January 28, 2013
In Matthew 5, Jesus says we are the light of the world and that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. We are to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. The people of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Huntington, Indiana are a beacon of light to people in their community. Not only that, they are known as “The Church on the Hill”, and yes, they are literally the church on the hill. God has blessed St. Peter Lutheran Church since it was founded some 163 years ago. Huntington is a small city of about 17,000 people located in northeast Indiana. It is known as the “Lime City” for its many limestone quarries and kilns.
Pastor Richard Lofgren first came to St. Peter Lutheran Church to preach when they needed pulpit assistance. He became the vacancy pastor there in September 2000 during a time when the congregation faced some challenges. The congregation was also renovating the church and meeting in the gym at that time. Pastor Lofgren was subsequently called to serve as pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in August 2001. The church had operated a day school for many years. However, faced with decreasing enrollment and significant financial loss, the day school closed in 2005. Pastor Lofgren knew that things needed to change. Perhaps the beacon of light was not shining as brightly in the community as he knew it could.
Through funding made available from the Lutheran Foundation in Fort Wayne, Pastor Lofgren has been able to participate in the Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI) starting in 2010 and TCN starting in 2012. “I was actually introduced to TCN when one of my elders and I attended a Hinge Event that Pastor Terry Tieman conducted. The things he talked about made a lot of sense. We were excited about what we learned. PLI and TCN have helped transform our ministry at St. Peter,” said Pastor Lofgren.
Pastor Lofgren commented, “I look at the resources we have, match them to people groups in the community, and we reach out to them. I find places in ministry where people can use their gifts. Raising up leaders is also very important.” One area of ministry where he has worked creatively to reach more people in the community, as well as in his existing congregation, is worship. “We used to have only one Sunday worship service at 9:00 AM when I arrived. After about three years, we added a Saturday 5:00 PM service. We have people confined to wheelchairs or who are otherwise handicapped who couldn’t make it early on Sunday morning. Now they and anyone else can worship together as a community at that time. In 2011, we added an 11:00 AM service on Sunday. We really added this service for the community. We wanted to reach more people, especially younger people. Most people now attend this service. One aspect of this service includes using You Tube videos of well-known Christian songs,” said Pastor Lofgren.
Pastor Lofgren has also started an “after school” ministry which operates Monday through Friday in the afternoon at St. Peter Lutheran Church. Children attend Sunday School, worship, and serve the church in various ways. Said Pastor Lofgren, “There’s something else I should tell you. I have a deaf student. Just one. I learned sign language so I could communicate with her. I taught her confirmation class. Every person is precious to Jesus. We need to have an individual concern for each soul. For me, it’s an attitude that I think comes from my mission experience.” So what about doing mission work even beyond your local community? Pastor Lofgren has a heart for this as well. “Our vicar is doing mission work in Haiti, where he teaches English as a second language. I’ve been to Guatemala several times on mission trips, where I’ve preached in Spanish and helped train local Guatemalans to serve in the church. I learned how very important leadership development is there,” said Pastor Lofgren.
The ministry of St. Peter Lutheran Church and Pastor Lofgren have been positively impacted through TCN. Said Pastor Lofgren, “People have become more aware that our mission is to our community. We cannot just look inward and minister to ourselves. We have to look outward and bring the Gospel to our community. As the church, we used to see ourselves as a religious center where members came to be fed and then went back into society. Now we see the church as a mission outpost. The church is where people come from to go out into the community. Our mission is not to come to church but to go out and connect people to Jesus. We go out as missionaries to bring the Good News to people, which has a life-changing impact on them.” Here’s an example of the way ministry at St. Peter has changed. “We used to offer Confirmation class only in the 8th grade. We’ve changed how we approach this. We offer first Communion in 5th grade after instruction, have pre-Confirmation classes in 6th and 7th grades, Confirmation class in 7th grade, and the 8th grade class participates in our high school Sunday School class and youth group,” said Pastor Lofgren.
