When Don and Jennifer Serkowski first began attending Christ, Big Bend, Wis., they were looking for a church family to call their own. During a church service, they filled out a visitor card and checked the box that indicated they were interested in becoming members. When they were not immediately contacted by someone within the church, they began to feel unsure about their next steps.
Creating a path to membership that is not only clear but even appealing to guests can be challenging for churches—especially when pastoral shortages abound. With the leadership of Allen Sorum, full-time professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., and part-time outreach pastor at Christ, the congregation revolutionized its approach to Bible information classes.
When Sorum began his part-time pastoral role at Christ, he impressed upon church leadership the importance of laypeople taking a more active role in outreach and discipleship. He empowered lay leaders—as members of God’s royal priesthood—to teach Bible information classes (BIC) using a curriculum he designed to teach Luther’s Small Catechism.
The lessons use what he calls “dialogue education,” which takes BIC leaders and students through a series of open-ended questions that encourage dialogue and gradually lead to an understanding of key doctrinal teachings like justification and the means of grace. Additionally, BIC leaders are given an instructor’s manual that includes answers to the questions posed throughout the lessons.
Chuck Ulland, a member at Christ, is one such lay leader. He and his wife, Jodi, have led over 20 people through the ten-lesson curriculum. “The most important thing is that there’s a lot of Scripture in each lesson,” says Chuck. He adds, “Both Pastor Sorum and Pastor Koschnitzke are available to us as a resource. . . . At times, we’ve had to circle back. But we also lead with the disclaimer that we’re laypeople here, who are just sharing the good news.”
Upon completion of the class, Gary Koschnitzke, Christ’s lead pastor, facilitates an examination to ensure BIC students know and understand the material they were taught. For Chuck and Jodi, watching their students grow in their faith and confidence in their salvation is extremely rewarding. “We can see as we progress through the course where an understanding of jus- tification takes hold—where human reasoning goes away,” says Chuck. “It’s invigorating for us to witness that. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work right there.”
One of Chuck and Jodi’s first sets of students were the Serkowskis, whom the Ullands quickly invited into Bible information classes once the program was established. The two couples met at the Serkowski home and enjoyed getting to know each other on a deeper level as they worked through the lessons together.
This relational approach lends itself well to new member assimilation. Existing members can introduce prospects to other people in the congregation and help identify opportunities for them to get involved. Don says, “It was like a beacon to see somebody’s face and to feel connected, like we belonged here. . . . It took a lot of the mystery out of being a new person. It took down all those walls really quickly.”
Jodi adds, “It’s very relational. We’ve become friends with [the Serkowskis]. We’ve had them for dinner a couple of times and love their kids, and I think they feel comfortable coming to us with questions.”
Another benefit of the program is scheduling flexibility, since classes are usually one-on-one or couple-to-couple. Additionally, prospective members have the option of meeting wherever they are comfortable—even at their own home with their children present.
Currently the lay leaders at Christ are serving ten people through Bible information classes, and nine more are waiting to be matched with instructors. Overall, since 2021, Christ has gained 58 souls through lay-led BIC classes, including family children.
As Chuck simply states, “The Lord has blessed it.”
Volume: 110, Number 11
Issue: November 2023