How do members discover the mission of the church? What motivates congregations to step out into new areas of mission? When is a congregation most alive and vibrant with enthusiasm?
Behind these questions is the deeper question of how to engage people in the mission and ministry of the congregation.
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, has operated for the past 18 years with the philosophy that the mission of the church is to support and encourage all the members in their ministry. The financial and program goals have been set to stimulate the dreams of the people.
Worship attendance and membership have shown steady growth. Stewardship has improved! We have seen encouraging growth in those who tithe or give on a percentage basis. In 1994 Our Saviour’s was second in giving in the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin with giving exceeding $500 per confirmed member, as reported in the Metro Lutheran, monthly newspaper for Lutherans published by Twin Cities Lutheran Newspaper, Inc., of Minneapolis.
What is the congregation’s “goal”?
The goal is to make Our Saviour’s a place of empowerment for doing the mission and ministry of the church. The people have been given spiritual gifts and they should be encouraged and empowered to express their gifts.
The mission statement of the congregation states: “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church … celebrates the variety of gifts God has given us to prepare us for work in the Kingdom.”
To facilitate creativity in our mission and ministry, we have chosen to give the Congregational Council no authority over the “Boards” of the congregation. Spreading the authority to do the work of the church allows more people to share responsibility.
Presently, we have nine Boards with five to ten members of each and three “executive officers.” These 65 to 70 members are elected by the congregation. In addition, we have several “Boards” which have sub groups taking responsibility for various ministries. There are about 400 adult members and over 100 of these are involved in ministry leadership.
The various “Boards” quickly focus on the work at hand when they are aware of not needing approval from the Council. Because the “Boards” have free reign in their areas of responsibility, many ministry and worship ideas spontaneously happen involving groups of concerned people. Each “Board” is encouraged to view itself as capable and empowered. The “Boards” are centers of mission and ministry.
What is the purpose of the “Congregational Council”?
While the Congregational Council meets about five times a year and hears the reports of the “Boards”, no decisions on the work of the “Boards” is made by the Council. The Congregational Council plans for the future. It facilitates the visioning of the congregation in its ministry in the community and the world in which we live.
The real question is: “What is the work of the church?”
The primary focus of the church centers on the Gospel. The work of the congregation must grow out of this focus. The structure of the congregation is helpful only as it facilitates mission and ministry. If we take away our focus, the church has no compelling reason for existence.
Each “Board” at Our Saviour’s has a philosophy statement which identifies it as part of the congregation’s mission statement. These statements are important and are shared each year as the nine “Boards” organize.
Hopefully, all of the “Boards” and groups of the congregation can see themselves as ministry groups. The election of a person to an office or “Board” of the congregation is considered a “calling” to share their gifts.
When the Nominating Committee is seeking candidates for the offices of the congregation, its main concern is to match gifted members with suitable tasks. The actual election is an affirmation of support by the congregation to those who agree to the various ministries.
We do find that when people are given responsibility and support, they increase their participation in the life of the congregation.
What happens when members are turned loose with their gifts, talents?
One spring evening in a long range planning session our Deacons and Social Ministry Boards began to dream, and a mentoring program in the public schools was created. No approval was sought or needed by the Council. During the past eight years it has grown, from eight of our members seeking the opportunity to serve in the school across the street to a community wide program involving over 100 mentors visiting the schools weekly.
Where is the future of the church?
The future will grow out of the study of Scripture and prayer. With the background of the study and proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, the future is exciting. The structure may change as we sense the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst. The Mission Statement at Our Saviour’s calls for a “Celebration of Our Gifts”. The “celebration” needs to continue!
I can’t imagine any more satisfying and meaningful place to be than with the people of God in mission as we look to the next millenium “celebrating our gifts”
© Copyright 1997, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of Faith in Action. Articles in Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
© Copyright 1997, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an article from the archives of the Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship. For nearly a century, LLM assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.