“My greatest challenge in revitalization is always changing people’s behavior patterns. Ultimately, they can only be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. I believe in the power of the Gospel. Once the threat of the Law is removed (if that’s your approach), people go back to their old ways. Having the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people is essential for the changes needed for revitalization and transformation and this can only come through the Gospel,” said Pastor Lofgren.
“The greatest joy I’ve experienced regarding TCN includes the fellowship in my Learning Community, reading the material provided (I like to read), the teaching that takes place, and presentations like the Hinge Event,” said Pastor Lofgren. He continued, “It’s important that TCN continue to allow different perspectives and comments, offer new insights, and provide for the sharing of suggestions about ministry. Solving practical ministry challenges in our Learning Community is good. It’s all good.”
Pastor Lofgren commented, “Two things have helped me the most. One – is to be able to see each congregation as a unique situation with unique challenges to be met in different ways. Two – what is required of me is to be flexible, such as in applying ministry strategies in culturally relevant ways. TCN affirms this strategy of seeing each in its uniqueness.” Pastor Lofgren does have some thoughts for someone who may be considering TCN. “It’s a worthwhile investment that will bring God’s riches to that person and congregation. They will benefit from it.”
This is a special year in the life of Martini Lutheran Church in New Haven, Indiana as the Church celebrates its 160th anniversary. More importantly, Martini is experiencing growth as it continues to reach out to its community. New Haven is a small city of about 15,000 people in northeast Indiana, adjacent to the city of Fort Wayne. New Haven is comprised primarily of both rural and blue collar folks.
For decades, the number of members at Martini declined significantly yet ironically this was occurring while New Haven was growing in population. Central Lutheran School was established in the early 1950’s and is an important part of Martini’s ministry. Three area Lutheran churches, including Martini, have formed an association to support the School. Fifteen years ago, Martini added a second worship service (a more contemporary style service) but by the time Pastor Kohl arrived at Martini, there were only about 15 to 20 people attending that “newer” service each week. Pastor Matt Kohl was called from Concordia Seminary to serve Martini Lutheran Church as pastor in August 2008 after a two year vacancy. He recalls one fact that was quite revealing. Said Pastor Kohl, “We had hardly anyone between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. We literally had a generation gap. There were also few children.”
Things began to change. “We expanded our ‘after school’ program to full-time day care in 2009. This has made a huge difference. The ‘after school’ program probably accounts for 50% to 75% of our growth at Martini. In 2008, CentralLutheranSchool had 270 students. Today we have about 350 students. The School’s growth has also contributed to Martini’s growth. To give you an idea, since 2008 we’ve added about 150 new members and had 46 baptisms. Very few of these baptisms are infant baptisms. We’ll have seven more baptisms soon. We’re connecting more people to Jesus. Here’s another example. Our children’s Christmas program is part of our Christmas Eve service. In 2008, we had 153 people attend. Last year, 313 people attended. We’re reaching more people,” said Pastor Kohl.
As you can see, being at work doing God’s mission is bearing much fruit for His kingdom through MartiniLutheranChurch. Notice that we haven’t said anything about TCN yet. So maybe at this point you’re wondering – is there really any need for TCN in a ministry like this? (Maybe what you’re really thinking is that you want your church to be like this.) Through funding made available by the Lutheran Foundation in Fort Wayne, Pastor Kohl was able to learn more about what TCN had to offer. Pastor Kohl said, “I went to a TCN Hinge Event to learn about hinge factors for church transformation. Our situation is probably different than some other churches. Martini is growing so fast I’m not sure how to handle some things. I knew I needed help and guidance, so I got involved with TCN. There is so much happening all at once. For example, we’ve added a whole age demographic. We’re still trying to figure out who we are, where we’re going. We’re trying to slow down a bit. Some lay people who have been here for a while are exhausted. We’re working on assimilating new members. There was a recognition that TCN offers valuable help in regard to identifying who we are as the Church and as a congregation. TCN also helps with leadership and organization/structure issues. It has been especially helpful to our top level of leadership at Martini.”
