who can say no to a sweet little child!) Second, it provides a demonstration of your congregation’s interest in involving children in ministry, something all parents appreciate.

Information Organizing

Congregations should have someone trained to organize the important information you have gathered. A back-up should also be trained to do this important task if the main person is absent. Contact information should be recorded immediately. Congregations typically count offerings immediately after a service is over. This is right and orderly. The worship guests God sent to your congregation are a bigger, more valuable gift than the financial offerings. So give the recording of their contact information the same level of importance.

You are not just collecting their contact data, but learning whether the worship visitor is a first-time visitor (which requires one type of response) or a repeat visitor (which requires a different type of response).

It is also important that the responses to these worship visitors are prioritized correctly. WELS visitors, for example, are not outreach opportunities. You might have WELS individuals from other congregations visit you on Christmas Eve to worship with their family. It is certainly a nice gesture to send those WELS worship guests a “thank you” card, thanking them for joining you. However, unchurched guests must be your top priority. Once all of the unchurched guests have been identified, their contact information is shared with those responsible for the next phase of follow-up. That would be…

Initial Contact (within 24-48 hours of visit)

When a congregation has a first-time worship guest, it is important that guest is contacted quickly. Studies show that contacting and thanking a first-time worship visitor within 24 to 48 hours of their initial visit makes it almost twice as likely that individual will return for a second visit.

It is absolutely vital to make this initial visit quickly. What is not so important is how this initial contact is made. It could take the form of an email, phone call, house visit, or handwritten note.

One congregation has a small team prepare handwritten thank-you cards the very Sunday the guest visits in worship. They include a $5 gift card to Starbucks for each adult. It goes out in the mail first thing on Monday.

Some congregations have a volunteer do an unannounced door-step visit within 48 hours. The goal is not to have an extended conversation but simply to thank the individual for visiting and drop off some print information about the congregation and its ministries. Typically, some sort of small gift is given, such as a mug with the church logo on it. One gift option for this Christmas Eve is a copy of the evangelism movie My Son, My Savior. Perhaps you could include a bag of microwave popcorn with the DVD. You can order copies of the movie HERE. They are being offered at cost ($2/DVD) with free shipping.

Pastor Phone Call

It has been proven that multiple “touches” make it more likely that a first-time worship guest will come back for a second time. So, if that initial contact is made 24 to 48 hours of the guest visiting worship, then later in the week is a good time for the pastor to make a phone call to each visitor. It can be brief. He simply thanks them for visiting and says how much he’d love to have them visit again. If the conversation goes well and the person seems interested in learning more about the church, the pastor might use this phone call to set up a time to visit in person.

Face-to-Face Gospel Presentation

Eventually, the pastor or a trained evangelist will want to visit the worship guest face-to-face for something longer than a door-step visit. You actually want to sit down and talk for a bit with the worship guest.

When should this visit take place? If that pastoral phone call that takes place a few days after the initial worship visit goes well, the pastor must schedule that visit ASAP, the next day if possible. If the first-time worship visitor seems polite during the call but not very interested in learning about the church, you might wait to see if he comes back the following Sunday, or even the Sunday after that. If they come back to worship a second time, that is a big deal! (It is why you want guests to be able to let you know on the connection card or pew register if they are a first-time visitor or second time visitor.) If a worship visitor comes back a second time, you need to sit town with them very quickly. Strike while the iron is hot!

What if they don’t come back for a second visit at worship? You still want to attempt to schedule a face-to-face visit. About two-and-a-half weeks after their initial visit, give them a call and ask if you could get together. The reason is simple. If God brought a worship visitor to your congregation, your congregation should do everything possible to attempt to have a sit-down, face-to-face visit with that worship guest, a time where the gospel can be applied specifically to their life.

Where should this visit take place? The pastor or evangelist can throw out multiple options. “I wanted to talk to you a bit more about our mission. Could I stop by your place sometime tomorrow, or perhaps can I buy you a cup of coffee at the coffee shop on Main St?”

What are the goals of this visit? There are three.

First, you simply want to get to know the worship guest a bit better. You don’t need to get too personal. But asking what someone does for a living or where they are from initially is socially acceptable small talk. Such conversation demonstrates interest and respect. It also has the potential to help you make connections. You learn a worship visitor works at the factory downtown, the same factory where two of your members work. You can connect those individuals.

Second, you transition the conversation into a simple law-gospel presentation. It need not be as direct as, “If you died tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven or hell?” That might be a follow-up law/gospel presentation. In this initial visit, talk about what your church means to you. Explain how important it has been to you personally, in your life (especially at hard times) to have a Christian community to provide both gospel and emotional encouragement. You do not need to go much deeper than that. If the individual opens up about to you, that’s fine. But think of this simply as the first of many spiritual conversations you hope to have with this person.

The third goal of this visit is to begin to steer that worship-visitor toward a Bible Information Class (BIC). It is probably unwise call it a “new member class,” as that puts too much pressure on the guest” “Take this class and you’re in!” It is simply there so they can better learn what Christianity is all about… learn about whom Jesus is and exactly what he did.

It would be a good idea for your congregation to schedule a new BIC to begin in late January or early February. Then when you follow up with Christmas Eve worship guests, you can be specific—“We have a new Bible Information Class beginning in two Sundays.” If you’re a layperson, offer to join them at the class. Or, if their contact information reveals they joined you on Christmas Eve at the encouragement of a family member or friend, ask that member to attend BIC with guest they invited. Even long-time members benefit spiritually from a catechetical review. But it also sets the guest at ease to be able to attend the class with someone they know.

Continued Contact

Lord willing, your visitors will continue to worship with you and attend your new member class. Some, however, will not. It will be up to you to stay in contact with them. They have already taken the most frightening step by being a first-time worshiper at your church. You don’t want to waste this opportunity! There is a myriad of ways to stay in contact with your visitors. One option is to send them the monthly Outreach Newsletter. You can find all twelve articles HERE free of charge.

Another option is to invite those previous worship visitors back to subsequent special services. The next natural time is Easter on April 21, 2019. Around the second week of April, use the list of contact information to phone everyone who came to you Christmas Eve service. Invite them to Holy Week and Easter Sunday. If they don’t come on that day, try again in July for a summer sermon series. The point is, keep in touch! Home missionaries can all tell stories about individuals who took years to pull into the church. They visited twice a year for a half-decade, and then finally joined. Give the Spirit those repeat opportunities!

In Conclusion

It makes no sense to spend time trying to invite people to join you for Christmas Eve and then not aggressively follow up on them after they come! You have a few weeks. Adjust your worship-visitor follow-up plan so you’re prepared for the influx of worship guests. If you don’t have a worship-visitor follow-up plan, hopefully this demonstrates, it’s not that hard to put one together. There is still time.

May God richly bless your efforts to follow up on the guests he brings to his house this Christmas!

Rev. Eric Roecker
Director, Commission on Evangelism

 

 

Imagine a 16-year-old WELS member. What are the chances that individual is still WELS when he’s 30? We have studied this multiple times in our church body’s history. My commission, Congregational Counseling, has churches who work with us measure that—the percent of young members who drop out of church.

The answer is about 50%. Approximately half of young WELS members drift away. Some drift into other Christian churches. However, most drift into nothingness. They stop going to church altogether. A few come back when they get married and have kids of their own. It is a very small percentage. The bottom line is about 50% of young WELS members eventually leave.

When we study a large sampling of WELS people and look at certain life factors, we can note things that seem to make the difference. For example, having a child attend a Lutheran elementary school and especially a Lutheran high-school can make a difference. If you have the opportunity to send your child to such as school, realize what a gift you have been given! However, understand that while Lutheran education does make a difference, it is a very small difference—just a couple percentage points. Most WELS congregations don’t have an elementary school. If that is true for you, do not despair! For there are other factors that matter much, much more than Lutheran education.

Do you know what is the bigger factor in whether or not young people stay in the church? This factor dwarfs everything else. The spiritual activity that takes place in the home.

When mom and dad talk about spiritual things at home, that impresses upon the children that life is about more than grades and sports. When family prayer is something done daily, it teaches the children that of all conversations they have in a day, none is more important than when they bring their cares and concerns to their true Father. When parents open up the Bible with their children, what blessings result! The Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to build your child up in their faith. More, the Spirit imparts the love and forgiveness Christ has shown to each family member, empowering them to show love and forgiveness to one another. Families need that! (Side note: It has been demonstrated that it is especially important that fathers be a part of this. The importance of dad providing spiritual leadership should not be surprising, as God wove that responsibility into the fiber of man’s being.)

The goal of the C18 program is to reach one-million souls with the Christmas gospel. However, in Congregational Services, we established a secondary goal: to give families the opportunity to restore the family altar.

Below, you will find a video of Pastor Eric Roecker, WELS Director of Evangelism, and Pastor Donn Dobberstein, WELS Director of Discipleship. They explain how we are hoping that families can use the online daily devotions around the dinner table or before bedtime in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Watch that, if you have not yet done so.

My encouragement—Do not let the fact that you might not be able to do a family devotion every day keep you from doing them at all. I’ve had parents tell me things like, “It would be impossible for us to do family devotions. We all are so busy in the evenings. Half the evenings, we don’t even eat together.” My response? “You just told me you can do family devotions on half of the evenings of the week.” However, I’d encourage you to make time for this. No worldly accomplishment of your child is going to matter in the end. Your child pitches a no-hitter in little league. No one will care a year later. Even if your child goes on to play in the major leagues, what does that matter when the trumpet sounds, the skies rip open, and the angels begin to set things on fire? At that moment, what matters is what the Spirit has wrought in your child’s heart. Family devotions are a fantastic way to give the Spirit regular opportunity to give your child what your child needs to live… to really live.

Pastors and church leaders, we are giving away a family devotional booklet for free, one that goes along with the online daily devotions. You can find it in the C18-Discipleship Resources HERE. Print it in black-and-white, and it costs your church next to nothing. So why not run off copies for every member. It serves almost as a little hymnal, one for each person sitting around the dinner table.

If your congregation does not print them off for you, please, go to the discipleship resources and print it off yourself.

Part of my job is church consultation. One of the things we hear in Congregational Counseling again and again is how hard it is to keep young people in church. Well, family devotions are something that seem to greatly increase the likelihood they stay. Ultimately, moving someone to see the importance of Christian community is the work of the Spirit. However, the Spirit typically works through us, through believers. So, let us give the Spirit more opportunities to do his good work by letting him have a place at our dinner table. When dinner is over, turn that table into a family altar.

Rev. Jonathan Hein
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling

 

 

Clockwork.

That’s how I describe my family’s devotional life growing up. Six days a week. We attended church on the “off” day.

The devotion setting: The round wooden kitchen table brought the family together for every breakfast and supper. There was a certain seating order based on age and who was left-handed. Mom’s seat was also closest to the stove and fridge. Once seated, nobody was allowed to leave the table until the final “amen” was said. A bookshelf behind the table held five well-worn Bibles and some hymnals. Twice a day, those Bibles came out. The day began and ended with God’s Word.

The morning devotion: A psalm or two were read out loud. Everybody would take a turn reading. Then Dad would read the daily devotion from “Meditations” out loud. We’d close with the prayer, say the Lord’s Prayer together as a family. Afterwards, the table would erupt with dishes cleared, backpacks stuffed, and doors opening and closing as everyone head out.

The evening devotion: A chapter or two from the New Testament was read. Again, every family member would take a turn reading two verses. Then came the “family prayer”. It was handcrafted as the years went by. As we turned from kids to teens to young adults to having families of our own, the prayer multiplied with the additional names of spouses and grandchildren. Everybody was prayed for by name. We would close with a hymn led by Mom and her beautiful choir voice. We’d giggle when Dad’s voice cracked, or he mutilated a note while singing.

But family Advent devotions were special. In the center of the table, Mom created a special Advent wreath. She twisted tiny pine boughs together in a circle. Purple candles, one for each week before Christmas were strategically placed in the Advent wreath circle. An Advent countdown calendar was on the kitchen wall. I can’t tell you how many fights erupted between my brother and I over whose turn it was to light the candle or open the next window on the Advent calendar to read the bible verse. It was the one chance to play with fire, and we weren’t going miss out even under Mom’s careful supervision. It was a special season filled with special decorations to illustrate the approaching sacred birth.

Like clockwork, years of family devotions flew by. Did I get impatient and think the devotions longer than they ought to be? Yes, especially in my teen years. Did I wonder how my friends would react when they joined us for supper and the devotions? Absolutely, though none ceased being friends because of it. Did I go through times when devotions weren’t a high priority in my personal life? Admittedly. But every time I went back home, the tradition carried on because it never stopped. What a treasured memory for my kids to now join in to read and to sing together.

Here I am forty years later. I look back to my childhood. I can still see where everybody sat around that table. The Bibles positioned on the shelf behind me. The lit advent candle on the table. The voices of my parents and siblings joined in prayer and singing a hymn in the early dark of night. They never told me to read God’s Word and to pray. They showed me by modeling it. They invested their lives into creating a devotional culture. I treasure that sacred childhood memory bequeathed by my parents.

If you have never experienced the ritual of a family devotion, I invite you to create one this Advent season. Create your own custom! Maybe it’s a few minutes in the morning or at night before tucking the kids in bed.

Then commit to it for a few minutes a day. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before. It’s never too late to start! Advent devotions can provide the comfort of history, regularity, and spiritual tradition to the season. There’s something special and comforting about gathering as a family, lighting a candle, and hearing God’s Word that prepares hearts and homes for Christmas.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein
Director, Commission on Discipleship

Go to C18 Discipleship Resources and select the download tab to find a PDF Advent devotional booklet to help families hold family devotions beginning Sunday, December 2.

 

 

Christmas is more than celebrating Jesus’ birthday. For centuries, Christians have realized that the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem deserves a response of praise. As a result, when we think of Christmas, we are moved to song and gift giving.

Think about the outpouring of Christmas music that praises God for sending his Son. Even unbelieving society hums the tune!

Now think about the other “response of praise,” which is sometimes called “the spirit of Christmas.” God so loved the world that he gave. When we celebrate Christmas, we respond with many earnest expressions of love for loved ones and strangers. Gift giving, contributions for the poor and lonely, and personal acts of love are part of our response of praise.

In the classroom and in our families, this is a time to teach children to think of others. How about applying God’s compassion for sinners by teaching our children to have compassion on those who have not heard the gospel?

Special Ministries has Included sign language videos of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” in the C18 resources. Children love to sign and sing, and this Christmas song is prominently featured in this December’s Advent services and could also be used in your children’s Christmas service. The videos include two different ways to sign the first verse of the hymn and a video that explains how to do the signs.

Two ways to sign? The first way, Signed English, is the way that students usually sign a hymn: a sign for each word, in the word order of the song. That’s the easiest way for hearing students to sign. But more advanced students may be interested in learning that deaf people would prefer a song to make sense in sign language, and the second video demonstrates how the hymn could be signed conceptually in American Sign Language, so that a person who communicates through sign would smile with recognition and understanding.

Even if the children don’t learn the second way, just showing them the second way of signing offers an opportunity for compassion. Think about someone who can’t hear the Christmas story! We want them to understand that Jesus is Emmanuel who came to save us.

The videos and the explanation can be viewed by families at home. Students can practice the signs outside the classroom, and the discussion about caring about communicating the gospel can go home with them!

Rev. Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries

 

 

 

 

We believe and therefore speak.

It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak (2 Corinthians 4:13).

Beyond being theological truth, what St. Paul shares there contains common sense. The way we act says a lot about what we believe. When one claims to believe something but does not act upon that stated belief, it brings the sincerity of the belief into question.

For example, take the Hollywood celebrity who rails against the evils of global warming. Yet, he flies all over the world in a private jet. He could use a greener method of travel. He could, at the very least, fly commercial to reduce the number of planes in the air. But no. He justifies his use of a private jet. Does he really believe that global warming is a big threat? His actions do not jibe with what he claims to believe.

What follow are some truths Christians would say they believe. Let us consider the logical way to act if we really believe these truths. Do our actions always jibe with our confession?

Belief #1: We believe God knows everything about us, and yet still he loves us deeply and unconditionally.

We know there are no such things as “secrets” when it comes to God. He sees what you do behind closed doors. Even the activities inside the grey matter of your brain are visible to him. He reads thoughts. So, King David writes, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1).

We also know that God is holy. He hates sin with a ferocity we cannot comprehend. When you put those thoughts together, it is terrifying. Yet we believe that in spite of our sin, God loves us dearly. Even more, we believe his love is not mere sentiment. It took action!

God loved you enough to become you on that first Christmas. He became fully human. He faced everything hardship you have ever faced and more. Like you, Jesus endured temptation. Unlike you, he always resisted. He never caved in. Then he took that perfect life and traded it for yours. He did not do this just for some nebulous “world.” Scripture says he actually had you in mind, that he even knew your name. Believe this—Jesus saw your face before you had a face, loved you, and chose to be tortured to death so that you might be forgiven for all your sins. He took your damnation so you might live in everlasting glory.

Consider your baptism. When you look at the cross, you might think, “Jesus did that for the entire world. He wasn’t really thinking of me.” That is wrong. Even if you think that way, you are still confronted by the baptismal font. The world was not at the font. It was just you! Only you. God Almighty moved time and space to bring you to that place so that he might fill you with the Spirit, giving you rebirth into faith, washing away your sin. Maybe God allowed you to be born into a Christian family; you were brought to the font as a baby. Maybe he had someone share the gospel with you as an adult, and the Spirit moved you to receive the blessings of baptism. Either way, your baptism proves that God loves you as an individual, not just as part of some large mass of people.

There’s more to Belief #1. We believe that Christ does not waver in his love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). God saw what you did behind that closed door. He hated the action, but he did not stop loving you. That repulsive thought you had, the one you thought no one knew about since you refrained from verbalizing it… Jesus saw that. Yet, he did not stop loving you, not even for a second.

