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“Welcome home.” It’s what one says to a spouse who’s been gone on a business trip or to a child who’s been away at school. With a new program from WELS Congregational Services, it’s what WELS members will be saying to their Christian family when they see each other at church.
There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who attend worship three or fewer times a year. Many of those have not set foot in church in multiple years. These are members of our Christian family who are at risk of further drifting away.
WELS Congregational Services has developed a new initiative called Welcome Home to aid congregations in reminding members that church is their home where they worship, receive the means of grace, and fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s where they can go to find Christian love, and, most important, it’s where they hear about God’s grace.
Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship, explains, “Our churches want to welcome all our members home to the blessings Jesus wants to give them—the gospel, the means of grace, worship, and the fellowship of believers.”
The name for the program, Welcome Home, was chosen because the word “home” invokes the idea of “family.” As Dobberstein explains, when someone goes missing from family, the concern for their welfare and whereabouts is immediate and immense.
With the Welcome Home initiative, Congregational Services is introducing a series of resources, including worship helps, aimed at “welcoming home” all members. Congregations are asked to pack the church—with the goal of 100 percent attendance—at a special service to be held either Oct. 20 or Oct. 27. Additional resources will look to strengthen the sense of community, or family, within WELS congregations, so that all members feel like they’re coming home when they come to worship. A video-based elder training series is also being developed for pastors and church leaders who want to better prepare themselves for this spiritual task.
In today’s increasingly post-Christian society, it’s becoming more imperative that people understand the importance of worship and the means of grace. Dobberstein outlines five main reasons that people fail to prioritize attending church.
- Failure to appreciate the means of grace. It’s possible to grow up in church your entire life and yet not totally appreciate the means of grace that God has given believers. This is often exasperated by the self-absorbed culture we live in.
- Bad prioritization. Society has made it too easy to not make worship a priority. The world offers many alternatives and distractions to a regular worship life, and slowly but surely, church gets pushed lower and lower on the priority list.
- Conflict with the pastor or members. Perhaps the pastor said something someone didn’t like, or another member does or says something “unchristian.” All people, even church members, are imperfect, which is why Christ set the perfect example of what grace and forgiveness looks like.
- Guilt over sins. Guilt is a major reason for people drifting away. Maybe it’s something they did or said, or maybe it’s a self-awareness that they haven’t been to church in a while. Guilt can be paralyzing, but it is also why sinners need to hear about God’s grace.
- Conflict between doctrine and what society says. In a culture where everything is polarizing yet permissible, the messages that are heard from the world can easily permeate and create doubt about what God’s Word really says.
Dobberstein says the Welcome Home initiative draws a lot of parallels to the parable of the lost son (Luke 11:15-32). The younger brother goes away because he doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do. Tempted by the devil and the world, the younger brother strays and finds himself in need, hurting. He wonders whether he will be welcomed back. However, as Dobberstein explains, there’s also a lesson to learn from the older brother who refused to welcome him back.
“We want to better equip the members of our congregations to reach out to their fellow members with the extravagant love of the heavenly Father,” says Dobberstein. “ ‘Come on back, no questions asked.’ ”
He continues, “Welcome Home gives the members of our congregations the opportunity to put on display the kind of loving heart and caring attitude Jesus put on display to those who needed it most.”
Welcome Home resources will be available at welscongregationalservices.net in June. Learn more about this initiative in this month’s edition of WELS Connection. Read a personal story about coming back to a WELS church in FIC.
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019