Pastor Kohl continued, “My day care director and I went to a coaching workshop led by Scott Gress with TCN. This experience has positively impacted our church. TCN has reminded us that God put His church on earth to thrive and grow. TCN challenged us to find our role in our community and in serving others. For us, TCN has been about intentionality. What has been very impactful was our transformation in commitment to service. The congregation’s buy-in to this has been very gratifying. For example, we bought and delivered poinsettias to every business in New Haven and handed out thousands of coupons to people for the local Dairy Queen.”
“My greatest challenge starts with the fact that we have a number of people who have been Lutherans for some time but we also have many people who are new to the faith. We may forget our role in service to our community. Although we have a Lutheran school, we still struggle to see the needs in our community and our role as a church in meeting those needs. We want to be known as a place for serving our community. Although we have grown a lot, many people in the community still don’t recognize that we’re here (outside of providing a school),” said Pastor Kohl.
When asked what has brought the greatest joy since being involved with TCN, Pastor Kohl immediately shared this story: “A group of families from Martini recently went to a minor league basketball game. It was arranged where we actually sat at tables near the court and ate together in the coliseum. Rather than just assume that people would pray individually in silence, I led a prayer for the group as all 95 of us joined together. We were the largest group at the coliseum. What a witness this was to our community! TCN had made me think about how moments like this can be a moment of service to our community.” He continued, “Sitting back, recalling the new faces in our congregation, and being in awe of what God has done brings me great joy. With TCN, I now have a partner in this process. TCN has been very affirming and encouraging in my pastoral ministry. TCN is a great partner in equipping congregations, not just pastors but the entire congregation.”
Pastor Kohl commented, “I don’t know if I would change anything about TCN. It makes total, complete sense to me. I wish we would have been engaged in the TCN process four years ago. Some of our leaders do feel that we are already beyond where the TCN process started. We’re already doing a lot. By the way, we now have a full-time office manager and are working on changing our constitution.”
Pastor Kohl values the relationships developed and learning experienced through TCN. “Through TCN, you will form great relationships. I’m part of a TCN Learning Community. We know we’re all in this together. TCN and the Learning Community is a great place to evaluate, get feedback, and find support.”
If you’re someone who may be considering TCN, Pastor Kohl has some thoughts to share with you. “TCN is an incredibly beneficial process that helps you as a pastor and the congregation to evaluate where you are in your ministry. TCN promotes honesty and transparency, while also challenging pastors and congregations with what it truly means to serve Christ and serve community.”
November 19, 2012
As recently as 2010, St. Paul Lutheran Church, which has been in Montgomery, Alabama for about 48 years, helped plant a new church. In doing so, it sent out several dozen members from St. Paul who served as the core group that was actively engaged in getting this new church started. The flip side of this is – what do you do now to continue to grow God’s church? Granted the new church should want to reach more people for Jesus but what about those still engaged in ministry at St. Paul? What’s their focus going forward?
The community around St. Paul is comprised of several areas – an area where predominately older, retirement-age people live and an area where younger families live. Pastor Carey Elam, a former Navy chaplain, came to St. Paul in July 1996. The Southern District suggested that St. Paul use the TCN process as a way to be more outward focused as they moved ahead, so the congregation started the revitalization process in January 2011. “The starting point in our community seems to be that Lutherans are usually seen as Catholic-like or a cult. TCN has helped us focus on how we can serve and help our community rather than to be looking for more Lutherans”, said Pastor Elam. He added, “Our vision has changed. We’re focusing more on young families and youth. We’re looking at paying our mortgage off in five or six years. We look at our facilities now more for multi-use. We’ve invited the community to use our space. For example, the state grant-funded a group of nurses to come here to teach a class about how caregivers could help people with chronic illnesses.”