Do you believe this? If you do, it will radically affect your behavior. St. Paul writes, “[Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). St. John states it more succinctly, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

If you believe that Jesus knows everything about you and yet still loves you deeply and unconditionally, your heart melts. You begin to prioritize your life in a way that gives him glory. You live to thank him… to serve him… to love him. If you believe he loves you personally, then nothing Jesus asks of you is too great. How could it be? He literally suffered hell just for you! Why? Because he loves you that deeply. Yes, you! How then could he ever ask too much of you?

Belief #2: We believe God wants all people to be saved.

God loves you, but not only you. His love is too great, too broad, too deep. [God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

Take that word “all” and carry it around in your heart this week. Your next door neighbor. The woman who sits two cubicles down from you. The homeless lady sitting on a park bench, sipping on something hidden in a paper bag. The guy on the news who, in a fit of rage, shot and killed two people. The man who just got out of jail after serving five years for sexual assault. All people. God wants them all saved.

Again, God’s love is more than sentiment. He does not just feel warmth towards all people. “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

If you believe that, it will affect your behavior.

First, it drives away all fear of condemnation. If God loved some people… if Jesus died only for some… you would have to wonder if you made the cut. But God wants all people to be saved. Jesus died for the whole world. Are you part of “all”? Then stop worrying about whether or not God wants you to be saved!

Secondly, since you love God dearly and would be willing to do anything to serve him (see Belief #1), you start recognizing that one of the best ways to demonstrate your love for God is to help him in his efforts save “all people.” Which leads us to…

Belief #3: We believe that God has chosen, in a sense, to “need” us in his effort to save others.

We know that in an absolute sense an omnipotent God does not need anyone to do anything for him. All he did was speak, “’Let there be light’” and “there was light” (Genesis 1:3). What does he need us for? Absolutely nothing.

Yet, one can choose to “need” someone. When my sons were younger they loved the construction types of toys: Legos, Tinker Toys, K’nex, Bionicles, etc. We would get some sort of kit. I would sit on the floor with them, pieces spread out before us. I did not need their help to assemble that Lego airplane. Yet, it was not getting assembled without their effort. Why? I chose to need them.

When it comes to his desire to save all people (Belief #2), God, in a sense, has chosen to need us. St. Paul puts it this way.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13,14).

Paul begins by stressing that God does indeed want “everyone” to “be saved” through faith in Christ. Then Paul asks an intriguing question. How that will happen if no one tells them about Christ? Paul asks us to consider how unbelievers are going to be saved if believers do not preach to them. (“Preach” here is used broadly to refer to sharing the gospel of Christ in any context.) Paul is explaining that God has chosen to “need” us in his saving work.

Friends, this is God’s Word! You look at that next-door neighbor and you are pretty sure they do not really understand Jesus. But you say to yourself, “Well, if God wants to save them, he will save them.” If St. Paul were here, he would stare at you with a perplexed look on his face. He would ask pointedly, “How? How exactly do you expect that to happen? God has chosen to need you! He made you that person’s next-door neighbor for a reason!”

You might ask, “Why would God choose to need me?” You would have to ask him when you see him, but it is safe to say it goes back to his deep love for you. I chose to “need” my sons to assemble that Lego plane because I loved them. I wanted them to enjoy the satisfaction… the accomplishment.

There is a parallel there. Every single one of your earthly accomplishments will be forgotten. Frankly, in just a couple generations after you are dead, even your descendants will not know your name. Worldly achievements are appreciated for just a few heartbeats, but no longer. But now imagine that through your witnessing to your next-door neighbor, the Holy Spirit pulls that individual into the Church. A million years from now you will still enjoy the fruits of your labor.

So perhaps, because he loves you that much, God has chosen to “need” you so that you might do something with your life that echoes for all of eternity. Because he loves you, he wants you to forever enjoy that you were allowed to play a part in that significant work. God is good!

God has chosen to need you. Do you believe this? If so, repent of any lack of urgency you have had in witnessing to your unchurched friends and relatives and neighbors. The fruit of that repentance is to start doing what you have not yet done.

How many people do you know that do not know Jesus? Oh, they probably know his name and can cite some things they did, but they do not have saving faith in him. Do you know six people like that? A dozen? Or, how many people are in your life where you simply don’t know what they think about Jesus? You have never asked them. If you believe that God has chosen to need you, then you understand it is past time that you start asking.

Put this truth together with Belief #2. Your next-door neighbor is someone for whom Christ suffered and died. The payment for their sins has been made. Witnessing to your neighbor is not just a matter of love for them. You love Christ! Thus, you want the blood and sweat that Jesus put into your neighbor’s salvation to actually benefit them. But, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

Belief #4: We believe God’s Word is incredibly powerful.

God tells us, “[My Word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). One again, God speaks in black-and-white absolutes. His Word does not sometimes accomplish what he desires. It always does so.

The main “purpose” of God’s Word is to make that which is dead, alive again. Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit takes a dead, unbelieving heart and makes it beat with faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

However, God is not a bully. The Spirit does not force someone to be converted. Man has the horrible power to reject the gospel. If someone rejects the Word, it still accomplishes God’s purpose. In that case, as an act of judgment, the purpose of the Word is to harden the individual against God. The Word makes one ripe for Judgment Day. “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).

The primary purpose of God’s Word is to create saving faith in the heart of an individual. And God’s Word is incredibly powerful. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The same power which called the stars into existence is unleashed upon the unbeliever’s heart when they hear the gospel.

You have accounts of amazing conversions in Scripture. It was not just likely people who came to faith. The gospel was able to convert people who you would think had no chance of believing: the jailer at Philippi; Nicodemus, a Pharisee; Saul, whose job was to hunt and kill Christians.

Put Belief #2 , #3, and #4 together. You believe God wants all people to be saved. You believe God’s Word can do powerful things. That must affect the way you approach life!

A couple with two young kids who just moved into the neighborhood. When talking with them, they say to you, “We found our doctor and a good mechanic. We just need to find a good church.” You thank God for such low-hanging fruit… for the times he makes evangelism easy. But what about that neighbor who is ornery, whom you’ve heard talk about how silly , stupid, and superstitious Christians are. Is he any harder to win than Saul or the jailer? You have the gospel! It is spiritual dynamite. If you believe that, you are just as likely to witness to the ornery neighbor as you are to that young couple.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”

Those words (found in Matthew 9:24) were spoken by a man who believed in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. But confronted with a challenge—in this case, having a demon-possessed son—the man’s actions and emotions did not match entirely with his beliefs.

Again, this is not just spiritual truth, but common sense. Our actions don’t always match up with our beliefs. We all know that if you text when you drive, you are as dangerous as a highly-drunk driver. Yet, many of us have, in times of duress, shot off a quick text while doing 70mph down the highway. Our actions are not in line with what we know to be truth.

When that happens in our spiritual lives… when our behavior does not line up with our beliefs… there is good news.

First, Jesus love for you is indeed unconditional. Believe it. When your behavior contradicts your beliefs, his love does not waver even a little bit.

Second, Jesus paid for the sins of unbelief too. He died for the times you have not believed his Word. He also died for the times when you have, yet your actions did not match up with your beliefs.

Third, God’s Word is powerful. Through the Word, the Spirit will help you “overcome” your unbelief. He will lead you not just to believe the four truths we have discussed, but to act upon those beliefs.

C18 is a time to do that. We have set the goal of sharing Christ with one-million people prior to and on Christmas Eve. That goal seeks not just to benefit those one-million people. It is for our benefit too! We pray that God uses this time and this effort to help our actions better line up with our beliefs, that we might achieve that greater joy… that fuller sense of purpose.

If we believe…

You do believe, brothers and sisters! You would not have read all this if you did not. You believe! Ask the Spirit to give you the courage of your convictions. Then go boldly into the world, and act on them.

May God grant that among us all.

By Rev. Jonathan Hein

 

 

 

This week we share some C18 worship planning details.

Advent worship plan

Last summer a worship plan for the Sundays of Advent was posted for the sake of those who do longer range worship planning – and as an encouragement to others to make such plans. That plan is available in the C18 Worship Resources package. It includes thematic info and hymns for the Sundays in Advent.

More recently posted are a newly composed gathering rite and thematic Verses of the Day. Both use the tune VENI EMMANUEL. Each Sunday begins with the first stanza of “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” along with a newly written stanza that highlights the day’s theme. The appropriate Advent wreath candles are lighted during the gathering rite.

Musical resources are also in the C18 Worship Resources package for free download, most with options for both organ and piano. Previewing these musical resources now makes it possible to assign various choirs (adult, children) and/or soloists to cover each of the Sundays of Advent—and to plan for rehearsals.

Psalms for each Advent Sunday, from those under consideration by the new WELS hymnal project, will be emailed to pastors on or about November 5. Due to copyright restrictions, they will not be posted with other C18 worship resources. They are easy enough to incorporate with a one-month lead time.

Christmas worship plan

Here’s what you can expect for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Children’s Service

An earlier blog, available here, covered options for a children’s Christmas service. If you haven’t yet reviewed this material about when best to have Christmas Eve services, both a children’s service and a more outreach-focused service, be encouraged to give that a high priority. In some congregations it may be relatively non-controversial. In other congregations it will take multiple meetings and redundant communication to consider a change to current practice. If you are part of such a congregation, start the conversation soon…but recognize that consensus for a change might not be possible in the time remaining this year.

Due to the many variants in a children’s service from congregation to congregation, C18 is not supplying worship plans or worship folders for a children’s service.

Christmas Eve Outreach Service

In many congregations, the primary service with the best outreach potential is a Christmas Eve service other than the children’s service. This service, the main focus of your outreach publicity, could take place anytime from the afternoon to later in the evening.

C18 offers two options: a “Lessons and Carols” format, and a “traditional three lesson” format.

Some churches without a Lutheran Elementary School and without the resources to plan a “full scale” children’s service might consider how children can be involved in this service. For example, they can take the role of a choir and sing (in unison) a single stanza of two to four hymns—possibly with a special accompaniment to heighten musical interest.

Christmas Day Festival Worship

It may be true that a Christmas Day service is not the first choice for an outreach emphasis. It may even be true that fewer members, choosing only one of three or more Christmas services, will prefer Christmas Day. Still, if your church has the resources to plan strong services for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can publicize both. Even if the Christmas Day service leans more toward “normal,” but with a strong sermon, the Spirit will use the Word to touch hearts. The service doesn’t require a SATB choir with soaring descants to familiar Christmas songs to be a moving experience.

Worship Folders

Worship folders will be available in three formats: Word, Publisher, PDF. Camera-ready PDF versions include blank pages for inserting local information. Since customs for offering Holy Communion vary (first and third, second and fourth, etc) and since CW and CWS offer four different communion services, adaptations will be necessary for communion services.

Files will be available on:

  • October 12: Christmas Eve/Day outlines – for planning purposes
  • November 7: Advent Sunday worship folders
  • November 12: Christmas worship folders
  • Worship folder cover art for Advent and Christmas is already posted available in the C18 Worship Resources package.

Special Music

Congregations large and small will serve members and guests well by dressing up some of the hymns with arrangements suitable to their resources. This can be as simple as vocal soloists singing some stanzas to a variety of alternate accompaniments. But if you’re blessed with a strong choir and brass ensemble, we know that you’re already planning to use them!

The worship folders provided by C18 do not specify how to involve a variety of musicians. But in every congregation Christmas music is likely one of the strongest parts of the music library. A choir or children’s song can replace any hymn. Or a choir, children, soloist can sing select stanzas of several hymns. The settings available to you likely include options for other instruments to join piano and organ. If a choir/solo song is accompanied by an ensemble (keyboard, guitar, instrument, hand percussion), consider using that ensemble also to accompany an entire hymn or select stanzas.

For hymns 35 and 90 see from CPH Hymns for the Contemporary Ensemble – Advent, Christmas by Phil Magness. (This collection was also mentioned in the Advent plan, above.)

For Christmas Day the setting of Psalm 98 from Christian Worship Supplement will appear in the C18 worship folder. An alternate, something being considered for the new hymnal project, is a Marty Haugen arrangement of a David Haas setting, available for purchase from GIA. Instrumentation for this psalm is similar to the Magness hymn settings. For both the hymn and psalm settings it is not necessary to use every instrument specified.

Long-range worship plans

While I have your attention, sample worship plans for year C, the year that begins in Advent 2018, are available here. These may be especially useful for congregations that are not currently doing such planning. Some of the plans are from 2015-16, the previous year C, but can still serve well as a starting point for a 2018-19 plan. See also from the 2014 WELS worship conference “Working Smarter at Worship” by Jon Bauer and Caleb Bassett: bit.ly/workingsmarterhandout (or this direct link.)

Another resource from the 2014 conference is helpful for planning choral music (adults and children): Choral Anthems for Year C. Note that prices are subject to change. For music and worship assistance from Northwestern Publishing House, call 800-662-6022 or visit nph.net.

While the pastor is a key person for developing such plans, he’s not the only person. Even with picking hymns, he can share this planning. See an article about sharing the work here: Worship the Lord #67, New Tricks for an Old Dog.

E19? We are not planning a suite of resources for Easter 2019. However, you can still access E14 resources and customize them as desired.

Rev. Bryan Gerlach
Director, Commission on Worship

 

 

 

A simple way to accomplish multiple goals

Christmas for Kids one-day Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs have become quite common among our WELS congregations, for multiple reasons.

First, a Christmas for Kids VBS is very simple to operate. A traditional VBS can run for an entire week. A Christmas for Kids VBS typically runs over a few hours on one Saturday. That makes it easier to recruit volunteers. It can take four months to prepare for a week long VBS. You can prepare a Christmas for Kids program in four weeks.

Second, a Christmas for Kids VBS allows you to help your member children focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Each year, the secularization of Christmas pushes the celebration earlier and earlier. “The Christmas Season” begins before Thanksgiving! A Christmas for Kids can be a great way of helping our children to focus on Christ, instead of the presents and decorations.

Third, a Christmas for Kids VBS lets us train our children to do outreach. We want outreach to become a part of WELS culture, where members are constantly looking for opportunities to invite unchurched friends and neighbors to church events. Start that training when they’re young! By encouraging your children to invite their unchurched friends to your Christmas for Kids, it allows them to practice sharing their faith in a simple way.

Fourth, Christmas for Kids VBS allows you to tell the true meaning of Christmas to unchurched children. You can help them learn about the best Gift one can get at Christmas. You can send materials home with the children so their parents hear the Christmas gospel as well.

Fifth, Christmas for Kids VBS enables you to serve your community. You promote this VBS as a chance for parents to go Christmas shopping—away from prying eyes—while their children are cared for in a safe, loving environment.

Sixth, Christmas for Kids VBS can serve as a way to connect unchurched families to Sunday morning activities. If you hold the VBS on a Saturday, have the children sing a song they learned in worship the next day. Or invite the unchurched children to continue learning about Jesus by coming back to Sunday school. When a child starts asking his parents to bring him or her to your church, you have a great opportunity!

If your congregation has never conducted a Christmas for Kids VBS, why not try one this year? It is easy, costs very little, and can accomplish multiple good things, as illustrated above.

Putting together a Christmas for Kids program

Here are five steps you need to take to run a successful Christmas for Kids VBS. Some of these (steps 1 through 3) can be done concurrently.

Step 1 – Set your date.

We recommend a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. Either work well if what you are promoting is the opportunity for parents to go Christmas shopping. However, a Saturday VBS has the added benefit of letting you teach the children a song that they can sing in Sunday’s worship service.

The ideal time is the second week in December, Saturday the 8th or Sunday the 9th. However, Christmas for Kids can work well very close to Christmas. This year, Saturday, December 22nd or Sunday, December 23rd would be fine. It lets you tie the VBS to Christmas Eve. Some churches have had their VBS kids sing a carol on Christmas Eve.

Step 2 – Plan your program.

A Christmas for Kids VBS program typically consists of five things.

  1. Bible story time – Sharing the “good news of great joy” is job one of any Christmas VBS. There are many ways you can do this.Use the lesson plan from your Sunday school materials. Christ Light has fabulous lessons plans about the Christmas story. There are different ones geared toward a variety of ages. There is no concern about repeating them in Sunday school as well. Children are happy to talk about the story of Jesus’ birth.Present the nativity as a play for the children, or put on a nativity-themed skit. You could ask your teen group to act it out.Set up the nativity. If you have access to a nativity set (the bigger the better!) set it up piece by piece, having different people telling the story of each character. Have each person ask questions when their portion of the story is done.Write your own lesson plan. It could be as simple as you (or someone who is a gifted reader and/or storyteller) walking through Luke 2 and using props to illustrate the story. Then have some discussion questions for the kids.
  2. Music time – You will want the children to spend some time in song. Pick Christmas hymns that are well-known to your congregation’s children so that they might serve as leaders in the singing: Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Away in the Manger, etc.
  3. Craft time – Simply google “children’s Christmas crafts,” and you will find countless ideas of age-appropriate projects the children could do.
  4. Game time – Google “children’s Christmas games.” You will have many options.
  5. Snack time – Over the course of three hours, the children will probably need a snack. This too could be turned into an activity. For example, children could decorate Christmas cookies and take some home to give to their parents.

With those five different things in play, you can see how easy it would be to fill 3 hours.

A mistake that churches can make is in “overdoing” this. Your Bible lesson need not be an elaborate play with great production value! Your craft need not be something expensive and complicated. You will easily fill the time even with simple activities. So just keep it simple, share the gospel, and let your children have some fun.

Step 3 – Promote & register.

There are many ways to promote your Christmas for Kids VBS.

  • Another C18 post talked about doing doorhanger canvassing in your community. A promotional flyer about your VBS could be one of the things you insert into the bags.
  • We have stressed FRAN outreach throughout C18, that is, teaching your members to think about inviting unchurched friends, relatives, associates and neighbors to church activities. Have your congregation’s parents mention your Christmas to Kids VBS to the parents in the neighborhood. You could provide promotional material.
  • Temporary signage is a great way to promote VBS. You can order a 4’ by 8’ full color banner from USPress.com for less than $100. Put it in front of your church for the two weeks before the VBS.
  • Radio stations and even TV stations will often promote children’s activities for free. The fact that “for kids” is in your title might give you free airtime. Have someone in your church call up all the stations in your area and inquire about that.

