Message from Pastor Stanton for December 2016

Look what we did! (And look at what we do… and what we plan on doing!) In November, the La Crosse Area Synod hosted an event: “The Generosity Jubilee”. For a year and a half, about a dozen congregations of our synod have done work toward developing more thoughtful ways of growing our stewardship, and this Jubilee was the final celebration. There, we heard from Rev. (and stewardship guru) Chick Lane who wrote a great little book called, “Ask, Thank, Tell.” He says developing a generous congregation has everything to do with these three words. People give when they are ASKed. THANKing is essential, too. And once people’s gifts have been given, we need to TELL the stories of how their support is making a difference.

From October into November we considered the ‘ASK’ from our church. We considered, “How much is God calling me to give?” We receive a lot of asks, don’t we? Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, my kids’ school, the March of Dimes, the Humane Society, my alma mater(s), the cemetery for their fence, political parties, disaster funds, cancer research, Gundersen, the Red Cross, the Onalaska Food Basket and many, many, many more. This is that time of year, especially when we get asked to be generous.

The gifts we have made and the work we are doing is leading us into a 2017 that promises to grow our mission even more.

That’s why I want to THANK those of you who contribute to God’s mission through the work of First Lutheran! Through October, our giving has increased in 2016. Unfortunately, this is not the typical trend for churches in our area. But maybe we’re not typical!

In fact, let me move directly into the TELL portion of my newsletter for this month. Did you know that First Lutheran contributes more to the La Crosse Area Synod than any other congregation? Our Associate Pastor serves our Bishop as one of his Deans. One of our own high schoolers, Emily Wittkop sits on the Synod Council as a youth member. Bridget Crave, our Director of Small Groups serves on the synod’s Church in Society Team. And Terry Lee is among the exceptional leaders of the synod’s Stewardship Team. In 2015, First was the greatest financial giver in our synod. We gave $64,200 last year. Lutheran Social Services thanked us for making the largest single special offering gift they received last year…and we budget an additional gift for them, too! We are among a few congregations who subsidize our Campus Ministry Pastor, giving $5,000 a year there. Sugar Creek Bible Camp receives even more; about $6,400. Lutheran World Relief, the local food shelf, homeless veterans, wayward travelers, single mothers and so many more are touched by the financial generosity of our members. And that doesn’t even begin to TELL the stories of how our members give their time and effort to ministries that touch the hungry, the poorly clothed, the marginalized and the grieving.

One result of our synod’s emphasis on developing a stewardship plan was to begin TELLing Faith Alive! stories during the offering at worship. Other churches call these ‘mission moments’. For 2-3 minutes you may take a virtual tour of the clothes closet, hear about how our giving trees make a difference or what’s happening at our Campus Ministry. But… they’ve been too long. So, look for shorter messages of THANKs coming in December! Other results of this effort have been the formation of our own stewardship team, neighborhood meals at the end of our time for THANKS and a word of thanks with a story at the bottom of quarterly statements.

The gifts we have made and the work we are doing is leading us into a 2017 that promises to grow our mission even more. The 150 families who completed an estimate of giving card in November intend to increase their gifts by more than $70,000. This will allow for us to retain our fully staffed paid leadership. Our giving is keeping up with our staff! And our lay leaders are branching out, too. The Community Outreach Action Team (COAT) plans on surveying all our members to find out what partnerships our congregation may be most passionate about. What needs are seen in our community that can be met by us? Hospitality Action teams will be forming. Small groups are growing. And the youth are meeting under the leadership of Tina Nelson. There is a momentum among our staff and leadership that is building our fellowship into relevant, faithful places.

THANK you. For all the ways you support and engage in the ministries of First Lutheran, where Faith is Alive!