TCN has helped open doors to many more exciting things happening through St. Paul. To learn more about possible needs in the community, Pastor Elam paid a visit to the mayor. “One need the mayor mentioned was that he wanted to see children have mentors. So we’ve adopted a school where we’re mentoring and tutoring children. The mayor also put me touch with the local police precinct commander, who is willing to do something to work with us and some other churches to help the community.” Pastor Elam commented, “We’ve also been working with a Christian daycare behind our church. We’ve had two Easter egg hunts with their staff, families, and children and we’ve taken Thanksgiving dinner to them. Our ladies also go to the daycare once a week to read to the children. They love it!” Another idea they’ve put into motion at St. Paul is to have a nine or ten week adult and children Sunday School, followed by a week of arts and crafts when they also talk about what they will do for a local mission trip, and then on the last week they’ll actually go out and do their mission project, such as taking the crafts they made to a nursing home.
Interest groups are beginning to catch on, slowly but surely. “Interest groups have been a challenge to get going. We have a sewing interest group and not even all of them are members, which is great. We’re considering starting a skeet-shooting interest group. We’re also looking at preparing meals for a downtown homeless shelter and we’re continuing to look for new opportunities out in our community”, said Pastor Elam. Pastor Elam is genuinely excited about what he sees happening through TCN. “God is giving affirmation that your eyes have been opened and He is blessing you. It’s like He’s saying, ‘You’re going in the right direction because you’re concerned about my people.’ We’ve had more non-infant baptisms in the past several years than I think we’ve ever had.”
Said Pastor Elam, “My greatest challenge in going through the revitalization process is that you will always have naysayers. However, more are coming on board. For example, I recently went in humility to one of my key members and simply said, ‘I need your help’. He was open to this and has been helpful in what we’re doing. Another big challenge is to effectively communicate what is happening. You can’t communicate too much. On the positive side, our members like the accountability of the Board structure.”
“The greatest joy I experience in the TCN process is seeing the people going out into our community. For example, we passed out candy and gave away free food at our Trunk or Treat event. Our youth group handed out invitations in the neighborhood ahead of time. People stayed around afterwards just to talk. We’re working on how to make follow-up contacts after the event. Eyes are being opened to opportunities in the community and people are seeing the results, like the increase in non-infant baptisms we’ve experienced. Here’s another thing. We had 13 people go to a mission summit recently. People realize that we are all ministers and we can make a difference”, said PastorElam. He went on to say, “Its fun to see people get involved. I have some people who drive 50 miles just to get here. We’re asking the right question now: It’s ‘where are the hurting?’ not ‘where are the Lutherans?’”
In speaking about his pastor’s Learning Community, Pastor Elam says, “We’re able to share our successes and learn from one another. We’re the only congregation in our Learning Community who has gone through a consultation, so what we’ve accomplished is proof of what’s talked about in the material provided by TCN. Going through the revitalization process is not easy but it’s definitely worth it.”
So what does Pastor Elam have to say to anyone considering TCN? “Do it! If you’re going down the life-cycle curve, it will help. It will change your congregation’s outlook on mission and ministry and help you become a more outward focused pastor. TCN helps keep the big picture in front of you. It’s a great tool to help grow the spirituality of your congregation.”
Olathe, Kansas is a suburban area near Kansas City that has experienced significant population growth and continues to be a community with a resourceful economic presence. Redeemer Lutheran Church has been part of the Olathe community for 50 years now. Its congregation is reflective of the aerospace industry and other employers there in that many of Redeemer’s members are engineers, teachers, nurses, and other professionals. So, we could just say that life is good in Olathe and end our story here, right? Well, not really, especially if your church is focused on reaching more people for Jesus.