You will want to have a registration form where parents can provide you not only with the names of their children, but also emergency contact information as well as information about potential food allergies. You could put this form online as a PDF file so that people could print it from your website. Or you could set up an e-mail address just for registration and ask people to provide the information you need that way. If you have someone tech savvy in your congregation (talk to your teens) you could have someone set up a Google Forms VBS registration.

Step 4 – Recruit and staff.

Undoubtedly, when you planned your VBS, you had some people in mind to run it: teachers, teen helpers, skit performers, a piano player, etc. As registrations come in, determine if you have enough. If you have 20 kids sign up, you can easily handle the group with three or four people. If you have 60, you will need more.

If you have a large registration, you might consider structuring your staff in a way to have “stations.” Rather than have all the kids do the same thing at the same time, divide them into groups, by age, and have them rotate from station to station: the story station, the craft station, the music station, etc.

Step 5 – Rejoice and follow up!

So your VBS is over. Rejoice that you have had the opportunity to serve those children with the gospel. However, you are not quite done yet. You want to follow up in three ways.

First, follow up by sending a thank-you to every parent for putting their child in your VBS. It could be a simple thank you card with a hand-written note. Time permitting, a member of your congregational evangelism team could also follow up, face-to-face, and drop off the same gift your congregation shares with worship visitors.

Secondly, follow up by having other events that children and their parents might come to. Christmas Eve is a natural choice. Might there be others? What about a family movie night at church with pizza and popcorn? Or perhaps a Saturday evening VBS around Valentine’s Day that is “sold” as an opportunity for parents go out on a date? Or simply tell them about Easter for Kids, held in a few months. The point is you want to let the parents and children know you hope their visit was not a one-time thing.

Thirdly, there needs to be a leader—some key player—who thanks the VBS volunteers personally. They volunteered to serve Jesus, not to receive thanks. Thank them anyway!

Make this extra easy with a Christmas for Kids resource pack from Northwestern Publishing House

Nothing described here is overly difficult. However, if you want to make this extra easy, you can purchase a Christmas for Kids resource pack from Northwestern Publishing House. They sell three different versions. You can find them HERE.

These resource packs are geared towards ages 3 through 10. They are very thorough, containing things like:

  • three levels of student lessons in PDF
  • full-color Bible story pictures in JPG and PDF
  • directions for planning, scheduling and conducting Christmas for Kids
  • complete instructions for teaching at the various stations
  • advertising pieces and clip art
  • craft ideas, patterns, and photos
  • snack and game suggestions
  • an opening devotion
  • a Bible story skit.

Most materials come in both English and Spanish.

The Christmas for Kids resource pack not only contains everything you need, it lays out how to use them step by step. It contains enough materials to give you Christmas for Kids ideas for multiple years.

If you have any questions or want to order by phone, call Northwestern Publishing House at 800-662-6022.

Blessings on your Christmas for Kids VBS efforts!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

What constitutes a healthy evangelism program? If a congregation has a decent percentage of their budget directed at outreach efforts, does that mean it is healthy? If a congregation does mass mailings inviting the community to church, is that enough to be healthy? What is a healthy evangelism program?

I would propose that a healthy evangelism program is one that: a) engages in outreach and evangelism on a corporate level; and b) equips members for outreach and evangelism on a personal level.

The C18 program is designed to bring all this together—outreach and evangelism, corporate and personal efforts.

What is corporate outreach? How is it different from personal evangelism?

Let us establish some definitions.

Corporate means “relating to a large group.” It comes from the Latin word corpus which means “body.”

Personal means “coming from an individual.”

Outreach literally means “to reach beyond.” In outreach, you are trying to reach beyond an established boundary, to connect to others, and to build a bridge that allows for communication.

Evangelism is “the sharing of the gospel.” It comes from a Greek word that means “good news.”

When evangelism and outreach take place both corporately and personally, a congregation has a healthy ministry. Let us give some examples of each.

Corporate Outreach

Again, outreach is the attempt to build a bridge of communication with the community so that in the future the gospel might be shared. Some examples of corporate outreach:

  • Mailing 10,000 outreach postcards inviting people to join you this Christmas Eve.
  • Canvassing 2,000 homes, extending the same invitation.
  • Utilizing targeted Facebook ads to let your community know about congregation events this holiday season.

Extending the invitation to Christmas Eve is not evangelism. You have not proclaimed the gospel yet. It is outreach.

Corporate Evangelism

When members of the community come to Christmas Eve worship, then they will hear the Good News of Emmanuel, God made flesh, come to rescue us from our sin. The sermon, liturgy, and hymns are all serving an evangelism effort.

If your congregation has planned well, a few days after Christmas Eve, someone from your church will stop by the home of those worship guests to share the gospel again. Typically, this is either the pastor or a member who has been trained to provide this type of witness. This is still corporate evangelism, because the pastor or trained evangelist are acting on behalf of the corpus or the body—the congregation.

Personal Outreach

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9

When you were baptized, God not only washed away your sins and made you his child, but he anointed you as a priest, “that you may declare [his] praises.” Every believer will now, by the power of the Spirit dwelling inside him, do the types of things we would expect a priest to do. This means that outreach and evangelism will not just occur corporately, but personally too.

In personal outreach, the believer is simply trying to create opportunities for someone they know to hear the gospel—an unchurched friend or relative or  neighbor.

When you invite your next door neighbor to join you at your congregation on Christmas Eve, you have not engaged in evangelism, for you have not proclaimed the gospel. You have engaged in personal outreach, attempting to create an opportunity for that friend to hear the gospel. It is a fantastic way to minister to your friend!

Studies show that a personal invitation extended from a friend is about three hundred times more likely to move someone to come to church than a postcard invitation received in the mail. Why is that? It can be intimidating to go to a strange church. You do not know anyone. You do not know the customs. Going to church with someone you know is substantially less scary.

Personal outreach is an easy way to ease into your role as priest. The believer does not have to proclaim law and gospel himself (yet!). He is simply inviting someone he knows to come to church with him.

Personal Evangelism

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. – 1 Peter 3:15

However, as a believer engages in personal outreach, he is going to have opportunities to actually engage in personal evangelism.

A friend shares that his marriage is unraveling. You have the opportunity to explain how Christ’s love has been the glue that has held your marriage together when it hit hard patches. That is evangelism! You are implying, “There is hope—Christ!” You can then invite this friend to come to church and meet your pastor, who could offer counseling.

A neighbor shares that he has cancer. You have the opportunity to console, to love, to listen. You also have the chance to explain the only way one can peacefully face mortality—with the confidence of the resurrection. You are engaging in personal evangelism.

Corporate efforts do not eliminate the need for personal efforts. Personal efforts cannot do the same things as corporate efforts.

A challenge congregations face is when people see outreach and evangelism as falling only in the corporate realm or only in the personal realm.

Personal Emphasized Over Corporate

For example, take the pastor who, when asked to summarize the congregational evangelism strategy, answers, “We preach the gospel each week. Our members then share their faith in their personal lives.” That fails to acknowledge that personal efforts cannot accomplish the exact same things as corporate efforts.

Consider canvassing or mass mailings, both of which have been utilized to good effect in WELS congregations. Which member, on his own, could canvass 2,000 homes? Which member could do a mass mailing to 10,000 people in the community? The workload be too great for one individual or family. Moreover, that member does not have the God-given responsibility to publicly represent your congregation in an outreach effort. He would be overstepping to produce the outreach postcard for your congregation all on his own.

Corporate Emphasized Over Personal

Now consider the member who uses the fact that his congregation does corporate evangelism to salve his conscience about his lack of effort to share his faith personally. That member does not know if his next door neighbor has a church home. That member does not ever try and witness to a fallen-away relative. He thinks to himself, “I spent an hour putting labels on our Christmas mailing. I have done my part for Christ’s mission.”

That member is using his congregation’s corporate outreach effort to excuse his lack of personal effort. He fails to acknowledge that Christ has peppered his life with opportunities to minister to others personally, including through evangelism.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

Synergy Between Corporate and Personal

A healthy congregational evangelism program plans to create synergy between corporate and personal efforts.

Take this Christmas Eve as an example. It is good that your congregation has a plan to reach out to the community: a mass mailing, a Facebook ad, a banner by the road, or all of the above. Corporate outreach. It is just as important that your congregation has a plan to train and encourage members to invite their unchurched friends and relatives to come to Christmas Eve. Personal outreach.

The two will work together. Tim, a member at your church, invites Mark, his unchurched co-worker, to attend Christmas Eve. Tim gives Mark a business-card invitation that the church provides him. It has the A Light in the Darkness image on it. Mark has seen that same image before in a Facebook ad. Maybe he saw it on a banner in front of the church when he drove by. The congregation’s corporate effort is now connected with Tim’s personal effort. Both efforts benefit by the synergy between them.

C18: Bringing Corporate and Personal Efforts Together
  • The C18 program offers resources and training for all four aspects of a healthy congregational evangelism program.
  • To aid in corporate outreach, we have provided evangelism materials, many of which can be used for free. Low cost outreach postcards and business-card invitations and banners are all available through Echt Printing.
  • To help with corporate evangelism, we have provided worship options for your Christmas Eve service, including worship folder templates, that keep the gospel front and center on that special night. We are also providing training resources to help your congregation engage in prompt worship-guest follow-up, which is another opportunity to share law and gospel.
  • To encourage personal outreach, C18 offers resources that encourage many different segments of WELS membership—elementary school kids, families, individuals—to identify their unchurched friends and acquaintances and invite them to Christmas Eve.
  • To encourage personal witnessing, C18 offers multiple Bible studies based on the final evangelism video, To the Ends of the Earth. There are studies available for use on Sunday mornings and ones that can be done in a small group setting. These studies help us see the mission of the Church. They also provide simple ways to share our faith, and the encouragement to do so.
These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

What constitutes a healthy evangelism program? Answer: when a congregation does the following.

  • The congregation organizes corporate outreach efforts.
  • The congregation organizes corporate evangelism efforts.
  • The congregation encourages members to engage in personal outreach efforts.
  • The congregation equips members to undertake personal evangelism efforts.

Are any of those lacking in your congregation? Now is the perfect time to rectify that.

The Spirit is the only one who can create faith. He typically does that through the efforts of congregations and individual believers, as corporately and personally we attempt to connect people to the life-saving gospel.

May the Spirit use you powerfully to do just that this holiday season!

By Jonathan Hein

Jonathan Hein serves as the director of WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. He spent the first twenty years of his ministry serving in Charleston, SC where he helped start two WELS congregations. He served for eight years as chairman of the South Atlantic District Mission Board, overseeing the work of thirty-two different mission congregations.

 

 

 

One Million: a Huge Number

But the angel said to them, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  (Luke 2:10-11, 17-18)

One million is a huge number and an incredible target! C18 has an aggressive goal that WELS individuals throughout our congregations would invite one million unchurched friends, family members, or acquaintances to join them in worship this Christmas. One million people is the equivalent of inviting the whole city of San Jose, CA or inviting all those who live in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, MN!

That seems like a lofty goal until we break it down by district, by circuit, by congregation, by school or early childhood ministry, by individual. WELS includes about 370,000 individuals including men, women, and children. Even if we take out the very youngest children, if each person invited just four people to worship this Christmas, that goal is absolutely attainable! That’s everyone inviting one family or two couples or four neighbors.

How can we encourage our students and their families to be like the shepherds of Bethlehem spreading the Christmas message to all those they know and care about? You may be thinking that you tell your members and even students all the time to share Jesus with those they know that don’t have a church home, and that’s great. Keep doing that. But what if we all could be a little more intentional and really focus on specific ways to equip and encourage them to invite someone to church this year? In previous articles, it was shared that Christmas is the most likely time that someone would be open to an invitation to attend a worship service. They only need to be asked. So, what are some ways that we can equip and encourage our school/early childhood students and their families to reach out with an invitation?

We recently sent a survey to a number of pastors and teachers to learn from them. We asked them to share ways that they encourage and equip their students and school families to be evangelists with those around them. Following are some of the strategies and suggestions we received.

Observations in General
  • Almost without exception, respondents included the reminder that it all starts with sharing the Word faithfully with our students and their families. Faith that is strong and growing is motivated by the Holy Spirit to share the precious gospel with others. This is part of our role as pastors and teachers. What a blessing it is when each of us is eager and excited to share the amazing news of Christ with everyone we know!
  • Pray boldly as a staff, a family, a classroom, asking God to open doors for an invitation.
  • So many congregations, schools, and early childhood ministries have family events that are open to the community such as a Fall Festival, Christmas for Kids, and many others. This is a great time to extend personal and written invitations to those who attend the events. Do you have a means to collect contact information at these events so that you can send them a thank you for attending the event and also invite them to worship, especially Christmas?
  • Many, if not most, of our schools and early childhood ministries have families who enroll their children but have no church home. How can you make sure they know you care about them beyond the classroom? How can you include them in congregational activities? What opportunities are there to extend an invitation to them and let them know that they are welcome to worship on Christmas and at any worship service? The C18 program includes excellent, affordable print outreach materials, such as postcards or business-card invitations. There is also a MSWord template that allows you to print up your own tent-fold card. Might you send these home with your kids? Better, hand them to parents personally when they pick their child up after school.
  • Our schools and early childhood ministries love to have their students sing in a worship service. How is this communicated with school/ECM families who are not members of the congregation? Is this a note in a newsletter? An email reminder? A personal invitation? Do we communicate this with enthusiasm and joy as an opportunity rather than a commitment? How can we help the non-member family feel comfortable coming into our worship to hear their child and others share Jesus in song? How can we and our members best plan “for company” in this service to be sure they feel welcome? Just as important, when these family members do come to see their child sing, what is the plan to follow up on them? Is the pastor or a trained lay member ready to stop by within three days of that worship visitor attending church? That is vital in encouraging that individual to make a repeat visit.
  • Written invitations in newsletters and other publications are good. But wouldn’t you be more likely to attend something if someone cared enough to ask you in person? Identify the school families who would be wonderful at one to one invitations. Ask them to work together to identify ways to extend those invitations and to make sure that all school or early childhood families receive that personal invitation.
In an elementary or high school
  • Sharing the Good News of Jesus is a natural part of the lessons in Christ Light or catechism, but it can easily become something that we just talk about. We need to also discuss the reasons why we witness. We need to share how to witness. Intentionally plan for these discussions and listen to student suggestions on ways for them to reach out to friends and those they know. Explain to them that inviting unchurched friends and relatives to church is a really good way to “ease into” witnessing. It is not scary.
  • Provide the opportunity for students to brainstorm a list of people they know and would like to invite. Provide them with the steps to “work” that list. You will find a “MY PERSONAL MISSION FIELD” document, aimed at helping kids do just this, in the Lutheran Schools C18 resource packet.
  • Can you help your students find a partner to encourage them to reach out with their invitations? They could pray for each other and spur one another on to work their list.
  • Provide a lesson on letter writing for primary through high school students where they draft a letter that could be sent to those they would like to invite. Encourage them to make it personal. Discuss ways for them to follow-up once the letter is mailed.
  • Could students design special postcard to invites others to their church for Christmas? Once printed, each student can take several to hand out individually or mail.
  • Our young people are savvy with social media. Encourage them to use that as an additional way to extend their invitations. A invitation video to Christmas Eve will be made available in the Evangelism C18 resource packet as we get closer to Christmas.
  • Practice role-playing. Students may be hesitant because they are uncomfortable or unsure of what to say. Create authentic scenarios and help them to consider and practice ways to respond and what to say. Explain that it is ok if they simply invite friends to Christmas Eve. That might be all they say for now. When that friend attends, it sets the stage for future spiritual conversation. Help the students think through how those might go.
  • Schedule a Christmas canvassing event with students and their families. This event can have everyone meet at a given time and hand out invitations in a pre-determined area around the church. Another possibility is setting a given time and students go out with their families in their own neighborhood or to those they would like to invite.
In an early childhood/primary setting

“Before they are evangelists, they have to be equipped with the message. Our overall goal is to equip 32 evangelists this year by having them learn Christ centered songs so that that they sing that at home.” When Pastor Jay Bickelhaupt (serving at Apostles Lutheran in Billings, MT) wrote those words, the “32 evangelists” he was referring to are the children in Apostle’s early childhood program.

  • Young children are eager to share all they are learning about Jesus. Can you equip them to serve their Savior in this way? Who wouldn’t love a personal invitation from a young child? Children can design or color an invitation and then take it home to mail or hand out (with the help of their parents) to unchurched friends, family members, or neighbors.
  • Consider extended activity projects with Bible story lessons that help the children to tell the Bible story outside the classroom or that can be used to invite others to Christmas worship.
School families
  • One congregation is hanging a string of 1000 lights in their narthex or lobby. To begin, all the lights are dark colored bulbs. Members, including children, are asked to replace a dark bulb with a light one every time they invite someone to church for Christmas. Is there an adaptation of this that would work for your congregation, school, early childhood ministry, or Sunday School?
  • In principal conferences or pastor circuit meetings, discuss and learn from each other how they use social media to reach out to the community. Consider this beyond marketing for the school or early childhood ministry. How can social media be used by individuals to invite others, including those they know, to worship with them this Christmas?

These are just a sampling of possible ideas. Some may work for your setting and some may not. What ideas can you use or adapt that will get your students and school families excited to invite others to worship this Christmas?

Who will you invite? Who will you encourage to invite others? What blessings can the Holy Spirit shower on those invited?

One person at a time

One invitation at a time. One person at a time. One Savior who came for all. We get to share this amazing news of God’s grace for all!

May God bless you, the students, and the families of your school or early childhood ministry as you reach out and say, “Come and hear! A Savior has been born for you! Christ the Lord!”

