ENROLLMENT IN WELS schools is up 9.8 percent this school year, according to the recently released 2021–22 school statistics, with 26,586 students in 282 Lutheran elementary schools and 11,672 students in 363 early childhood ministries.
This is the highest ever recorded enrollment for WELS early childhood ministries and the highest number for Lutheran elementary schools since the 2004–05 school year, according to Jim Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools.
Nearly 70 percent of WELS schools increased their enrollment this year, while 25 percent decreased and about 5 percent stayed the same.
Cross of Glory Lutheran School and Preschool in Peoria, Ariz., has seen steady growth over the past five years, growing from 80 students in 2016 to 125 today. The congregation recently broke ground for a new classroom building, something that is sorely needed. Currently the church proper houses the fifth- and sixth-grade classroom during the week, and the pastors’ office contains the seventh- and eighth-graders. Other classrooms have waiting lists of families who want to enroll. “We definitely have our share of growing pangs,” says Andrew Aguilar, principal at Cross of Glory. “It’s an exciting ministry to be a part of.”
A suburb of Phoenix, Peoria is growing rapidly, with opportunities attracting more families to the area. With the pandemic shutting down in-person education at the public schools during the 2020-21 school year, even more parents discovered Cross of Glory. “Families found us because we were open and liked us enough to stay,” says Aguilar. “They appreciated the fact that we were in person and still taking measures to keep everyone safe.”
According to Aguilar, parents also are struggling with the public schools’ politics and agendas and looking for Christ in their children’s education.
The congregation started the school about 15 years ago to serve as an outreach arm. “Spreading the gospel to little kids—that’s what we’re all about,” says Aguilar. “We have a lot of kids who don’t know Jesus, and their families know him even less.”
The Word is not returning empty. Recently after hearing about Baptism, one of the school’s fifth-graders went home and told his parents that what he wanted for Christmas was to be baptized at Cross of Glory. This started a dialogue between Cross of Glory’s pastor and the student’s parents; plans are to baptize the student during the school’s weekly chapel in January.
Cross of Glory is not alone in seeing more opportunities for outreach through its school. More and more students attending WELS schools are mission prospects, with nearly 33 percent of families in early childhood ministries and 16 percent in Lutheran elementary schools identifying either as non-Christian or no church home.
“Enrollment is up in our schools,” says Rademan. “Now how can we take advantage of the opportunity? Conditions have been favorable for having more students sit at the feet of Jesus in our classrooms. But how long will that window be open and how well are we going to take advantage of that open window and be as urgent and resolute as we possibly can about sharing the gospel with those children and their families?”
Learn more about 2021–22 school statistics at cls.welsrc.net/2021-stats.
Volume 109, Number 02
Issue: February 2022