Pastor Perry Sukstorf was called to Redeemer in 2006 as an associate pastor and then served several years starting in 2009 in the role of vacancy pastor until being called to serve as lead pastor in fall 2011. After learning about TCN, Pastor Sukstorf asked Terry Tieman to conduct an Introduction to Revitalization workshop with his church leadership group in summer 2011. This helped his leadership group discover creative ways to open new doors to their community. He also participated in coaches training and started with a Learning Community in August 2011. In addition, he hosted a regional Hinge Event at Redeemer in spring 2012. Pastor Sukstorf has at least 35 people now that he considers to be “People of Passion” – people actively engaged in helping Redeemer open doors for the Gospel into the Olathe community.
Redeemer’s approach to ministry has changed since being involved in TCN. Pastor Sukstorf commented, “We had a church picnic and the follow-up from that led to three Interest Groups being started: wine and beer tasting, family camping, and a fantasy football league. On Sunday, November 25, we’re having a “celebrating the harvest” gathering to talk about how people have been motivated for God’s mission, who have been reached with the message of Jesus, to pray over all this and thank God for what has happened.” People from Redeemer have gone prayer-walking in the neighborhood around their church. “We’re thinking differently. I found out that a group of our women had served breakfast to the homeless. They just took the initiative and did it on their own”, said Pastor Sukstorf. Redeemer has a pre-school and about 25% of those families are unchurched. They also have a deaf ministry – about 90 to 95% of deaf people around them are unchurched. Redeemer is also looking for new ways to reach their own neighborhood, which is largely unchurched. “We’ve gone from a mindset of getting members to how can we share the Gospel,” said Pastor Sukstorf.
People from Redeemer serve as homework helpers at a local school one day each week. Says Pastor Sukstorf, “This is great for relationship building, involves sharing Jesus’ love with others, serves as a training ground for Gospel-sharing, and is a way to serve outside the church.” Pastor Sukstorf continued, “I started walking around to area businesses and introducing myself, asking them how we as Redeemer could serve them. I asked them if they needed a chaplain, if they needed help with their community service events, things like that. I collected some business cards and left some travel mugs behind. I also try to be a model for the people at my church in going out into the community.” What about Christmas? That seems like a really good time to reach people. “We had been doing a ‘standard’ kind of Christmas program and our attendance was dwindling. People were not coming to rehearsals and we were not reaching any new people”, said Pastor Sukstorf. So Redeemer had an idea of making each Bible study group and the youth responsible for each learning center, where people would go from room to room to learn about the Christmas story. Families from their pre-school and the neighborhood were invited. “Our Christmas program attendance more than doubled”, said Pastor Sukstorf.
Then there’s always Election Day. “We had almost 1,000 people vote at our church. So I decided to greet people and make them feel welcome. We put signs on the doors which said the sanctuary was open for prayer. We also put out some flyers about our preschool and I saw that some were picked up. Had I been smarter, I would have had our members there with coffee, water bottles, donuts, and cookies throughout the day to break the ice and help them meet our neighbors (note to self, do that next year)”, Pastor Sukstorf said.
Redeemer is located in a comfortable, suburban environment. As long as you have a good plan that gets you to be where you want to be as a church, isn’t that enough? Why rock the boat or for that matter, get out of the boat? Says Pastor Sukstorf, “I think our biggest challenge is to let go and let God. Sometimes professionals want to plan out everything. The fear of failure can cripple people. Unexpected outcomes don’t have to be viewed as failures.” Risks have to be taken for the sake of sharing the Gospel. You can see that in what Redeemer, with God’s help, has been willing to do for him and to his glory.
“There are exciting things going on at Redeemer and this helps me stay upbeat. Personally, I do coaching twice a month and that keeps me on my toes. I can’t shut my brain off. I can’t wait to start working on the next thing. People are excited about church, they really love what is going on, what the church’s purpose is, and what it represents in our community”, said Pastor Sukstorf.
“One of the things about TCN that helped me the most was the coaching. It taught me a lot and pushed me. Another thing is that the Learning Community is a real brotherhood. We’re united in purpose and have similar goals in mind. We support one another. I have developed close friendships in my Learning Community”, said Pastor Sukstorf.