 

The Healthy Tension

On the one hand, Christmas Eve is hands down one of the best opportunities your congregation has to reach the lost, the unchurched, and the dischurched. Surveys have demonstrated that 80% of unchurched Americans say they will go to church on Christmas Eve if someone invites them.

That is higher than Easter (which comes in at about 72%). The commercialization of Christmas, which in one sense has robbed that day of so much meaning, also creates that opportunity. Christmas is a big part of our culture. Even with something like the Fourth of July, Americans may not do much to celebrate it. But most Americans want to celebrate Christmas in some way. Many people view singing carols in candlelight as a wonderful way to do that. Therefore, if you do not use Christmas Eve for outreach, your congregation may be missing a tremendous opportunity. On that night, there are masses of people who would be willing to come and give you an hour of their life, something they might not be willing to do on a Sunday morning.

But on the other hand, Christmas Eve has traditionally played a big role in the spiritual life of our Lutheran elementary schools. Many of us have fond memories of confessing our faith as a child by reciting Luke 2 or singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” We want the same opportunity for our children. It is a joyful evening as we recall the wonder of the Savior’s birth with family. They all look forward to getting together on that special night and basking in a light much more beautiful than the glow of candles, the light of the Christ.

This creates a tension. Many of our churches are packed during that Christmas Eve children’s service. Folding chairs are set up in the aisles and people crowd in to the point that fire codes are shattered. You have a family of four who have two children in your school, but they come in two cars with nine people—grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and a family friend. Is it wise to invite the community to join you for a worship service when there may be “no room in the inn”?

Some of our larger churches have moved their children’s service into the gymnasium, where they can then set up more seating than they have in the sanctuary. But while school parents, eager to watch their children proclaim the word, will be fine sitting on metal folding chairs in a gymnasium on Christmas Eve, will a prospect feel the same way? Is that how they picture Christmas? One large congregation changed their afternoon final Christmas practice to an additional worship service. They target inviting the community to that service, and many grandparents and friends attend that afternoon service and hear the message, thus providing a bit more room on Christmas Eve.

So there is a tension. How do you provide the important opportunity of letting Christian children express their faith through a Christmas Eve service while also trying to reach out to your community on the perfect night to do so? This is a healthy tension. Balancing inreach (building up the faith of our members) and outreach (trying to reach out to those who lack faith or a connection to the means of grace) is one of the biggest challenges churches face. Christmas Eve provides congregations with a wonderful opportunity to wrestle with how they will achieve that balance.

The purpose of this C18 module is to serve as a discussion starter for church leaders as you plan your children’s Christmas Eve service. This discussion doesn’t just affect WELS churches that have large Lutheran elementary schools. Any church with an early childhood ministry or even a Sunday school likely will be planning how to tie those ministries into its Christmas celebration. Therefore, in this C18 planning module, we ask some questions for you to think about as you consider the best way to slot your school into your Christmas activities so that both inreach and outreach might be achieved.

Question: Does anyone want to watch my kid except for me?

One of the first questions a congregation needs to consider is whether or not the children’s service can serve well when trying to conduct outreach. Some might assume not. After all, does going to some event and watching someone else’s kids sound appealing to you? But remember, this isn’t “some event.” It is Christmas Eve. Through recitation and song your children will be proclaiming the word of God. God says, “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). God’s powerful word is only of benefit if it is actually heard, of course. “You will do well to pay attention to [the word], as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19).

Conversely, you don’t “do well”—i.e. are not spiritually benefited—if you don’t pay attention to the word. Therefore, we want to present the word in a way that makes the gospel the focus, rather than putting the focus on the children. If children’s recitations are recited so poorly they can’t be understood, if songs are mumbled and stumbled through, then the focus is on the children. Then, for the prospect, your children’s service is like a closed Bible. The word is still powerful. It just isn’t being received. But when a children’s service is well planned and prepared for, when the word is clearly proclaimed and heard, the “power of God for salvation” (Romans1:16) is unleashed. Through the testimony of the children the Holy Spirit works, no differently than he works through the preaching of a pastor.

There’s more, however. When a children’s service is done well, it has a secondary appeal—the appeal to parents who want their children to succeed. That is another aspect of modern American culture you can consider this Christmas. Parents are hyper involved in their children’s lives. You have parents who do not just go to games, but to every practice. You have parents whose primary job seems to be chauffeur, shuttling children to this and that. Much of this is unhealthy. But ultimately it flows from the desire parents have to see their children excel.

So, after sending out postcards to your community, an unchurched couple with two young kids comes to your Christmas Eve service. They see a dozen young children stand up, recite God’s word in unison, and then sing a song well. The unchurched parents are not only touched by God’s word, they are impressed by what your congregation offers to children—the opportunity to excel at more than basic academics. A children’s service, done well, demonstrates to prospects that your school is a place where their child might thrive—spiritually, academically and culturally.

Therefore, do not dismiss the idea of identifying a children’s service (or at least a Christmas service which includes participation from children) as outreach. Such a service can be used for outreach quite well.

 

 

One of the goals of C18 is to share the gospel with one-million souls this holiday season. This will essentially take place as worship guests join you for your Christmas Eve service.

How will you invite them to your service? Here are some options.

Postcards

Your congregation can order color postcards through Echt Printing. (NOTE: A gift to Congregational Services allows us to offer a $150 grant to the first 200 congregations that order postcards.) There are multiple ways your congregation can use those postcards.

If you want to mail the postcards, Echt Printing offers three options.

Option 1

C18 Postcard Front Side

Order 11”x17” press sheets from Echt Printing, which are printed on only the front side. There are four cards per sheet. You would then print the reverse side on your own. Many larger home printers can handle 11”x17” light cardstock. Or, you could take the press sheets to a local printer.

Option 2

You can work with Echt Printing to print both the front and a custom reverse side. The cards are then shipped to you cut and ready to mail. Echt’s designers will work with you to create a customized reverse for your church that matches U.S. Postal Service bulk mail regulations. For those unfamiliar with postal regulations, this is a good option. If you print the back of your card in a way that does not conform to USPS regulations, they may reject your card. NOTE: Two-sided cards are available in standard size (5.5 by 8.5 ) or EDDM size (6.1875 by 8.5). Standard size is required if you would like to use Echt’s mailing service or if you have a bulk mail permit. If you want more information on the USPS’s Every-Door-Direct-Mail (EDDM) program, speak to the bulk mailing manager at your local post office.

Option 3

Echt Printing can print both sides of your postcard and do all the addressing, sorting, and mailing paperwork for you. It is a complete turnkey solution. There is an additional charge of 3 cents per piece. Postage is not included but paid as a separate fee to the U.S. Postal Service. However, using Echt’s mailing service will get you the lowest possible postage cost.

Another way to use outreach postcards is as part of a canvass effort with doorhanger bags. Your congregation could place a postcard and some information about the church into doorhanger bags. Then teams distribute those bags in the weeks leading up to Christmas. When using the postcards this way, you would simply format the reverse side a little differently, as you would not need space for the mass mailing permit number or an address label. More information about planning a doorhanger canvass is available in the C18-Evangelism Resources.

You can order doorhanger bags HERE. Be certain to select a bag that will fit the largest item you want to share.

Business Card Invitations

A business card invitation is easily carried in a member’s pocket or purse, unlike a larger postcard. Whenever the opportunity arises to invite someone to Christmas Eve, you can pull out a business card to provide the pertinent information. Business cards are extremely inexpensive. Using this tactic requires the congregation to provide training and continual encouragement to members. However, it also results in a personal, face-to-face invitation to a worship service, which is the most likely invitation a potential visitor will accept.

Business card invitations can be ordered through Echt Printing.

Facebook Advertising

In the advertising world, CPM is king. CPM stands for cost-per-thousand. In other words, how much does it cost for your ad to be seen by one-thousand people? Facebook is a leader in CPM, coming in at a little over seven dollars. Using Facebooks ads, you can reach 10,000 people in your community for less than seventy-five dollars.

Combine that with the following statistics:

  • 60% of people prefer watching video over reading text.
  • People interested in an ad are 90% more likely to share it on Facebook if it is a video instead of text.
  • It takes approximately one-minute to read 900 words. Viewers will retain 95% of a message they watch in a one-minute video. They retain 10% of 900 words they read in that same time.

Facebook advertising can be a vital component of your congregational outreach. As part of C18, we will be providing ready to use Facebook video ads, as well as a how-to guide for using Facebook to reach your community.

Banners

Banners, by themselves, are not a very effective way of inviting the community to attend a special service. They are highly effective when combined with a larger outreach effort. Imagine your congregation mails out 5,000 outreach postcards. It uses Facebook ads to reach another 10,000. Your members hand out business card invites to unchurched friends and family. Having a large banner in front of your church building that has the same graphic identifies your congregation as the one which is coordinating this wider effort.

Low-cost vinyl banners can be ordered through Echt Printing.

Affordable for all

With the C18 program, any church can utilize the outreach materials. Christmas Eve outreach could cost the church nothing. The digital resources for A Light in the Darkness are all free. Members could share those with friends. If your congregation has an outreach budget, you could use a combination of the resources described above to invite tens of thousands of people in your community to join you on Christmas Eve for around $1000.

Written by Jonathan Hein

 

 

This module explains the importance of regularly offering instruction about evangelism. It suggests rotating classes: the examples of outreach in Acts, the way to approach friendship witnessing, lifestyle witnesses, evangelism in the workplace, etc.

We are calling it C18–a multi-faceted program to assist WELS congregations in their seasonal effort to boldly proclaim Christ.

Downloads

Our Christmas Efforts: What Happened & What’s Next

The goal of C18

When we began C18, we said our goal was “to reach” one-million souls prior to and on Christmas Eve. I realize “reach” is a nebulous term. That was intentional. It is impossible for congregations to track how many people a member invites to Christmas Eve. Congregations do not ask members to submit reports. “How many people did you share the gospel with this past month?” So it is hard to quantify.

What I can report on is certain verifiable numbers.

  • Approximately 70% of WELS congregations participated in C18 in some way, i.e. they used some of the resources that Congregational Services provided.
  • There were over 32,000 downloads of C18 resources that took place in the past four months.
  • There were at least 1.2 million Light in the Darkness Christmas Eve postcards that were shared in a variety of ways.
  • At least 2,400 families used WELS online daily devotion and accompanying booklet.

Later in January, we will send a survey to parish pastors to ask about a) total number of Christmas Eve worship visitors and b) how many, if any, of those visitors have ended up in a Bible Information Class (BIC).

Ultimately, however, we will gauge the impact of C18 in early 2020. If a guest who came on Christmas Eve joins the congregation, it is likely they will complete BIC in 2019. Those numbers will not show up until the 2019 statistical report is published, which will be in March 2020. Adult confirmations in WELS have been trending down for some time now. If they would trend up significantly in 2019, it would be logical to say that C18 played a small role in that.

Ancillary benefits

While C18 was an attempt to reach people with the Christmas gospel, we believed there would be ancillary benefits. The exit survey seems to indicate that is the case. (You can still participate in that exit survey by answering three short questions HERE.)

Refocus on evangelism

It seems people appreciated the effort to refocus congregations on doing whatever they can to increase their evangelism efforts. Some responses from the exit survey:

I have prayed for years for God to make me bold enough to share the gospel. I have now done this… several weeks in a row for C18 and have had very positive results. I plan to continue this method of inviting neighbors to my church year-round for different events.

The best part of C18 was the widespread publicity, a cause we could all rally behind as a synod. It makes it exciting to be a part of something bigger.

Our congregation did more evangelism in the past three months than we have done in the twenty years I have been a member here.

You provided the materials and training that made outreach easy for our church.

We hope C18 helped some WELS members experience the joy of sharing their faith. We pray that those efforts continue even without some special synod program taking place.

See the potential for worship

The C18 program offered a lot of worship resources. It seems to have helped congregations see the potential for worship in two ways.

First, C18 illustrated the potential for liturgical variety. There was the special Advent Gathering Rite. There were a variety of styles for psalm options. Liturgical worship has been proven for centuries to let the gospel predominate. When done properly, it also demonstrates a rootedness, illustrating that the Church deals with ancient threats and universal problems. However, the liturgy also allows for appropriate flexibility, opportunities “to bring out… new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52). It seems people appreciated that.

Second, C18 illustrated the potential to use worship as a part of your congregational evangelism efforts. Worship folders make it extremely easy for someone who has never been to church in their life follow along and not get lost.

Some quotes from the exit survey:

The worship folders did a great job of showing how all the parts of the service fit together.

That Advent gathering song was a wonderful way to begin worship. It was so meaningful!

I have at times been afraid to invite friends to church because I was not sure if they would get how it works. The worship folders take away that fear. It was the first time my church has used them. I hope we use them more often.

Stress the family altar

We saw Advent as a good time to encourage parents to realize how important it is to have a family devotional life. We shared materials which explained that what goes on in the home is by far the biggest factor in retaining children in the faith when they reach adulthood.

So, we used the very popular WELS online daily devotion. In the late 20th century, dad might read a devotion out of a book. Today, we figured he could just drop his smart phone on the table and play the devotion. We published a devotional book, sort of a mini-hymnal for Advent and Christmas.

Based on exit surveys so far, we know thousands of families used the online devotion this way. (The season of Christmas still has a few days left. The exit survey is technically supposed to be done after Christmas. So we expect this number to rise.) It seems, for many WELS families, restoring “the family altar” enhanced their Advent and Christmas worship.

We bought Advent candles for the first time. I didn’t know what they were all about. This year has been the best year for me and the family focusing on Christmas throughout the month.

I loved that C18 focused on reaching unbelievers. But I also love that it stressed feeding our children with God’s Word.

Ease workload

A simple prayer we had for C18 was that by providing plug-and-play resources, it would help take work of the plates of pastors and lay leaders at a busy time of year. It seems that was the case.

Having the Advent worship mostly prepared for me freed up time to do some other things I had been wanting to do but never had the time—most notably, holding an evangelism seminar to help people feel prepared to do the work of outreach we asked them to do.

I think you saved us a good forty hours of work in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We used that time to do more evangelism.

What we will do differently

Another ancillary benefit of C18 was learning ourselves, within Congregational Services, how to better help the people God has called us to serve—you! The exit survey has yielded great information there too. Let me highlight two things we will do differently in the future.

First, all materials for Congregational Services initiatives will be released at the same time.

With the timing of new Congregational Services team members arriving on staff, it would have been impossible to have all 342 C18 files ready to go in July. For future initiatives, that will be a goal. Rather than releasing resources week by week, they will all be uploaded to welscongregationalservices.net at one time, four to five months in advance. Weekly e-mails will still be used to encourage congregations to use those resources in a timely manner.

Second, the online resource center will be formatted differently to make those resources easier to find. Some of you had trouble finding new resources or figuring out how to download them. We will try and make that easier. One possibility: we have all the resources located on one page and numbered. Then, the weekly e-mails, would say, “This week, you want to be sure to download file #45 and share it with your choir director.” You could have downloaded it weeks in advance of that e-mail blast. But if you haven’t, you’ll be able to find it quickly.

Thank you for the kind words you shared in the exit survey. Thank you also for the loving, constructive critiques, which will allow us to make future programs better!

Some stories

The final question in the C18 exit survey asked people to share stories of how their personal or congregation outreach efforts went. Here are a few responses.

We had nearly 50 prospects attend. We are a mission church and we had 265 in attendance Christmas Eve, so having this number of prospects in attendance is exciting.

We had the best turnout at church that we can remember. (172 souls. I think the record had been in the 120s.)

One of our campuses, which was averaging only 20 people in worship on an average week just 18 months ago, had 120 people attend worship on Christmas Eve. Of those 120 nearly 60 were guests. Of those 60, 38 were prospects. God be praised!

A Hindu family worshiped with us due to the efforts of one member who knew them and made an effort to invite them. This was their first time in a Christian house of worship… It was a thrill for me as a pastor on so many fronts!

We had our largest Christmas Eve service attendance ever! It was great! And so many first-time visitors, family members that never come, and coworkers of members who were so happy they came. It was wonderful to see the smiles!

It was great to see the members of our congregation involved in inviting friends, family, etc. We had a record attendance of 1,000+ for our services, with 230 of them being visitors and guests.

One woman in the congregation was wishing she’d be able to fill a pew [with worship guests]. She arrived about 30 –minutes early and was pretty bummed that she’d be all alone. Then, about 10-minutes before the service they all piled in as a Christmas surprise to her, and did fill a whole pew.

People were inviting others. We sent postcards to members of the congregation, inviting them to worship. Members we had not seen in a long time attended and were able to hear the gospel message. The Christmas Eve services were the highest attended that we’ve had for quite some time. All due to the Lord blessing the efforts to reach out with the gospel!

We set an attendance record at our C18 service. We ran out of pews, service folders and candles.

Our congregation normally has 80 to 90 people on average for a Sunday morning. On Christmas Eve, we had 165 people in worship and almost 50 of them were visitors. God be praised!

However, I don’t want to only share stories that stress the number of visitors that came on Christmas Eve. Because that number is up to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, don’t you dare think that if your congregation did not have a ton of visitors, you don’t have a good story to tell! Here are a few others.

Our outreach committee became re-energized and found so many ideas that it sparked ideas on their own. We also reached out to other WELS congregations in our area to work together in outreach.

I don’t know if we had more visitors than normal. I can say our people were exited about trying to invite their friends and family to church. I think they will continue to do that which will have a longer lasting impact than can be measured by one worship service.

C18 gave something for our teens to do. They helped with the Facebook promotion and canvassing. My son seemed excited to do something for his church maybe for the first time ever.

We had six visitors. We would have liked more, but it is ok. An evangelism committee is now formed, and we are going to try doing more outreach in the future.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. It is a point that is echoed in one of our mottos in Congregational Services. If we are doing all we can with the gospel, then numbers don’t matter. Because growth—spiritual and statistical—is up to the Holy Spirit. But the way he produces growth is through the gospel. Typically, the way the Spirit unleashes the gospel is through the efforts of believers. So we do our job—doing all we can with the gospel. We then sit back and thank the Spirit for whatever fruit comes of that effort.

