A couple discovers a new church home after sending their children to its school.
Nick and Lacey Wagner’s journey to becoming members at Trinity, Kiel, Wis., was completely unexpected. The couple came from a non-denominational church background and had long been followers of Jesus. However, it wasn’t until they took a Bible information class at Trinity that they realized how closely their beliefs aligned with what Trinity was teaching. They knew they had found their new church home—something they hadn’t even been searching for.
Growing up Catholic, Nick admits he was a “Chreaster” type of churchgoer—attending mainly on Christmas and Easter and a smattering of other times throughout the year. Lacey, in contrast, was raised in a very religious home. Her father co-led a small family Bible church in Potosi, Wis., and was a major influence on her faith development.
Nick and Lacey met in college, and after graduating, they married and moved to Iowa. There they were involved, active members of an Evangelical Covenant Church. Their only concept of Lutheranism was through a few family members and friends who were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Although they were aware of the different Lutheran denominations, terms like WELS and synod didn’t really mean much to them.
A new church home
In 2020, a work transfer brought Nick and Lacey and their three children to Kiel, where Nick became the vice president of an engineering firm. The family connected with a local non-denominational congregation. “They weren’t looking for a church,” recalls Trinity’s pastor, Brett Naumann. “They were happy with their own church.”
What the Wagners were looking for, however, was a school for their three children: Ashlynn, Will, and Hailey. They wanted their kids to have a smooth transition after their move. They especially were seeking the right school fit for Ashlynn, their oldest, who was entering sixth grade—not an easy time to start at a new school.
God was clearly working through Nick’s coworkers at his engineering firm, several of whom were members at Trinity or had kids enrolled in Trinity’s school. They wasted no time encouraging Nick and Lacey to visit Trinity, learn about its gospel mission, and tour the school. Since the Wagner children had attended only public schools in Iowa, the concept of a parochial school was new to the entire family.
After meeting with Naumann and Trinity’s school principal, Nick and Lacey knew that Trinity could be the ideal school for their children, based on its high academic standards and how God’s Word was unabashedly front and center in the curriculum. “It didn’t take long to know that Trinity was for us,” remembers Nick. “The way the school intertwines faith into everything is a key part of that. They talk about it throughout the entire day. That focus makes all the difference.”
Naumann encouraged the Wagners to take Bible information classes at Trinity. They readily agreed, wanting to make sure they were on the same page with the religious content being taught to their children during the school day. “We wanted to get in deeper and make sure we understood it so if there were any differences we knew them and could help coach through them,” Nick says. “Well, there weren’t any.”
After only a handful of Bible information classes, during which Nick and Lacey consistently agreed with what was being taught, they were shocked to realize that God had unexpectedly led them to a new church home. Nick remembers, “We got in the car one day after class and said to each other, ‘Are we Lutheran? Are we WELS? I think we are!’ ” They were thrilled that everything they were learning from Naumann aligned with their beliefs because it was solidly biblical.
“It was neat as that process unfolded to see what the Lord did through it,” says Naumann. “Through the teaching of the Word and our confession of truth, they realized they were actually Lutheran.”
A focus on Christian education
After becoming members of the congregation, the Wagner family quickly plugged into Trinity and began serving: Lacey in various ways at the school and Nick by tapping into his business background to help facilitate Trinity’s long-range planning process. Later, Nick began serving on the school board as well. He says that serving God out of gratitude has become a natural offshoot of their family’s faith: “It is a part of our life and a focus of our week’s activities. It’s just become a core part of who we are.”
Each day Nick and Lacey marvel at what their kids are learning about God at Trinity and how it has impacted their family’s faith conversations at home. “What Lacey and I have both observed is that the knowledge our kids have about the Bible, at the age they are, is light-years beyond what either of us had at that age,” Nick says. “That speaks to the church and school and how they teach and equip the kids to be followers of Christ. It’s really cool to see.”
The Wagners credit Trinity’s church and school leadership with being completely focused on Christ’s mission. They also appreciate the intimate connection between the church and school and how they both maintain a singular focus: helping members and students see their role as Christ’s witnesses to the world. “Christ is at the center of everything we do in our school,” agrees Naumann. “Our school exists to prepare future leaders for not just our community but also for our church.”
This fall, Ashlynn will be heading to high school. When she and her parents considered her school options, an unexpected choice rose to the top of the list: Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis. Ashlynn is exploring becoming a teacher someday, and she knew that Luther Prep can equip her for that future ministry. Nick and Lacey understand the magnitude of her choice. “It’s a big decision, but she’s excited about it, and we’re excited that she is interested in that path,” Nick says.
Her pastor is also thrilled that Ashlynn is considering the teaching ministry: “You see a family that really wasn’t connected at all to Lutheran education, who got connected here through coworkers, all the way to ‘I want to go to Luther Prep because I want to be a teacher,’ ” says Naumann. “I think that’s pretty outstanding.”
A message to share
Naumann can’t stress enough the role that friendship evangelism played in God leading Nick and Lacey and their kids to Trinity. “The Wagners are here because a member and another school family told them about our school and said, ‘You need to get connected here,’ ” he says. “Our people are letting their light shine in this world.”
Nick and Lacey will always be grateful that Nick’s coworkers cared enough about their family and their faith to share the gospel ministry of Trinity with them. “My colleagues encouraging us to send our kids to the school then led us to [discovering] the church as being the place for us and our family,” says Nick. “This is clearly where we need to be.”
Telling the next generation
Many families like the Wagners have become connected to the ministry of WELS through the WELS school system, which is one of the largest private school systems in the United States. In WELS schools and early childhood ministries, a great emphasis is placed on connecting school families, especially those without a church home, to the ministry of the church and the gospel.
To help WELS congregations create a strategy for sharing God’s Word with families, WELS Commissions on Evangelism and Lutheran Schools have created a program called Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing Our Schools for Outreach. The program includes a one-day workshop that helps congregation and school leaders focus on their joint mission, build relationships within the church and with school families, and develop an organized strategy to connect school families with the Word. In addition, Telling the Next Generation provides resources and follow-up support in the months following the workshop.
“Many of our schools and early childhood ministries are growing,” says Cindi Holman, WELS early childhood ministry national coordinator. “What a blessing and privilege it is to share God’s precious message of grace with children and their families! It’s exciting to see congregational teams work together to create ways to be intentional about their efforts to connect people to their Savior.”
Learn more at wels.net/tellingthenextgeneration.
Author: Ann Jahns
Volume 110, Number 5
Issue: May 2023
- Confessions of faith: Nick and Lacey Wagner - 2023/04/30
- My Christian life: Premature twins defy medical odds - 2022/12/27
- My Christian life: When vocation and ministry collide - 2022/09/30