Pastor Sukstorf has several thoughts for anyone considering TCN. “From a pastor’s perspective, if you embrace TCN, not only will you be supported and encouraged to share the Gospel (as you learned at the seminary) but you will also be emboldened to raise up lay people to grow into the role as the priesthood of all believers. From a lay person’s perspective, it helps you refocus on what’s important – which is to introduce you to new people who you can introduce to Jesus, which will grow your faith. People have become better connected spiritually to their roles in leadership and service within the church”, said Pastor Sukstorf. “This has been a personal transformation for me, not just a corporate transformation for Redeemer”, he added. Before leaving, Pastor Sukstorf had one more thing to offer. “TCN is a relational model, not an attractional model. By the way, I’m going to Buffalo Wild Wings tonight to watch the football game. I’m inviting some non-Christians to watch the game with me.”
November 9, 2012
Forty years ago, Beautiful Savior held its first worship service in what was then a new facility in south Memphis,Tennessee. In February 2004, the congregation dedicated its current building after having moved to the fast-growing area of Olive Branch in North Mississippi. However, when Pastor Tim “Vic” Maslowski came to Beautiful Savior in September 2007, the congregation was going through some difficult times. Pastor Vic knew something needed to be done to help the congregation. It was during the spring of 2008 that Pastor Vic says the Lord led him to the Learning Community being offered by TCN in Memphis.
Pastor Vic valued what he was able to learn from the resources and discussions with his peers within this Learning Community. [Go to www.tcnprocess.com for more information on Learning Communities.] “I was exposed to a lot of literature and resources about outreach and leadership. The literature was not about things like suggesting changes to theology or how to do liturgical worship. These were resources that helped me grow as a leader and that I could also use to help my congregation”, said Pastor Vic. He also appreciated the encouragement and support he received from fellow pastors who participated in this Learning Community. Said Pastor Vic, “The support my peers gave me meant a lot to me. I also got a lot of good ideas from the other pastors.” The coaching TCN provides has also proved to be helpful. “The coaching training I received through TCN taught me how to approach things differently in working through situations”, said Pastor Vic. [Go to www.tcnprocess.com for more information on Coaching.]
An important aspect of learning in TCN Learning Communities is to be able to take what you’ve learned and apply it in practical ways to improve the situations you encounter in your congregation. Pastor Vic has been able to do just that. “Much of the literature and discussions we had in our Learning Community centered around being an externally-focused church, reaching out with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ to people, and how you can do that”, said Pastor Vic. “I started by spending time teaching our elders about this.”
Beautiful Savior and its ministry have changed since being involved in TCN. Said Pastor Vic, “God has turned some things around. We have become more focused on outreach, service, and discipleship as a congregation. Our congregation is growing now.” Many things have happened. The District helped Beautiful Savior work through the process of developing a mission and vision. The congregation is doing a variety of “net-fishing” events as a way to reach more people for Jesus. The congregation takes part in the Olive Branch Octoberfest at the city park, by providing bratwursts and other food and having their puppet ministry perform; hosts a Trunk or Treat for Halloween; offers an outdoor worship service in the fall followed by a picnic; hosts a puppet ministry Christmas program and gives away tickets to the community; holds a rummage sale and donates the proceeds to House of Grace, a place for abused women and children; partners with the Olive Branch Christmas Coalition to deliver monthly meals to shut-ins; and has adopted Olive Branch Elementary School to help meet various needs, such as provide supplies, provide breakfast for the teachers, and send Christmas cards to families.
Pastor Vic said, “My greatest joy is seeing God at work in the congregation and watching him turn it around. My attitude has also changed for the better. God has changed me. I’m a different person now.”
Pastor Vic does have some thoughts for anyone considering TCN. Pastor Vic said, “God can use you as long as you are willing to work through the process. It does work. It’s about connecting with people to connect them to Christ. It’s about engaging people where they are and developing relationships so you can share your faith in Christ with them.”