Thus, if you did all you could with the gospel and no one showed up to your Christmas Eve service, know that your effort is just as pleasing to the Father… just as glorious in the sight of the angels… as the effort of the congregation that had fifty visitors! Because, in your love for Christ, you did all you could.

So what’s next? Welcome Home!

There were many comments in the exit survey that sent like this. I can’t wait for C19! Except, we initially had no plans for C19.

Congregational Services’ 2019 initiative is titled Welcome Home. In C18, we targeted the lost… the unchurched… the dechurched. In 2019, we are targeting the 155,000 WELS members (about 43% of our baptized membership) that are largely absent from church, attending two or fewer times per year. We estimate about half of that 155,000 has not been in church in over two years. We are going to be offering training and resources for congregations to help them pursue those lapsed members and joyfully welcome them back home to their church family.

The goal is to have all those Welcome Home resources ready and online in early June 2019. We will encourage churches to have a Welcome Home Sunday on either October 20 or 27.

However, due to the overwhelming response to C18 and the many requests to repeat the effort, we may also produce some worship and evangelism resources for next Christmas Eve as well. Go to welscongregationalservices.net, go to the bottom of the page, and subscribe to receive e-mail updates. Those updates are where you would learn a) if we do a C19 effort and b) when and where those resources would be available.

But for now, I pray you and your congregation get ready for the Welcome Home effort. I think it will have the potential to reach a good number of straying sheep.

Thank you!

Thank you for all your ministry efforts throughout the year. Thank you for your participation in C18. And thank you for the privilege of working with you as you strive to do all you can with the gospel in your corner of God’s creation.

Rev. Jonathan Hein
Coordinator, Congregational Services
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling

 

 

Worship Guest Follow-up: A Vital Part of Outreach

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were one-million guests at our WELS Christmas Eve services this year? Wouldn’t it be awful if we were not ready for them?

One of the most important ways a congregation can prepare for worship guests is to have a well-designed follow-up system. The tactics will vary slightly from church to church, but every congregation will want to have a system in place. If your congregation has not historically had a system, it is time to create one as you prepare for Christmas Eve.

There are several important aspects to worship guest follow-up. No matter what system your congregation adopts, it will need to include the following.

Information Gathering

Connection cards are often an effective way to gather contact information from your guests. If you use a worship folder, you can put a connection card in every one. Connection cards aren’t just for guests, but can be used by members to let you know they attended worship. Be sure to instruct your members beforehand to fill out those connection cards too! Having members participate creates positive peer pressure for worship guests to fill their connection card out too. Members and guests can place the connection cards right in the offering plate. (PDF and MSPublisher connection card templates are available in the C18 evangelism resources.)

Another option is a pew register. This is a binder which is handed down the pew during the offering. Each sheet in the binder has room for six or seven families to list their contact information. Again, you need to instruct your members that the register is there for them too. Not only does it let you keep track of member attendance, but when guests see others filling out the registry, they are more likely to do so themselves. Another benefit of the pew registry is that, unlike connection cards, you see what others have written. You can learn the names of the people sitting in the pew with you.

Some congregations, rather than having the registers sit in the pews, have young children hand them out at the beginning of the offering. This does two things. First, it makes it more likely folks will fill it out. (Who can say no to a sweet little child!) Second, it provides a demonstration of your congregation’s interest in involving children in ministry, something all parents appreciate.

Information Organizing

Congregations should have someone trained to organize the important information you have gathered. A back-up should also be trained to do this important task if the main person is absent. Contact information should be recorded immediately. Congregations typically count offerings immediately after a service is over. This is right and orderly. The worship guests God sent to your congregation are a bigger, more valuable gift than the financial offerings. So give the recording of their contact information the same level of importance.

You are not just collecting their contact data, but learning whether the worship visitor is a first-time visitor (which requires one type of response) or a repeat visitor (which requires a different type of response).

It is also important that the responses to these worship visitors are prioritized correctly. WELS visitors, for example, are not outreach opportunities. You might have WELS individuals from other congregations visit you on Christmas Eve to worship with their family. It is certainly a nice gesture to send those WELS worship guests a “thank you” card, thanking them for joining you. However, unchurched guests must be your top priority. Once all of the unchurched guests have been identified, their contact information is shared with those responsible for the next phase of follow-up. That would be…

Initial Contact (within 24-48 hours of visit)

When a congregation has a first-time worship guest, it is important that guest is contacted quickly. Studies show that contacting and thanking a first-time worship visitor within 24 to 48 hours of their initial visit makes it almost twice as likely that individual will return for a second visit.

It is absolutely vital to make this initial visit quickly. What is not so important is how this initial contact is made. It could take the form of an email, phone call, house visit, or handwritten note.

One congregation has a small team prepare handwritten thank-you cards the very Sunday the guest visits in worship. They include a $5 gift card to Starbucks for each adult. It goes out in the mail first thing on Monday.

Some congregations have a volunteer do an unannounced door-step visit within 48 hours. The goal is not to have an extended conversation but simply to thank the individual for visiting and drop off some print information about the congregation and its ministries. Typically, some sort of small gift is given, such as a mug with the church logo on it. One gift option for this Christmas Eve is a copy of the evangelism movie My Son, My Savior. Perhaps you could include a bag of microwave popcorn with the DVD. You can order copies of the movie HERE. They are being offered at cost ($2/DVD) with free shipping.

Pastor Phone Call

It has been proven that multiple “touches” make it more likely that a first-time worship guest will come back for a second time. So, if that initial contact is made 24 to 48 hours of the guest visiting worship, then later in the week is a good time for the pastor to make a phone call to each visitor. It can be brief. He simply thanks them for visiting and says how much he’d love to have them visit again. If the conversation goes well and the person seems interested in learning more about the church, the pastor might use this phone call to set up a time to visit in person.

Face-to-Face Gospel Presentation

Eventually, the pastor or a trained evangelist will want to visit the worship guest face-to-face for something longer than a door-step visit. You actually want to sit down and talk for a bit with the worship guest.

When should this visit take place? If that pastoral phone call that takes place a few days after the initial worship visit goes well, the pastor must schedule that visit ASAP, the next day if possible. If the first-time worship visitor seems polite during the call but not very interested in learning about the church, you might wait to see if he comes back the following Sunday, or even the Sunday after that. If they come back to worship a second time, that is a big deal! (It is why you want guests to be able to let you know on the connection card or pew register if they are a first-time visitor or second time visitor.) If a worship visitor comes back a second time, you need to sit town with them very quickly. Strike while the iron is hot!

What if they don’t come back for a second visit at worship? You still want to attempt to schedule a face-to-face visit. About two-and-a-half weeks after their initial visit, give them a call and ask if you could get together. The reason is simple. If God brought a worship visitor to your congregation, your congregation should do everything possible to attempt to have a sit-down, face-to-face visit with that worship guest, a time where the gospel can be applied specifically to their life.

Where should this visit take place? The pastor or evangelist can throw out multiple options. “I wanted to talk to you a bit more about our mission. Could I stop by your place sometime tomorrow, or perhaps can I buy you a cup of coffee at the coffee shop on Main St?”

What are the goals of this visit? There are three.

First, you simply want to get to know the worship guest a bit better. You don’t need to get too personal. But asking what someone does for a living or where they are from initially is socially acceptable small talk. Such conversation demonstrates interest and respect. It also has the potential to help you make connections. You learn a worship visitor works at the factory downtown, the same factory where two of your members work. You can connect those individuals.

Second, you transition the conversation into a simple law-gospel presentation. It need not be as direct as, “If you died tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven or hell?” That might be a follow-up law/gospel presentation. In this initial visit, talk about what your church means to you. Explain how important it has been to you personally, in your life (especially at hard times) to have a Christian community to provide both gospel and emotional encouragement. You do not need to go much deeper than that. If the individual opens up about to you, that’s fine. But think of this simply as the first of many spiritual conversations you hope to have with this person.

The third goal of this visit is to begin to steer that worship-visitor toward a Bible Information Class (BIC). It is probably unwise call it a “new member class,” as that puts too much pressure on the guest” “Take this class and you’re in!” It is simply there so they can better learn what Christianity is all about… learn about whom Jesus is and exactly what he did.

It would be a good idea for your congregation to schedule a new BIC to begin in late January or early February. Then when you follow up with Christmas Eve worship guests, you can be specific—“We have a new Bible Information Class beginning in two Sundays.” If you’re a layperson, offer to join them at the class. Or, if their contact information reveals they joined you on Christmas Eve at the encouragement of a family member or friend, ask that member to attend BIC with guest they invited. Even long-time members benefit spiritually from a catechetical review. But it also sets the guest at ease to be able to attend the class with someone they know.

Continued Contact

Lord willing, your visitors will continue to worship with you and attend your new member class. Some, however, will not. It will be up to you to stay in contact with them. They have already taken the most frightening step by being a first-time worshiper at your church. You don’t want to waste this opportunity! There is a myriad of ways to stay in contact with your visitors. One option is to send them the monthly Outreach Newsletter. You can find all twelve articles HERE free of charge.

Another option is to invite those previous worship visitors back to subsequent special services. The next natural time is Easter on April 21, 2019. Around the second week of April, use the list of contact information to phone everyone who came to you Christmas Eve service. Invite them to Holy Week and Easter Sunday. If they don’t come on that day, try again in July for a summer sermon series. The point is, keep in touch! Home missionaries can all tell stories about individuals who took years to pull into the church. They visited twice a year for a half-decade, and then finally joined. Give the Spirit those repeat opportunities!

In Conclusion

It makes no sense to spend time trying to invite people to join you for Christmas Eve and then not aggressively follow up on them after they come! You have a few weeks. Adjust your worship-visitor follow-up plan so you’re prepared for the influx of worship guests. If you don’t have a worship-visitor follow-up plan, hopefully this demonstrates, it’s not that hard to put one together. There is still time.

May God richly bless your efforts to follow up on the guests he brings to his house this Christmas!

Rev. Eric Roecker
Director, Commission on Evangelism

 

 

Imagine a 16-year-old WELS member. What are the chances that individual is still WELS when he’s 30? We have studied this multiple times in our church body’s history. My commission, Congregational Counseling, has churches who work with us measure that—the percent of young members who drop out of church.

The answer is about 50%. Approximately half of young WELS members drift away. Some drift into other Christian churches. However, most drift into nothingness. They stop going to church altogether. A few come back when they get married and have kids of their own. It is a very small percentage. The bottom line is about 50% of young WELS members eventually leave.

When we study a large sampling of WELS people and look at certain life factors, we can note things that seem to make the difference. For example, having a child attend a Lutheran elementary school and especially a Lutheran high-school can make a difference. If you have the opportunity to send your child to such as school, realize what a gift you have been given! However, understand that while Lutheran education does make a difference, it is a very small difference—just a couple percentage points. Most WELS congregations don’t have an elementary school. If that is true for you, do not despair! For there are other factors that matter much, much more than Lutheran education.

Do you know what is the bigger factor in whether or not young people stay in the church? This factor dwarfs everything else. The spiritual activity that takes place in the home.

When mom and dad talk about spiritual things at home, that impresses upon the children that life is about more than grades and sports. When family prayer is something done daily, it teaches the children that of all conversations they have in a day, none is more important than when they bring their cares and concerns to their true Father. When parents open up the Bible with their children, what blessings result! The Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to build your child up in their faith. More, the Spirit imparts the love and forgiveness Christ has shown to each family member, empowering them to show love and forgiveness to one another. Families need that! (Side note: It has been demonstrated that it is especially important that fathers be a part of this. The importance of dad providing spiritual leadership should not be surprising, as God wove that responsibility into the fiber of man’s being.)

The goal of the C18 program is to reach one-million souls with the Christmas gospel. However, in Congregational Services, we established a secondary goal: to give families the opportunity to restore the family altar.

Below, you will find a video of Pastor Eric Roecker, WELS Director of Evangelism, and Pastor Donn Dobberstein, WELS Director of Discipleship. They explain how we are hoping that families can use the online daily devotions around the dinner table or before bedtime in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Watch that, if you have not yet done so.

My encouragement—Do not let the fact that you might not be able to do a family devotion every day keep you from doing them at all. I’ve had parents tell me things like, “It would be impossible for us to do family devotions. We all are so busy in the evenings. Half the evenings, we don’t even eat together.” My response? “You just told me you can do family devotions on half of the evenings of the week.” However, I’d encourage you to make time for this. No worldly accomplishment of your child is going to matter in the end. Your child pitches a no-hitter in little league. No one will care a year later. Even if your child goes on to play in the major leagues, what does that matter when the trumpet sounds, the skies rip open, and the angels begin to set things on fire? At that moment, what matters is what the Spirit has wrought in your child’s heart. Family devotions are a fantastic way to give the Spirit regular opportunity to give your child what your child needs to live… to really live.

Pastors and church leaders, we are giving away a family devotional booklet for free, one that goes along with the online daily devotions. You can find it in the C18-Discipleship Resources HERE. Print it in black-and-white, and it costs your church next to nothing. So why not run off copies for every member. It serves almost as a little hymnal, one for each person sitting around the dinner table.

If your congregation does not print them off for you, please, go to the discipleship resources and print it off yourself.

Part of my job is church consultation. One of the things we hear in Congregational Counseling again and again is how hard it is to keep young people in church. Well, family devotions are something that seem to greatly increase the likelihood they stay. Ultimately, moving someone to see the importance of Christian community is the work of the Spirit. However, the Spirit typically works through us, through believers. So, let us give the Spirit more opportunities to do his good work by letting him have a place at our dinner table. When dinner is over, turn that table into a family altar.

Rev. Jonathan Hein
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling

 

 

Clockwork.

That’s how I describe my family’s devotional life growing up. Six days a week. We attended church on the “off” day.

The devotion setting: The round wooden kitchen table brought the family together for every breakfast and supper. There was a certain seating order based on age and who was left-handed. Mom’s seat was also closest to the stove and fridge. Once seated, nobody was allowed to leave the table until the final “amen” was said. A bookshelf behind the table held five well-worn Bibles and some hymnals. Twice a day, those Bibles came out. The day began and ended with God’s Word.

The morning devotion: A psalm or two were read out loud. Everybody would take a turn reading. Then Dad would read the daily devotion from “Meditations” out loud. We’d close with the prayer, say the Lord’s Prayer together as a family. Afterwards, the table would erupt with dishes cleared, backpacks stuffed, and doors opening and closing as everyone head out.

The evening devotion: A chapter or two from the New Testament was read. Again, every family member would take a turn reading two verses. Then came the “family prayer”. It was handcrafted as the years went by. As we turned from kids to teens to young adults to having families of our own, the prayer multiplied with the additional names of spouses and grandchildren. Everybody was prayed for by name. We would close with a hymn led by Mom and her beautiful choir voice. We’d giggle when Dad’s voice cracked, or he mutilated a note while singing.

But family Advent devotions were special. In the center of the table, Mom created a special Advent wreath. She twisted tiny pine boughs together in a circle. Purple candles, one for each week before Christmas were strategically placed in the Advent wreath circle. An Advent countdown calendar was on the kitchen wall. I can’t tell you how many fights erupted between my brother and I over whose turn it was to light the candle or open the next window on the Advent calendar to read the bible verse. It was the one chance to play with fire, and we weren’t going miss out even under Mom’s careful supervision. It was a special season filled with special decorations to illustrate the approaching sacred birth.

Like clockwork, years of family devotions flew by. Did I get impatient and think the devotions longer than they ought to be? Yes, especially in my teen years. Did I wonder how my friends would react when they joined us for supper and the devotions? Absolutely, though none ceased being friends because of it. Did I go through times when devotions weren’t a high priority in my personal life? Admittedly. But every time I went back home, the tradition carried on because it never stopped. What a treasured memory for my kids to now join in to read and to sing together.

Here I am forty years later. I look back to my childhood. I can still see where everybody sat around that table. The Bibles positioned on the shelf behind me. The lit advent candle on the table. The voices of my parents and siblings joined in prayer and singing a hymn in the early dark of night. They never told me to read God’s Word and to pray. They showed me by modeling it. They invested their lives into creating a devotional culture. I treasure that sacred childhood memory bequeathed by my parents.

If you have never experienced the ritual of a family devotion, I invite you to create one this Advent season. Create your own custom! Maybe it’s a few minutes in the morning or at night before tucking the kids in bed.

Then commit to it for a few minutes a day. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before. It’s never too late to start! Advent devotions can provide the comfort of history, regularity, and spiritual tradition to the season. There’s something special and comforting about gathering as a family, lighting a candle, and hearing God’s Word that prepares hearts and homes for Christmas.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein
Director, Commission on Discipleship

Go to C18 Discipleship Resources and select the download tab to find a PDF Advent devotional booklet to help families hold family devotions beginning Sunday, December 2.

 

 

Christmas is more than celebrating Jesus’ birthday. For centuries, Christians have realized that the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem deserves a response of praise. As a result, when we think of Christmas, we are moved to song and gift giving.

Think about the outpouring of Christmas music that praises God for sending his Son. Even unbelieving society hums the tune!

Now think about the other “response of praise,” which is sometimes called “the spirit of Christmas.” God so loved the world that he gave. When we celebrate Christmas, we respond with many earnest expressions of love for loved ones and strangers. Gift giving, contributions for the poor and lonely, and personal acts of love are part of our response of praise.

In the classroom and in our families, this is a time to teach children to think of others. How about applying God’s compassion for sinners by teaching our children to have compassion on those who have not heard the gospel?

Special Ministries has Included sign language videos of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” in the C18 resources. Children love to sign and sing, and this Christmas song is prominently featured in this December’s Advent services and could also be used in your children’s Christmas service. The videos include two different ways to sign the first verse of the hymn and a video that explains how to do the signs.

