In 2015, the Pacific Southwest District participated in the beta test for the Church Worker Family Needs Assessment. Partnering with the LCMS Office of National Mission, Concordia Plan Services, Family Friendly Partners Network, and the Concordia Center for the Family, our district along with the Kansas and Ohio Districts surveyed our church workers. We assembled a team of church workers to help shape the survey, the distribution of the survey, and the analysis of the data. The members of that team were Dr. Dave Rueter (Chair & District Staff), Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau (District President), Rev. Ron Rehrer (District Staff), Dr. Daniel Puls, Steve Schedler, and Carolyn Simms. Working with Ben Freudenburg and Glenn Gritzon, the team communicated about the survey project at the Pastor’s Conference, LEC, and regional principals’ and circuit meetings.
The survey was delivered via email to church workers and their spouses, in all four regions of the district as well as Concordia University. Some 434 individuals completed the survey. For that we want to offer our thanks to each of you who did complete the survey. Your contribution of time will shape how we as a district seek to care for our church workers and their families in the coming years. In December of 2016, a larger group of church workers in our district gathered with Ben and Glenn to discuss the survey results and identify critical areas for we as a district to address. Included in that meeting (beyond the original team) were Rachel Klitzing (Ed. Exec.), Rev. Kevin Kritzer, Karl Fink, Meredith Arldt, Rev. Kevin Austin, Kurt Krueger, Rev. Dr. Steve Mueller, and Dr. Becky Peters. Spending a nearly full day, meeting and discussing the data at the district office, this group identified three critical areas:
1. Marriage Enrichment 2. Retirement Transition Assistance 3. Single Worker Support
To work to address these critical areas, the group proposed the following possible responses:
1. Journey Partnerships: Trail mates who journey along with workers and spouses at various stages of life and ministry. 2. Resource Website: To further build off the work done as part of the Salary & Care Guidelines, this website would house resources and seek to employ bloggers/authors who will continue to develop further content for the site to respond to the variety of specific needs identified in the survey. Journey Partners would be housed on this site. 3. Grace Place Retreats: For Marriage Enrichment and Single Worker Support. 4. Retirement Transition Event: To develop an event that would help lay out the transitions that our workers may go through as they prepare for retirement. Could be specific to DCE’s, teachers or pastors (DCE’s have an option through KINDLE Finishing Well) or more general. Would focus on personal, financial, and ministerial transitions. 5. Counseling: To develop a new structure to encourage and support church workers and families in seeking needed counseling, possibly through regional networks of counselors.
There was much to celebrate in the survey data. We celebrated and praised God, when looking at the numbers that demonstrated the strength of the marriages among our church workers. A full 85% of respondents were married, with only 6% of whom had at one time been divorced. Of the 14% of those responding as unmarried, just 25% of whom have been divorced. This is a far cry from the 50% divorce rate that we hear so much about in the news.
Further good news came when reviewing the commitment our workers have toward their current calls. Those who indicated that they planned to remain serving in their current church/school neighborhood for several years were solid in 3 of 4 regions and at CUI (Region 2: 75%, Region 3: 73%, Region 4:72%, CUI: 67%). It was noted that Region 1 reported only 45% a good number, but significantly different from the other regions. There were other challenges that the survey revealed. Those included:
Need for healthy lifestyle choices
Desire for balanced ministry/home life
Ways to strengthen marriages
Need to support for single minsters
Support in transition to fill existing and coming vacancies
Travel partners to support (take an interest in) ministry journey
A Church Worker Family Needs Task Force is being established in order to organize district work toward the various needs and opportunities revealed in the data. This task force will be made up of both church workers and lay members of LCMS churches and will seek to provide the following:
Resources developed to support church works (ordained, commissioned, and contract), along with their spouses and children, that focus on various stages in ministry and family life.
Resources developed to provide guidance to congregations for the care of church workers and their families.
Events, workshops, etc. (stand alone or connected to regular conferences) that provide ongoing training or information to help church workers prepare for future stages in their careers or family stages.
Provide guidance or encouragement for counseling support for church workers and families through Concordia Plans Services, Shepherd’s Canyon, or other local counseling services available to our workers.
The launch of lutheranchurchworker.org is a step toward those goals. The website has been created as one effort to attempt to address some of the needs revealed in the survey data. Our hope for this site is to provide access to an ever-increasing set of resources to support workers and their family as well as to equip congregations to do likewise. It is our hope that by providing resources, and in some cases events or trainings, that we can help to encourage healthier churches and schools in which healthier church workers can serve our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peace in Christ, Dr. Dave Rueter, Youth & Family Ministry Facilitator