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Encouragement and support for new home missionaries

Being a new pastor fresh out of seminary is challenging. And being a new pastor called to plant a mission church—a church that does not yet exist—comes with its own unique set of challenges. Where do you even begin? Where will you worship? How do you reach out to people who may not even realize they need Jesus?

Jared Oldenburg, a WELS church planter who started mission churches in Washington and Colorado, understood these challenges firsthand and wanted to create a program to support new church planters. In 2013 he started the Church Planter Intensive, a weekend during which new church planters and their spouses gather to network, ask questions of experienced church planters, and create a practical ministry blueprint for their unique mission settings.

One pastor who benefited from the intensive weekend is Lucas Bitter from Intown, an urban mission in Atlanta, Ga. The experience helped him think through the timeline and systems needed to build a church from the ground up. “The idea was to take the segment of church planting that most missionaries feel uncomfortable with (the administrative setup side) and build a toolkit for them to use. This ensures that every missionary has the opportunity to think things through and that no mission church is left behind,” says Bitter.

While Oldenburg still oversees the Church Planter Intensive, it gradually became the foundation for a new program now under the Board for Home Missions (BHM), called the BHM Coaching Program. In the program, a new church planter is paired with a coach—an experienced home missionary from a similar mission setting. “The Board for Home Missions recognizes that planting a church is different than stepping into an established church,” says Bitter. “Home missionaries need specific training, especially in post-Christian America where it’s getting harder and harder to get people to have any interest in church.”

After connecting during the initial intensive weekend, the coach works with the new church planter through a 24-lesson curriculum over the span of two years. During year one, the two connect monthly via video to work through lessons on different facets of church planting. During year two, the monthly check-ins focus on reevaluating the systems that have been put in place by the new church planter.

New missions 4 people standing in front of church
Lucas and Meredith Bitter (right) spent time with Isaac and Emma Hayes in Milwaukee as part of the BHM Coaching Program. The Bitters are serving as coaches for new urban church planters.

Bitter now serves as a coach for new urban church planters, like Isaac Hayes, a 2021 seminary graduate assigned to St. John’s on the Hillside, Milwaukee, Wis. The church was established in 1848, but circumstances over the years caused membership to dwindle. Hayes was called to restart and revitalize the ministry at St. John’s.

As Hayes navigates the opportunities of ministering to his diverse urban neighborhood, he values Bitter’s constant encouragement and urban ministry experience. “Having Pastor Bitter as my coach has been huge,” says Hayes. “I appreciate his insights and our monthly sessions. It helps me feel not so alone, because it can be overwhelming.”

One of the most important components of the coaching program is an in-person site visit by the coach. In July 2022, Bitter and his wife, Meredith, traveled to Milwaukee to support Hayes and his wife, Emma. Bitter preached, met with church leadership, and walked the neighborhood with Hayes.

The couples also enjoyed fellowship, which allowed Meredith and Emma to connect more deeply. Both Bitter and Hayes know it’s crucial for their wives to be supported. “It’s nice for Meredith to help guide Emma through what it means to be a pastor’s wife and a female mentor for the ladies of the congregation and the community,” says Hayes. “The relationship between Meredith and Emma is vital in helping our church flourish.”

Hayes is thankful for the coaching program and his wide network of support through WELS Home Missions. “It’s God offering a helping hand,” he says. “It takes things off my shoulders and helps me see that God is taking care of things. It’s all about the people he wants to be part of his kingdom.”

Learn more about WELS Home Missions at

Author: Forward in Christ
Volume: 110, Number 02
Issue: February 2023

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