Two ways to sign? The first way, Signed English, is the way that students usually sign a hymn: a sign for each word, in the word order of the song. That’s the easiest way for hearing students to sign. But more advanced students may be interested in learning that deaf people would prefer a song to make sense in sign language, and the second video demonstrates how the hymn could be signed conceptually in American Sign Language, so that a person who communicates through sign would smile with recognition and understanding.

Even if the children don’t learn the second way, just showing them the second way of signing offers an opportunity for compassion. Think about someone who can’t hear the Christmas story! We want them to understand that Jesus is Emmanuel who came to save us.

The videos and the explanation can be viewed by families at home. Students can practice the signs outside the classroom, and the discussion about caring about communicating the gospel can go home with them!

Rev. Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries

 

 

 

 

We believe and therefore speak.

It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak (2 Corinthians 4:13).

Beyond being theological truth, what St. Paul shares there contains common sense. The way we act says a lot about what we believe. When one claims to believe something but does not act upon that stated belief, it brings the sincerity of the belief into question.

For example, take the Hollywood celebrity who rails against the evils of global warming. Yet, he flies all over the world in a private jet. He could use a greener method of travel. He could, at the very least, fly commercial to reduce the number of planes in the air. But no. He justifies his use of a private jet. Does he really believe that global warming is a big threat? His actions do not jibe with what he claims to believe.

What follow are some truths Christians would say they believe. Let us consider the logical way to act if we really believe these truths. Do our actions always jibe with our confession?

Belief #1: We believe God knows everything about us, and yet still he loves us deeply and unconditionally.

We know there are no such things as “secrets” when it comes to God. He sees what you do behind closed doors. Even the activities inside the grey matter of your brain are visible to him. He reads thoughts. So, King David writes, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1).

We also know that God is holy. He hates sin with a ferocity we cannot comprehend. When you put those thoughts together, it is terrifying. Yet we believe that in spite of our sin, God loves us dearly. Even more, we believe his love is not mere sentiment. It took action!

God loved you enough to become you on that first Christmas. He became fully human. He faced everything hardship you have ever faced and more. Like you, Jesus endured temptation. Unlike you, he always resisted. He never caved in. Then he took that perfect life and traded it for yours. He did not do this just for some nebulous “world.” Scripture says he actually had you in mind, that he even knew your name. Believe this—Jesus saw your face before you had a face, loved you, and chose to be tortured to death so that you might be forgiven for all your sins. He took your damnation so you might live in everlasting glory.

Consider your baptism. When you look at the cross, you might think, “Jesus did that for the entire world. He wasn’t really thinking of me.” That is wrong. Even if you think that way, you are still confronted by the baptismal font. The world was not at the font. It was just you! Only you. God Almighty moved time and space to bring you to that place so that he might fill you with the Spirit, giving you rebirth into faith, washing away your sin. Maybe God allowed you to be born into a Christian family; you were brought to the font as a baby. Maybe he had someone share the gospel with you as an adult, and the Spirit moved you to receive the blessings of baptism. Either way, your baptism proves that God loves you as an individual, not just as part of some large mass of people.

There’s more to Belief #1. We believe that Christ does not waver in his love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). God saw what you did behind that closed door. He hated the action, but he did not stop loving you. That repulsive thought you had, the one you thought no one knew about since you refrained from verbalizing it… Jesus saw that. Yet, he did not stop loving you, not even for a second.

Do you believe this? If you do, it will radically affect your behavior. St. Paul writes, “[Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). St. John states it more succinctly, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

If you believe that Jesus knows everything about you and yet still loves you deeply and unconditionally, your heart melts. You begin to prioritize your life in a way that gives him glory. You live to thank him… to serve him… to love him. If you believe he loves you personally, then nothing Jesus asks of you is too great. How could it be? He literally suffered hell just for you! Why? Because he loves you that deeply. Yes, you! How then could he ever ask too much of you?

Belief #2: We believe God wants all people to be saved.

God loves you, but not only you. His love is too great, too broad, too deep. [God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

Take that word “all” and carry it around in your heart this week. Your next door neighbor. The woman who sits two cubicles down from you. The homeless lady sitting on a park bench, sipping on something hidden in a paper bag. The guy on the news who, in a fit of rage, shot and killed two people. The man who just got out of jail after serving five years for sexual assault. All people. God wants them all saved.

Again, God’s love is more than sentiment. He does not just feel warmth towards all people. “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

If you believe that, it will affect your behavior.

First, it drives away all fear of condemnation. If God loved some people… if Jesus died only for some… you would have to wonder if you made the cut. But God wants all people to be saved. Jesus died for the whole world. Are you part of “all”? Then stop worrying about whether or not God wants you to be saved!

Secondly, since you love God dearly and would be willing to do anything to serve him (see Belief #1), you start recognizing that one of the best ways to demonstrate your love for God is to help him in his efforts save “all people.” Which leads us to…

Belief #3: We believe that God has chosen, in a sense, to “need” us in his effort to save others.

We know that in an absolute sense an omnipotent God does not need anyone to do anything for him. All he did was speak, “’Let there be light’” and “there was light” (Genesis 1:3). What does he need us for? Absolutely nothing.

Yet, one can choose to “need” someone. When my sons were younger they loved the construction types of toys: Legos, Tinker Toys, K’nex, Bionicles, etc. We would get some sort of kit. I would sit on the floor with them, pieces spread out before us. I did not need their help to assemble that Lego airplane. Yet, it was not getting assembled without their effort. Why? I chose to need them.

When it comes to his desire to save all people (Belief #2), God, in a sense, has chosen to need us. St. Paul puts it this way.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13,14).

Paul begins by stressing that God does indeed want “everyone” to “be saved” through faith in Christ. Then Paul asks an intriguing question. How that will happen if no one tells them about Christ? Paul asks us to consider how unbelievers are going to be saved if believers do not preach to them. (“Preach” here is used broadly to refer to sharing the gospel of Christ in any context.) Paul is explaining that God has chosen to “need” us in his saving work.

Friends, this is God’s Word! You look at that next-door neighbor and you are pretty sure they do not really understand Jesus. But you say to yourself, “Well, if God wants to save them, he will save them.” If St. Paul were here, he would stare at you with a perplexed look on his face. He would ask pointedly, “How? How exactly do you expect that to happen? God has chosen to need you! He made you that person’s next-door neighbor for a reason!”

You might ask, “Why would God choose to need me?” You would have to ask him when you see him, but it is safe to say it goes back to his deep love for you. I chose to “need” my sons to assemble that Lego plane because I loved them. I wanted them to enjoy the satisfaction… the accomplishment.

There is a parallel there. Every single one of your earthly accomplishments will be forgotten. Frankly, in just a couple generations after you are dead, even your descendants will not know your name. Worldly achievements are appreciated for just a few heartbeats, but no longer. But now imagine that through your witnessing to your next-door neighbor, the Holy Spirit pulls that individual into the Church. A million years from now you will still enjoy the fruits of your labor.

So perhaps, because he loves you that much, God has chosen to “need” you so that you might do something with your life that echoes for all of eternity. Because he loves you, he wants you to forever enjoy that you were allowed to play a part in that significant work. God is good!

God has chosen to need you. Do you believe this? If so, repent of any lack of urgency you have had in witnessing to your unchurched friends and relatives and neighbors. The fruit of that repentance is to start doing what you have not yet done.

How many people do you know that do not know Jesus? Oh, they probably know his name and can cite some things they did, but they do not have saving faith in him. Do you know six people like that? A dozen? Or, how many people are in your life where you simply don’t know what they think about Jesus? You have never asked them. If you believe that God has chosen to need you, then you understand it is past time that you start asking.

Put this truth together with Belief #2. Your next-door neighbor is someone for whom Christ suffered and died. The payment for their sins has been made. Witnessing to your neighbor is not just a matter of love for them. You love Christ! Thus, you want the blood and sweat that Jesus put into your neighbor’s salvation to actually benefit them. But, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

Belief #4: We believe God’s Word is incredibly powerful.

God tells us, “[My Word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). One again, God speaks in black-and-white absolutes. His Word does not sometimes accomplish what he desires. It always does so.

The main “purpose” of God’s Word is to make that which is dead, alive again. Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit takes a dead, unbelieving heart and makes it beat with faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

However, God is not a bully. The Spirit does not force someone to be converted. Man has the horrible power to reject the gospel. If someone rejects the Word, it still accomplishes God’s purpose. In that case, as an act of judgment, the purpose of the Word is to harden the individual against God. The Word makes one ripe for Judgment Day. “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).

The primary purpose of God’s Word is to create saving faith in the heart of an individual. And God’s Word is incredibly powerful. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The same power which called the stars into existence is unleashed upon the unbeliever’s heart when they hear the gospel.

You have accounts of amazing conversions in Scripture. It was not just likely people who came to faith. The gospel was able to convert people who you would think had no chance of believing: the jailer at Philippi; Nicodemus, a Pharisee; Saul, whose job was to hunt and kill Christians.

Put Belief #2 , #3, and #4 together. You believe God wants all people to be saved. You believe God’s Word can do powerful things. That must affect the way you approach life!

A couple with two young kids who just moved into the neighborhood. When talking with them, they say to you, “We found our doctor and a good mechanic. We just need to find a good church.” You thank God for such low-hanging fruit… for the times he makes evangelism easy. But what about that neighbor who is ornery, whom you’ve heard talk about how silly , stupid, and superstitious Christians are. Is he any harder to win than Saul or the jailer? You have the gospel! It is spiritual dynamite. If you believe that, you are just as likely to witness to the ornery neighbor as you are to that young couple.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”

Those words (found in Matthew 9:24) were spoken by a man who believed in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. But confronted with a challenge—in this case, having a demon-possessed son—the man’s actions and emotions did not match entirely with his beliefs.

Again, this is not just spiritual truth, but common sense. Our actions don’t always match up with our beliefs. We all know that if you text when you drive, you are as dangerous as a highly-drunk driver. Yet, many of us have, in times of duress, shot off a quick text while doing 70mph down the highway. Our actions are not in line with what we know to be truth.

When that happens in our spiritual lives… when our behavior does not line up with our beliefs… there is good news.

First, Jesus love for you is indeed unconditional. Believe it. When your behavior contradicts your beliefs, his love does not waver even a little bit.

Second, Jesus paid for the sins of unbelief too. He died for the times you have not believed his Word. He also died for the times when you have, yet your actions did not match up with your beliefs.

Third, God’s Word is powerful. Through the Word, the Spirit will help you “overcome” your unbelief. He will lead you not just to believe the four truths we have discussed, but to act upon those beliefs.

C18 is a time to do that. We have set the goal of sharing Christ with one-million people prior to and on Christmas Eve. That goal seeks not just to benefit those one-million people. It is for our benefit too! We pray that God uses this time and this effort to help our actions better line up with our beliefs, that we might achieve that greater joy… that fuller sense of purpose.

If we believe…

You do believe, brothers and sisters! You would not have read all this if you did not. You believe! Ask the Spirit to give you the courage of your convictions. Then go boldly into the world, and act on them.

May God grant that among us all.

By Rev. Jonathan Hein

 

 

 

This week we share some C18 worship planning details.

Advent worship plan

Last summer a worship plan for the Sundays of Advent was posted for the sake of those who do longer range worship planning – and as an encouragement to others to make such plans. That plan is available in the C18 Worship Resources package. It includes thematic info and hymns for the Sundays in Advent.

More recently posted are a newly composed gathering rite and thematic Verses of the Day. Both use the tune VENI EMMANUEL. Each Sunday begins with the first stanza of “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” along with a newly written stanza that highlights the day’s theme. The appropriate Advent wreath candles are lighted during the gathering rite.

Musical resources are also in the C18 Worship Resources package for free download, most with options for both organ and piano. Previewing these musical resources now makes it possible to assign various choirs (adult, children) and/or soloists to cover each of the Sundays of Advent—and to plan for rehearsals.

Psalms for each Advent Sunday, from those under consideration by the new WELS hymnal project, will be emailed to pastors on or about November 5. Due to copyright restrictions, they will not be posted with other C18 worship resources. They are easy enough to incorporate with a one-month lead time.

Christmas worship plan

Here’s what you can expect for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Children’s Service

An earlier blog, available here, covered options for a children’s Christmas service. If you haven’t yet reviewed this material about when best to have Christmas Eve services, both a children’s service and a more outreach-focused service, be encouraged to give that a high priority. In some congregations it may be relatively non-controversial. In other congregations it will take multiple meetings and redundant communication to consider a change to current practice. If you are part of such a congregation, start the conversation soon…but recognize that consensus for a change might not be possible in the time remaining this year.

Due to the many variants in a children’s service from congregation to congregation, C18 is not supplying worship plans or worship folders for a children’s service.

Christmas Eve Outreach Service

In many congregations, the primary service with the best outreach potential is a Christmas Eve service other than the children’s service. This service, the main focus of your outreach publicity, could take place anytime from the afternoon to later in the evening.

C18 offers two options: a “Lessons and Carols” format, and a “traditional three lesson” format.

Some churches without a Lutheran Elementary School and without the resources to plan a “full scale” children’s service might consider how children can be involved in this service. For example, they can take the role of a choir and sing (in unison) a single stanza of two to four hymns—possibly with a special accompaniment to heighten musical interest.

Christmas Day Festival Worship

It may be true that a Christmas Day service is not the first choice for an outreach emphasis. It may even be true that fewer members, choosing only one of three or more Christmas services, will prefer Christmas Day. Still, if your church has the resources to plan strong services for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can publicize both. Even if the Christmas Day service leans more toward “normal,” but with a strong sermon, the Spirit will use the Word to touch hearts. The service doesn’t require a SATB choir with soaring descants to familiar Christmas songs to be a moving experience.

Worship Folders

Worship folders will be available in three formats: Word, Publisher, PDF. Camera-ready PDF versions include blank pages for inserting local information. Since customs for offering Holy Communion vary (first and third, second and fourth, etc) and since CW and CWS offer four different communion services, adaptations will be necessary for communion services.

Files will be available on:

  • October 12: Christmas Eve/Day outlines – for planning purposes
  • November 7: Advent Sunday worship folders
  • November 12: Christmas worship folders
  • Worship folder cover art for Advent and Christmas is already posted available in the C18 Worship Resources package.

Special Music

Congregations large and small will serve members and guests well by dressing up some of the hymns with arrangements suitable to their resources. This can be as simple as vocal soloists singing some stanzas to a variety of alternate accompaniments. But if you’re blessed with a strong choir and brass ensemble, we know that you’re already planning to use them!

The worship folders provided by C18 do not specify how to involve a variety of musicians. But in every congregation Christmas music is likely one of the strongest parts of the music library. A choir or children’s song can replace any hymn. Or a choir, children, soloist can sing select stanzas of several hymns. The settings available to you likely include options for other instruments to join piano and organ. If a choir/solo song is accompanied by an ensemble (keyboard, guitar, instrument, hand percussion), consider using that ensemble also to accompany an entire hymn or select stanzas.

For hymns 35 and 90 see from CPH Hymns for the Contemporary Ensemble – Advent, Christmas by Phil Magness. (This collection was also mentioned in the Advent plan, above.)

For Christmas Day the setting of Psalm 98 from Christian Worship Supplement will appear in the C18 worship folder. An alternate, something being considered for the new hymnal project, is a Marty Haugen arrangement of a David Haas setting, available for purchase from GIA. Instrumentation for this psalm is similar to the Magness hymn settings. For both the hymn and psalm settings it is not necessary to use every instrument specified.

Long-range worship plans

While I have your attention, sample worship plans for year C, the year that begins in Advent 2018, are available here. These may be especially useful for congregations that are not currently doing such planning. Some of the plans are from 2015-16, the previous year C, but can still serve well as a starting point for a 2018-19 plan. See also from the 2014 WELS worship conference “Working Smarter at Worship” by Jon Bauer and Caleb Bassett: bit.ly/workingsmarterhandout (or this direct link.)

Another resource from the 2014 conference is helpful for planning choral music (adults and children): Choral Anthems for Year C. Note that prices are subject to change. For music and worship assistance from Northwestern Publishing House, call 800-662-6022 or visit nph.net.

While the pastor is a key person for developing such plans, he’s not the only person. Even with picking hymns, he can share this planning. See an article about sharing the work here: Worship the Lord #67, New Tricks for an Old Dog.

E19? We are not planning a suite of resources for Easter 2019. However, you can still access E14 resources and customize them as desired.

Rev. Bryan Gerlach
Director, Commission on Worship

 

 

 

A simple way to accomplish multiple goals

Christmas for Kids one-day Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs have become quite common among our WELS congregations, for multiple reasons.

First, a Christmas for Kids VBS is very simple to operate. A traditional VBS can run for an entire week. A Christmas for Kids VBS typically runs over a few hours on one Saturday. That makes it easier to recruit volunteers. It can take four months to prepare for a week long VBS. You can prepare a Christmas for Kids program in four weeks.

Second, a Christmas for Kids VBS allows you to help your member children focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Each year, the secularization of Christmas pushes the celebration earlier and earlier. “The Christmas Season” begins before Thanksgiving! A Christmas for Kids can be a great way of helping our children to focus on Christ, instead of the presents and decorations.

Third, a Christmas for Kids VBS lets us train our children to do outreach. We want outreach to become a part of WELS culture, where members are constantly looking for opportunities to invite unchurched friends and neighbors to church events. Start that training when they’re young! By encouraging your children to invite their unchurched friends to your Christmas for Kids, it allows them to practice sharing their faith in a simple way.

Fourth, Christmas for Kids VBS allows you to tell the true meaning of Christmas to unchurched children. You can help them learn about the best Gift one can get at Christmas. You can send materials home with the children so their parents hear the Christmas gospel as well.

Fifth, Christmas for Kids VBS enables you to serve your community. You promote this VBS as a chance for parents to go Christmas shopping—away from prying eyes—while their children are cared for in a safe, loving environment.

