Rev. Jonathan Hein
Congregation at the Crossroads: Five Questions for a Challenged Church, Rev. Jonathan Hein
Everyone knows that overall church membership has been in decline for a half-century. Now think of how that translates into the reality for individual congregations. Many churches are contracting to a size which challenges their existence. In one decade, the number of WELS congregations that average 50 or fewer in worship has grown from 27% to 45%. Currently, almost 200 WELS churches have 25 or fewer people in worship on an average weekend. The reality is that each year more and more church leaders are asking questions like: How long can we hold on? Should we see if another church will share their pastor part-time? Can we find a retired pastor who will serve us? What happens if we close?
Generally, those not the right questions. They confuse the means and the end. In the Church, the end is the glory of Jesus Christ and the execution of the mission he gave—to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. Congregations and their ministry efforts are the means to that end. When a congregation comes to an existential crossroads, the correct questions are ones about mission, not survival.
In this breakout discussion, we will walk through five questions challenged congregations need to prayerfully consider. There are zero preconceived notions of what will result as congregations answer these five questions for themselves. It will vary from location to location. Some congregations may decide to redevelop their ministry efforts. Others may decide it makes more sense to merge with another congregation in some fashion. Still others may elect to close, thanking God for the many years he gave to the congregation, but believing it now wisest to put their human and financial resources into other gospel efforts. These churches will make very different decisions. However, the decisions will have something in common. They will all be made to the glory of God, precisely because the congregation asked the right questions.
Rev. Jonathan Hein
Jonathan is a 1997 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Upon graduation, he was assigned to a home mission in the Charleston, S.C. area. In his twenty years there, he helped start two congregations. He has served as chairman of the South Atlantic District Mission Board as well as a member of the Executive Committee of WELS Board for Home Missions. In 2014 he was called to be the director of WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling. In that capacity, he works with congregations and schools to assess and plan gospel ministry efforts. In 2017, his duties expanded to include serving as coordinator of the six commissions that make up WELS Congregational Services: Congregational Counseling, Discipleship, Evangelism, Lutheran Schools, Special Ministries, and Worship. Jonathan is married to Rebecca, who teaches in their home congregation in Waukesha, Wis. They have two sons, Caleb, who works in finance, and Joshua, who serves in our nation’s Air Force.