Sixth, Christmas for Kids VBS can serve as a way to connect unchurched families to Sunday morning activities. If you hold the VBS on a Saturday, have the children sing a song they learned in worship the next day. Or invite the unchurched children to continue learning about Jesus by coming back to Sunday school. When a child starts asking his parents to bring him or her to your church, you have a great opportunity!

If your congregation has never conducted a Christmas for Kids VBS, why not try one this year? It is easy, costs very little, and can accomplish multiple good things, as illustrated above.

Putting together a Christmas for Kids program

Here are five steps you need to take to run a successful Christmas for Kids VBS. Some of these (steps 1 through 3) can be done concurrently.

Step 1 – Set your date.

We recommend a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. Either work well if what you are promoting is the opportunity for parents to go Christmas shopping. However, a Saturday VBS has the added benefit of letting you teach the children a song that they can sing in Sunday’s worship service.

The ideal time is the second week in December, Saturday the 8th or Sunday the 9th. However, Christmas for Kids can work well very close to Christmas. This year, Saturday, December 22nd or Sunday, December 23rd would be fine. It lets you tie the VBS to Christmas Eve. Some churches have had their VBS kids sing a carol on Christmas Eve.

Step 2 – Plan your program.

A Christmas for Kids VBS program typically consists of five things.

  1. Bible story time – Sharing the “good news of great joy” is job one of any Christmas VBS. There are many ways you can do this.Use the lesson plan from your Sunday school materials. Christ Light has fabulous lessons plans about the Christmas story. There are different ones geared toward a variety of ages. There is no concern about repeating them in Sunday school as well. Children are happy to talk about the story of Jesus’ birth.Present the nativity as a play for the children, or put on a nativity-themed skit. You could ask your teen group to act it out.Set up the nativity. If you have access to a nativity set (the bigger the better!) set it up piece by piece, having different people telling the story of each character. Have each person ask questions when their portion of the story is done.Write your own lesson plan. It could be as simple as you (or someone who is a gifted reader and/or storyteller) walking through Luke 2 and using props to illustrate the story. Then have some discussion questions for the kids.
  2. Music time – You will want the children to spend some time in song. Pick Christmas hymns that are well-known to your congregation’s children so that they might serve as leaders in the singing: Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Away in the Manger, etc.
  3. Craft time – Simply google “children’s Christmas crafts,” and you will find countless ideas of age-appropriate projects the children could do.
  4. Game time – Google “children’s Christmas games.” You will have many options.
  5. Snack time – Over the course of three hours, the children will probably need a snack. This too could be turned into an activity. For example, children could decorate Christmas cookies and take some home to give to their parents.

With those five different things in play, you can see how easy it would be to fill 3 hours.

A mistake that churches can make is in “overdoing” this. Your Bible lesson need not be an elaborate play with great production value! Your craft need not be something expensive and complicated. You will easily fill the time even with simple activities. So just keep it simple, share the gospel, and let your children have some fun.

Step 3 – Promote & register.

There are many ways to promote your Christmas for Kids VBS.

  • Another C18 post talked about doing doorhanger canvassing in your community. A promotional flyer about your VBS could be one of the things you insert into the bags.
  • We have stressed FRAN outreach throughout C18, that is, teaching your members to think about inviting unchurched friends, relatives, associates and neighbors to church activities. Have your congregation’s parents mention your Christmas to Kids VBS to the parents in the neighborhood. You could provide promotional material.
  • Temporary signage is a great way to promote VBS. You can order a 4’ by 8’ full color banner from USPress.com for less than $100. Put it in front of your church for the two weeks before the VBS.
  • Radio stations and even TV stations will often promote children’s activities for free. The fact that “for kids” is in your title might give you free airtime. Have someone in your church call up all the stations in your area and inquire about that.

You will want to have a registration form where parents can provide you not only with the names of their children, but also emergency contact information as well as information about potential food allergies. You could put this form online as a PDF file so that people could print it from your website. Or you could set up an e-mail address just for registration and ask people to provide the information you need that way. If you have someone tech savvy in your congregation (talk to your teens) you could have someone set up a Google Forms VBS registration.

Step 4 – Recruit and staff.

Undoubtedly, when you planned your VBS, you had some people in mind to run it: teachers, teen helpers, skit performers, a piano player, etc. As registrations come in, determine if you have enough. If you have 20 kids sign up, you can easily handle the group with three or four people. If you have 60, you will need more.

If you have a large registration, you might consider structuring your staff in a way to have “stations.” Rather than have all the kids do the same thing at the same time, divide them into groups, by age, and have them rotate from station to station: the story station, the craft station, the music station, etc.

Step 5 – Rejoice and follow up!

So your VBS is over. Rejoice that you have had the opportunity to serve those children with the gospel. However, you are not quite done yet. You want to follow up in three ways.

First, follow up by sending a thank-you to every parent for putting their child in your VBS. It could be a simple thank you card with a hand-written note. Time permitting, a member of your congregational evangelism team could also follow up, face-to-face, and drop off the same gift your congregation shares with worship visitors.

Secondly, follow up by having other events that children and their parents might come to. Christmas Eve is a natural choice. Might there be others? What about a family movie night at church with pizza and popcorn? Or perhaps a Saturday evening VBS around Valentine’s Day that is “sold” as an opportunity for parents go out on a date? Or simply tell them about Easter for Kids, held in a few months. The point is you want to let the parents and children know you hope their visit was not a one-time thing.

Thirdly, there needs to be a leader—some key player—who thanks the VBS volunteers personally. They volunteered to serve Jesus, not to receive thanks. Thank them anyway!

Make this extra easy with a Christmas for Kids resource pack from Northwestern Publishing House

Nothing described here is overly difficult. However, if you want to make this extra easy, you can purchase a Christmas for Kids resource pack from Northwestern Publishing House. They sell three different versions. You can find them HERE.

These resource packs are geared towards ages 3 through 10. They are very thorough, containing things like:

  • three levels of student lessons in PDF
  • full-color Bible story pictures in JPG and PDF
  • directions for planning, scheduling and conducting Christmas for Kids
  • complete instructions for teaching at the various stations
  • advertising pieces and clip art
  • craft ideas, patterns, and photos
  • snack and game suggestions
  • an opening devotion
  • a Bible story skit.

Most materials come in both English and Spanish.

The Christmas for Kids resource pack not only contains everything you need, it lays out how to use them step by step. It contains enough materials to give you Christmas for Kids ideas for multiple years.

If you have any questions or want to order by phone, call Northwestern Publishing House at 800-662-6022.

Blessings on your Christmas for Kids VBS efforts!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

What constitutes a healthy evangelism program? If a congregation has a decent percentage of their budget directed at outreach efforts, does that mean it is healthy? If a congregation does mass mailings inviting the community to church, is that enough to be healthy? What is a healthy evangelism program?

I would propose that a healthy evangelism program is one that: a) engages in outreach and evangelism on a corporate level; and b) equips members for outreach and evangelism on a personal level.

The C18 program is designed to bring all this together—outreach and evangelism, corporate and personal efforts.

What is corporate outreach? How is it different from personal evangelism?

Let us establish some definitions.

Corporate means “relating to a large group.” It comes from the Latin word corpus which means “body.”

Personal means “coming from an individual.”

Outreach literally means “to reach beyond.” In outreach, you are trying to reach beyond an established boundary, to connect to others, and to build a bridge that allows for communication.

Evangelism is “the sharing of the gospel.” It comes from a Greek word that means “good news.”

When evangelism and outreach take place both corporately and personally, a congregation has a healthy ministry. Let us give some examples of each.

Corporate Outreach

Again, outreach is the attempt to build a bridge of communication with the community so that in the future the gospel might be shared. Some examples of corporate outreach:

  • Mailing 10,000 outreach postcards inviting people to join you this Christmas Eve.
  • Canvassing 2,000 homes, extending the same invitation.
  • Utilizing targeted Facebook ads to let your community know about congregation events this holiday season.

Extending the invitation to Christmas Eve is not evangelism. You have not proclaimed the gospel yet. It is outreach.

Corporate Evangelism

When members of the community come to Christmas Eve worship, then they will hear the Good News of Emmanuel, God made flesh, come to rescue us from our sin. The sermon, liturgy, and hymns are all serving an evangelism effort.

If your congregation has planned well, a few days after Christmas Eve, someone from your church will stop by the home of those worship guests to share the gospel again. Typically, this is either the pastor or a member who has been trained to provide this type of witness. This is still corporate evangelism, because the pastor or trained evangelist are acting on behalf of the corpus or the body—the congregation.

Personal Outreach

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9

When you were baptized, God not only washed away your sins and made you his child, but he anointed you as a priest, “that you may declare [his] praises.” Every believer will now, by the power of the Spirit dwelling inside him, do the types of things we would expect a priest to do. This means that outreach and evangelism will not just occur corporately, but personally too.

In personal outreach, the believer is simply trying to create opportunities for someone they know to hear the gospel—an unchurched friend or relative or  neighbor.

When you invite your next door neighbor to join you at your congregation on Christmas Eve, you have not engaged in evangelism, for you have not proclaimed the gospel. You have engaged in personal outreach, attempting to create an opportunity for that friend to hear the gospel. It is a fantastic way to minister to your friend!

Studies show that a personal invitation extended from a friend is about three hundred times more likely to move someone to come to church than a postcard invitation received in the mail. Why is that? It can be intimidating to go to a strange church. You do not know anyone. You do not know the customs. Going to church with someone you know is substantially less scary.

Personal outreach is an easy way to ease into your role as priest. The believer does not have to proclaim law and gospel himself (yet!). He is simply inviting someone he knows to come to church with him.

Personal Evangelism

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. – 1 Peter 3:15

However, as a believer engages in personal outreach, he is going to have opportunities to actually engage in personal evangelism.

A friend shares that his marriage is unraveling. You have the opportunity to explain how Christ’s love has been the glue that has held your marriage together when it hit hard patches. That is evangelism! You are implying, “There is hope—Christ!” You can then invite this friend to come to church and meet your pastor, who could offer counseling.

A neighbor shares that he has cancer. You have the opportunity to console, to love, to listen. You also have the chance to explain the only way one can peacefully face mortality—with the confidence of the resurrection. You are engaging in personal evangelism.

Corporate efforts do not eliminate the need for personal efforts. Personal efforts cannot do the same things as corporate efforts.

A challenge congregations face is when people see outreach and evangelism as falling only in the corporate realm or only in the personal realm.

Personal Emphasized Over Corporate

For example, take the pastor who, when asked to summarize the congregational evangelism strategy, answers, “We preach the gospel each week. Our members then share their faith in their personal lives.” That fails to acknowledge that personal efforts cannot accomplish the exact same things as corporate efforts.

Consider canvassing or mass mailings, both of which have been utilized to good effect in WELS congregations. Which member, on his own, could canvass 2,000 homes? Which member could do a mass mailing to 10,000 people in the community? The workload be too great for one individual or family. Moreover, that member does not have the God-given responsibility to publicly represent your congregation in an outreach effort. He would be overstepping to produce the outreach postcard for your congregation all on his own.

Corporate Emphasized Over Personal

Now consider the member who uses the fact that his congregation does corporate evangelism to salve his conscience about his lack of effort to share his faith personally. That member does not know if his next door neighbor has a church home. That member does not ever try and witness to a fallen-away relative. He thinks to himself, “I spent an hour putting labels on our Christmas mailing. I have done my part for Christ’s mission.”

That member is using his congregation’s corporate outreach effort to excuse his lack of personal effort. He fails to acknowledge that Christ has peppered his life with opportunities to minister to others personally, including through evangelism.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

Synergy Between Corporate and Personal

A healthy congregational evangelism program plans to create synergy between corporate and personal efforts.

Take this Christmas Eve as an example. It is good that your congregation has a plan to reach out to the community: a mass mailing, a Facebook ad, a banner by the road, or all of the above. Corporate outreach. It is just as important that your congregation has a plan to train and encourage members to invite their unchurched friends and relatives to come to Christmas Eve. Personal outreach.

The two will work together. Tim, a member at your church, invites Mark, his unchurched co-worker, to attend Christmas Eve. Tim gives Mark a business-card invitation that the church provides him. It has the A Light in the Darkness image on it. Mark has seen that same image before in a Facebook ad. Maybe he saw it on a banner in front of the church when he drove by. The congregation’s corporate effort is now connected with Tim’s personal effort. Both efforts benefit by the synergy between them.

C18: Bringing Corporate and Personal Efforts Together
  • The C18 program offers resources and training for all four aspects of a healthy congregational evangelism program.
  • To aid in corporate outreach, we have provided evangelism materials, many of which can be used for free. Low cost outreach postcards and business-card invitations and banners are all available through Echt Printing.
  • To help with corporate evangelism, we have provided worship options for your Christmas Eve service, including worship folder templates, that keep the gospel front and center on that special night. We are also providing training resources to help your congregation engage in prompt worship-guest follow-up, which is another opportunity to share law and gospel.
  • To encourage personal outreach, C18 offers resources that encourage many different segments of WELS membership—elementary school kids, families, individuals—to identify their unchurched friends and acquaintances and invite them to Christmas Eve.
  • To encourage personal witnessing, C18 offers multiple Bible studies based on the final evangelism video, To the Ends of the Earth. There are studies available for use on Sunday mornings and ones that can be done in a small group setting. These studies help us see the mission of the Church. They also provide simple ways to share our faith, and the encouragement to do so.
These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

What constitutes a healthy evangelism program? Answer: when a congregation does the following.

  • The congregation organizes corporate outreach efforts.
  • The congregation organizes corporate evangelism efforts.
  • The congregation encourages members to engage in personal outreach efforts.
  • The congregation equips members to undertake personal evangelism efforts.

Are any of those lacking in your congregation? Now is the perfect time to rectify that.

The Spirit is the only one who can create faith. He typically does that through the efforts of congregations and individual believers, as corporately and personally we attempt to connect people to the life-saving gospel.

May the Spirit use you powerfully to do just that this holiday season!

By Jonathan Hein

Jonathan Hein serves as the director of WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. He spent the first twenty years of his ministry serving in Charleston, SC where he helped start two WELS congregations. He served for eight years as chairman of the South Atlantic District Mission Board, overseeing the work of thirty-two different mission congregations.

 

 

 

One Million: a Huge Number

But the angel said to them, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  (Luke 2:10-11, 17-18)

One million is a huge number and an incredible target! C18 has an aggressive goal that WELS individuals throughout our congregations would invite one million unchurched friends, family members, or acquaintances to join them in worship this Christmas. One million people is the equivalent of inviting the whole city of San Jose, CA or inviting all those who live in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, MN!

That seems like a lofty goal until we break it down by district, by circuit, by congregation, by school or early childhood ministry, by individual. WELS includes about 370,000 individuals including men, women, and children. Even if we take out the very youngest children, if each person invited just four people to worship this Christmas, that goal is absolutely attainable! That’s everyone inviting one family or two couples or four neighbors.

How can we encourage our students and their families to be like the shepherds of Bethlehem spreading the Christmas message to all those they know and care about? You may be thinking that you tell your members and even students all the time to share Jesus with those they know that don’t have a church home, and that’s great. Keep doing that. But what if we all could be a little more intentional and really focus on specific ways to equip and encourage them to invite someone to church this year? In previous articles, it was shared that Christmas is the most likely time that someone would be open to an invitation to attend a worship service. They only need to be asked. So, what are some ways that we can equip and encourage our school/early childhood students and their families to reach out with an invitation?

We recently sent a survey to a number of pastors and teachers to learn from them. We asked them to share ways that they encourage and equip their students and school families to be evangelists with those around them. Following are some of the strategies and suggestions we received.

Observations in General
  • Almost without exception, respondents included the reminder that it all starts with sharing the Word faithfully with our students and their families. Faith that is strong and growing is motivated by the Holy Spirit to share the precious gospel with others. This is part of our role as pastors and teachers. What a blessing it is when each of us is eager and excited to share the amazing news of Christ with everyone we know!
  • Pray boldly as a staff, a family, a classroom, asking God to open doors for an invitation.
  • So many congregations, schools, and early childhood ministries have family events that are open to the community such as a Fall Festival, Christmas for Kids, and many others. This is a great time to extend personal and written invitations to those who attend the events. Do you have a means to collect contact information at these events so that you can send them a thank you for attending the event and also invite them to worship, especially Christmas?
  • Many, if not most, of our schools and early childhood ministries have families who enroll their children but have no church home. How can you make sure they know you care about them beyond the classroom? How can you include them in congregational activities? What opportunities are there to extend an invitation to them and let them know that they are welcome to worship on Christmas and at any worship service? The C18 program includes excellent, affordable print outreach materials, such as postcards or business-card invitations. There is also a MSWord template that allows you to print up your own tent-fold card. Might you send these home with your kids? Better, hand them to parents personally when they pick their child up after school.
  • Our schools and early childhood ministries love to have their students sing in a worship service. How is this communicated with school/ECM families who are not members of the congregation? Is this a note in a newsletter? An email reminder? A personal invitation? Do we communicate this with enthusiasm and joy as an opportunity rather than a commitment? How can we help the non-member family feel comfortable coming into our worship to hear their child and others share Jesus in song? How can we and our members best plan “for company” in this service to be sure they feel welcome? Just as important, when these family members do come to see their child sing, what is the plan to follow up on them? Is the pastor or a trained lay member ready to stop by within three days of that worship visitor attending church? That is vital in encouraging that individual to make a repeat visit.
  • Written invitations in newsletters and other publications are good. But wouldn’t you be more likely to attend something if someone cared enough to ask you in person? Identify the school families who would be wonderful at one to one invitations. Ask them to work together to identify ways to extend those invitations and to make sure that all school or early childhood families receive that personal invitation.
In an elementary or high school
  • Sharing the Good News of Jesus is a natural part of the lessons in Christ Light or catechism, but it can easily become something that we just talk about. We need to also discuss the reasons why we witness. We need to share how to witness. Intentionally plan for these discussions and listen to student suggestions on ways for them to reach out to friends and those they know. Explain to them that inviting unchurched friends and relatives to church is a really good way to “ease into” witnessing. It is not scary.
  • Provide the opportunity for students to brainstorm a list of people they know and would like to invite. Provide them with the steps to “work” that list. You will find a “MY PERSONAL MISSION FIELD” document, aimed at helping kids do just this, in the Lutheran Schools C18 resource packet.
  • Can you help your students find a partner to encourage them to reach out with their invitations? They could pray for each other and spur one another on to work their list.
  • Provide a lesson on letter writing for primary through high school students where they draft a letter that could be sent to those they would like to invite. Encourage them to make it personal. Discuss ways for them to follow-up once the letter is mailed.
  • Could students design special postcard to invites others to their church for Christmas? Once printed, each student can take several to hand out individually or mail.
  • Our young people are savvy with social media. Encourage them to use that as an additional way to extend their invitations. A invitation video to Christmas Eve will be made available in the Evangelism C18 resource packet as we get closer to Christmas.
  • Practice role-playing. Students may be hesitant because they are uncomfortable or unsure of what to say. Create authentic scenarios and help them to consider and practice ways to respond and what to say. Explain that it is ok if they simply invite friends to Christmas Eve. That might be all they say for now. When that friend attends, it sets the stage for future spiritual conversation. Help the students think through how those might go.
  • Schedule a Christmas canvassing event with students and their families. This event can have everyone meet at a given time and hand out invitations in a pre-determined area around the church. Another possibility is setting a given time and students go out with their families in their own neighborhood or to those they would like to invite.
In an early childhood/primary setting

“Before they are evangelists, they have to be equipped with the message. Our overall goal is to equip 32 evangelists this year by having them learn Christ centered songs so that that they sing that at home.” When Pastor Jay Bickelhaupt (serving at Apostles Lutheran in Billings, MT) wrote those words, the “32 evangelists” he was referring to are the children in Apostle’s early childhood program.

  • Young children are eager to share all they are learning about Jesus. Can you equip them to serve their Savior in this way? Who wouldn’t love a personal invitation from a young child? Children can design or color an invitation and then take it home to mail or hand out (with the help of their parents) to unchurched friends, family members, or neighbors.
  • Consider extended activity projects with Bible story lessons that help the children to tell the Bible story outside the classroom or that can be used to invite others to Christmas worship.
School families
  • One congregation is hanging a string of 1000 lights in their narthex or lobby. To begin, all the lights are dark colored bulbs. Members, including children, are asked to replace a dark bulb with a light one every time they invite someone to church for Christmas. Is there an adaptation of this that would work for your congregation, school, early childhood ministry, or Sunday School?
  • In principal conferences or pastor circuit meetings, discuss and learn from each other how they use social media to reach out to the community. Consider this beyond marketing for the school or early childhood ministry. How can social media be used by individuals to invite others, including those they know, to worship with them this Christmas?

These are just a sampling of possible ideas. Some may work for your setting and some may not. What ideas can you use or adapt that will get your students and school families excited to invite others to worship this Christmas?

Who will you invite? Who will you encourage to invite others? What blessings can the Holy Spirit shower on those invited?

One person at a time

One invitation at a time. One person at a time. One Savior who came for all. We get to share this amazing news of God’s grace for all!

May God bless you, the students, and the families of your school or early childhood ministry as you reach out and say, “Come and hear! A Savior has been born for you! Christ the Lord!”

 

The Healthy Tension

On the one hand, Christmas Eve is hands down one of the best opportunities your congregation has to reach the lost, the unchurched, and the dischurched. Surveys have demonstrated that 80% of unchurched Americans say they will go to church on Christmas Eve if someone invites them.

That is higher than Easter (which comes in at about 72%). The commercialization of Christmas, which in one sense has robbed that day of so much meaning, also creates that opportunity. Christmas is a big part of our culture. Even with something like the Fourth of July, Americans may not do much to celebrate it. But most Americans want to celebrate Christmas in some way. Many people view singing carols in candlelight as a wonderful way to do that. Therefore, if you do not use Christmas Eve for outreach, your congregation may be missing a tremendous opportunity. On that night, there are masses of people who would be willing to come and give you an hour of their life, something they might not be willing to do on a Sunday morning.

But on the other hand, Christmas Eve has traditionally played a big role in the spiritual life of our Lutheran elementary schools. Many of us have fond memories of confessing our faith as a child by reciting Luke 2 or singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” We want the same opportunity for our children. It is a joyful evening as we recall the wonder of the Savior’s birth with family. They all look forward to getting together on that special night and basking in a light much more beautiful than the glow of candles, the light of the Christ.

This creates a tension. Many of our churches are packed during that Christmas Eve children’s service. Folding chairs are set up in the aisles and people crowd in to the point that fire codes are shattered. You have a family of four who have two children in your school, but they come in two cars with nine people—grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and a family friend. Is it wise to invite the community to join you for a worship service when there may be “no room in the inn”?

Some of our larger churches have moved their children’s service into the gymnasium, where they can then set up more seating than they have in the sanctuary. But while school parents, eager to watch their children proclaim the word, will be fine sitting on metal folding chairs in a gymnasium on Christmas Eve, will a prospect feel the same way? Is that how they picture Christmas? One large congregation changed their afternoon final Christmas practice to an additional worship service. They target inviting the community to that service, and many grandparents and friends attend that afternoon service and hear the message, thus providing a bit more room on Christmas Eve.

So there is a tension. How do you provide the important opportunity of letting Christian children express their faith through a Christmas Eve service while also trying to reach out to your community on the perfect night to do so? This is a healthy tension. Balancing inreach (building up the faith of our members) and outreach (trying to reach out to those who lack faith or a connection to the means of grace) is one of the biggest challenges churches face. Christmas Eve provides congregations with a wonderful opportunity to wrestle with how they will achieve that balance.

The purpose of this C18 module is to serve as a discussion starter for church leaders as you plan your children’s Christmas Eve service. This discussion doesn’t just affect WELS churches that have large Lutheran elementary schools. Any church with an early childhood ministry or even a Sunday school likely will be planning how to tie those ministries into its Christmas celebration. Therefore, in this C18 planning module, we ask some questions for you to think about as you consider the best way to slot your school into your Christmas activities so that both inreach and outreach might be achieved.

Question: Does anyone want to watch my kid except for me?

One of the first questions a congregation needs to consider is whether or not the children’s service can serve well when trying to conduct outreach. Some might assume not. After all, does going to some event and watching someone else’s kids sound appealing to you? But remember, this isn’t “some event.” It is Christmas Eve. Through recitation and song your children will be proclaiming the word of God. God says, “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). God’s powerful word is only of benefit if it is actually heard, of course. “You will do well to pay attention to [the word], as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19).

Conversely, you don’t “do well”—i.e. are not spiritually benefited—if you don’t pay attention to the word. Therefore, we want to present the word in a way that makes the gospel the focus, rather than putting the focus on the children. If children’s recitations are recited so poorly they can’t be understood, if songs are mumbled and stumbled through, then the focus is on the children. Then, for the prospect, your children’s service is like a closed Bible. The word is still powerful. It just isn’t being received. But when a children’s service is well planned and prepared for, when the word is clearly proclaimed and heard, the “power of God for salvation” (Romans1:16) is unleashed. Through the testimony of the children the Holy Spirit works, no differently than he works through the preaching of a pastor.

There’s more, however. When a children’s service is done well, it has a secondary appeal—the appeal to parents who want their children to succeed. That is another aspect of modern American culture you can consider this Christmas. Parents are hyper involved in their children’s lives. You have parents who do not just go to games, but to every practice. You have parents whose primary job seems to be chauffeur, shuttling children to this and that. Much of this is unhealthy. But ultimately it flows from the desire parents have to see their children excel.

So, after sending out postcards to your community, an unchurched couple with two young kids comes to your Christmas Eve service. They see a dozen young children stand up, recite God’s word in unison, and then sing a song well. The unchurched parents are not only touched by God’s word, they are impressed by what your congregation offers to children—the opportunity to excel at more than basic academics. A children’s service, done well, demonstrates to prospects that your school is a place where their child might thrive—spiritually, academically and culturally.

Therefore, do not dismiss the idea of identifying a children’s service (or at least a Christmas service which includes participation from children) as outreach. Such a service can be used for outreach quite well.

 

 

One of the goals of C18 is to share the gospel with one-million souls this holiday season. This will essentially take place as worship guests join you for your Christmas Eve service.

How will you invite them to your service? Here are some options.

Postcards

Your congregation can order color postcards through Echt Printing. (NOTE: A gift to Congregational Services allows us to offer a $150 grant to the first 200 congregations that order postcards.) There are multiple ways your congregation can use those postcards.

If you want to mail the postcards, Echt Printing offers three options.

Option 1

C18 Postcard Front Side

Order 11”x17” press sheets from Echt Printing, which are printed on only the front side. There are four cards per sheet. You would then print the reverse side on your own. Many larger home printers can handle 11”x17” light cardstock. Or, you could take the press sheets to a local printer.

Option 2

You can work with Echt Printing to print both the front and a custom reverse side. The cards are then shipped to you cut and ready to mail. Echt’s designers will work with you to create a customized reverse for your church that matches U.S. Postal Service bulk mail regulations. For those unfamiliar with postal regulations, this is a good option. If you print the back of your card in a way that does not conform to USPS regulations, they may reject your card. NOTE: Two-sided cards are available in standard size (5.5 by 8.5 ) or EDDM size (6.1875 by 8.5). Standard size is required if you would like to use Echt’s mailing service or if you have a bulk mail permit. If you want more information on the USPS’s Every-Door-Direct-Mail (EDDM) program, speak to the bulk mailing manager at your local post office.

Option 3

Echt Printing can print both sides of your postcard and do all the addressing, sorting, and mailing paperwork for you. It is a complete turnkey solution. There is an additional charge of 3 cents per piece. Postage is not included but paid as a separate fee to the U.S. Postal Service. However, using Echt’s mailing service will get you the lowest possible postage cost.

Another way to use outreach postcards is as part of a canvass effort with doorhanger bags. Your congregation could place a postcard and some information about the church into doorhanger bags. Then teams distribute those bags in the weeks leading up to Christmas. When using the postcards this way, you would simply format the reverse side a little differently, as you would not need space for the mass mailing permit number or an address label. More information about planning a doorhanger canvass is available in the C18-Evangelism Resources.

You can order doorhanger bags HERE. Be certain to select a bag that will fit the largest item you want to share.

Business Card Invitations

A business card invitation is easily carried in a member’s pocket or purse, unlike a larger postcard. Whenever the opportunity arises to invite someone to Christmas Eve, you can pull out a business card to provide the pertinent information. Business cards are extremely inexpensive. Using this tactic requires the congregation to provide training and continual encouragement to members. However, it also results in a personal, face-to-face invitation to a worship service, which is the most likely invitation a potential visitor will accept.

Business card invitations can be ordered through Echt Printing.

Facebook Advertising

In the advertising world, CPM is king. CPM stands for cost-per-thousand. In other words, how much does it cost for your ad to be seen by one-thousand people? Facebook is a leader in CPM, coming in at a little over seven dollars. Using Facebooks ads, you can reach 10,000 people in your community for less than seventy-five dollars.

Combine that with the following statistics:

  • 60% of people prefer watching video over reading text.
  • People interested in an ad are 90% more likely to share it on Facebook if it is a video instead of text.
  • It takes approximately one-minute to read 900 words. Viewers will retain 95% of a message they watch in a one-minute video. They retain 10% of 900 words they read in that same time.

Facebook advertising can be a vital component of your congregational outreach. As part of C18, we will be providing ready to use Facebook video ads, as well as a how-to guide for using Facebook to reach your community.

Banners

Banners, by themselves, are not a very effective way of inviting the community to attend a special service. They are highly effective when combined with a larger outreach effort. Imagine your congregation mails out 5,000 outreach postcards. It uses Facebook ads to reach another 10,000. Your members hand out business card invites to unchurched friends and family. Having a large banner in front of your church building that has the same graphic identifies your congregation as the one which is coordinating this wider effort.

Low-cost vinyl banners can be ordered through Echt Printing.

Affordable for all

With the C18 program, any church can utilize the outreach materials. Christmas Eve outreach could cost the church nothing. The digital resources for A Light in the Darkness are all free. Members could share those with friends. If your congregation has an outreach budget, you could use a combination of the resources described above to invite tens of thousands of people in your community to join you on Christmas Eve for around $1000.

Written by Jonathan Hein

 

 

To the Ends of the Earth–Special

This group of materials includes:

  • Personal Reflections – a guide to help individuals as they consider the messages and topics addressed in the To the Ends of the Earth movie.
  • Advent by Candlelight – designed especially for these special women’s events. The program focuses on lessons learned from Lydia (Acts 16:3-15).
  • Mission Vignettes – Pictures and stories about WELS mission work around the world.

To the Ends of the Earth–Children and Teen Lessons & Devotions

Resources for WELS Schools, Early Childhood Ministries, Sunday Schools, Home

Dear Christian Friends,

“To the Ends of the Earth!” What an overwhelming and exciting goal! Following is a summary of some of the resources that have been developed to supplement the new movie, “To the Ends of the Earth.” The materials were written by WELS teachers and members for a variety of ages from preschool through teens. Also included is a set of devotions for teachers. The materials were created for use in the classroom, Sunday School, or by parents in the home with their children. May the Lord bless and guide each of you as you share this message of God’s grace that we seek to share with the world, including those near us.

May the Lord bless you and those with whom you share these materials!

“To the Ends of the Earth” Bible Lesson for Early Childhood

This lesson shares the account of the conversion of Paul and his work in spreading the gospel in many places. It includes the story of Lydia and an encouragement for each of us, even little children, to be witnesses for God. Also provided is a cover page with activities, the story page that includes a song, prayer, and section for parents. There is also a coloring page that highlights Paul’s conversion, his witnessing to many, and Lydia’s baptism. This lesson is prepared with children in preschool through kindergarten in mind.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Bible Lesson for grades 1–4.

The story of Paul is a dramatic one filled with a variety of people with whom he shared the gospel. This Bible lesson is written for students in grades 1–4. It highlights Paul’s journey to Macedonia, meeting a little girl who was demon possessed, and his imprisonment. Each part of the story illustrates God’s hand in the work of Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. The materials include telling the story, retelling the story, and application. There are several extension activities such as writing, illustrating, songs, poems, and scenarios to practice telling others about Jesus.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Bible Study for Middle school/Teens

Middle school and high school students will dig into Scripture to learn more about Paul, an enemy of the gospel turned disciple. Using the Power Point slides, student pages, and leader’s guide, they will delve into the power of the gospel and apply it to their own lives. Students will be led to discuss and reflect on their opportunities to share God’s Word, trusting in the power of the gospel.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Devotions for Children

A set of five devotions are written for school age children. The author uses everyday objects and activities to engage students and connect them with the Word. Through the theme of power, students will consider the power of the gospel to save, to clothe us in Jesus’ jersey, to tell others, to combat fear, and to live our faith. Each devotion includes several questions to help students dig a little deeper and apply it to their own lives.

“To the Ends of the Earth” Devotions for Teachers and Staff

“To the Ends of the Earth” focuses on four individuals: Saul/Paul, Lydia, the demon possessed slave girl, and the jailer. This series of devotions looks at each individual and reflects on their story and the power of God’s grace and love for each of them. While each devotion makes application to us as teachers, the final devotion zeros in on each of us and our role in “taking the gospel to the ends of the earth” in your calling. Each devotion also includes several questions for deeper reflection and application.

To the Ends of the Earth–Adult Study Resources

Jesus came not just to benefit one type of people. Jesus was God’s answer of love for people of every culture or background. The message of Jesus is a power that changes even the most unlikely hearts. It gives truth to the seeker, hope to the hopeless, and freedom to the oppressed. God sends messengers to share the life-changing story of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

There are two Bible studies based on the movie:

  • Adult Bible Study: the objective of this Bible study is that each viewer of the movie, amazed by the grace of God, embraces how fully accepted they are in Christ; how powerful the gospel is for others; and captures the passion and urgency to share it with people of different lifestyles and cultures. Six lessons.
  • Small group study guide: Materials especially designed for small group, family, or individual study. This course helps us see the need for the gospel in our lives that we treasure and trust it as we strive to live according to it and seek to share it. Four lessons.

To the Ends of the Earth–Worship Resources

The Conference of Presidents has designated October 21, 2018 for this year’s Mission and Ministry Sunday. Another Sunday might be preferred in some congregations.

With its focus on missions, the movie is a great resource for this Sunday. The following worship materials serve to expand on the main message of the movie—taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.

  • A sermon outline on Acts 13:38-48.
  • A newly commissioned hymn of four verses with a refrain. The stanzas mention dying souls, doubting cynics, and drifting neighbors—and our Lord’s desire that none perish. Musical options encourage the use of instruments beyond organ or piano and stanza(s) for choir or soloist.

A children’s song suitable also for unison choir or vocal soloist. Available for purchase as a digital download (full score, choral score, mp3 and MIDI accompaniment tracks) at: nph.net.

 

This module explains the importance of regularly offering instruction about evangelism. It suggests rotating classes: the examples of outreach in Acts, the way to approach friendship witnessing, lifestyle witnesses, evangelism in the workplace, etc.

We are calling it C18–a multi-faceted program to assist WELS congregations in their seasonal effort to boldly proclaim Christ.

C18–Worship Resources

The Commission on Worship is providing worship resources, including worship plans, sermon helps, worship folders, and newly commissioned music, for Advent and Christmas. The theme for our Christmas Eve service is A Light in the Darkness, which will stress how Christ is the answer to any stressor or fear one might be experiencing at Christmas time, or anytime. The theme for Advent Sundays is He Comes, Bearing Gifts.