RSTM conference looks toward future of national mission

Martha Mitkos, left, director of campaigns and special initiatives for LCMS Mission Advancement, talks with Allen Helms of the LCMS Foundation about the Synod’s “Free to be Faithful” initiative during a break at the 2016 National RSTM Conference. (LCMS/Roger Drinnon)

By Roger Drinnon

WICHITA, Kan. — Some 160 Synod participants — pastors and lay leaders alike — took a fresh look at community outreach and planning during the 2016 National Rural & Small Town Mission (RSTM) Conference held here Nov. 3-5.

Under the theme “Mission at Home: Standing Where You Are Planted,” participants heard from LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) leaders and other speakers who presented information and resources for enabling congregations to spread the Gospel among communities now challenged by diverse demographics and economic changes as well as varying attitudes about Christianity across rural America.

The Rev. Mark Wood, director of LCMS Witness & Outreach Ministry and the Synod’s revitalization initiative, re: Vitality, facilitated six sessions on strategic planning for congregations with the help of Deaconess Maryann Hayter, Synod coordinator for Witness and Outreach, and Revitalization. These sessions incorporated practical case studies to help congregation leaders effectively plan ahead for the challenges of outreach and revitalization in these rapidly changing areas.

The Rev. Mark Wood, director of LCMS Witness & Outreach Ministry and the Synod’s revitalization initiative, re: Vitality, leads a session on strategic planning for congregations during the 2016 National RSTM conference, Nov. 3-5 in Wichita, Kan. (LCMS/Roger Drinnon)

“Our goal at this conference was to introduce key concepts of the [forthcoming] ‘Joining God’s Mission’ re: Vitality module, so we can begin to look at how effective are these concepts, how well they are being received by people and how they need to be adapted to be more practical for congregations,” said Wood.

The “Joining God’s Mission” module is currently in production, and Wood estimates this new strategic-planning workshop will be available for congregations as early as the spring of 2017. Those who took part in Wood’s sessions at the conference indicated the sessions were a useful primer as congregations await the module.

“I found lots of things helpful,” said the Rev. Kevin Ader, pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. “The strategic-planning segments were very practical for people to bring information back to congregations in a very simplified way.”

“Just being able to get a conversation going about the direction we need to go — that we need to evaluate where we’re at and if there are changes we need to make and new ways we can present things to our community and to get out in the community and see what’s needed there,” said Harvey Hentges, a member of Christ Lutheran Church, Perry, Okla.

“Our congregation can benefit from this greatly,” echoed Sandy Hentges, Harvey’s wife. “We fit perfectly in to the rural, small-town church definition. Everything presented is something we can benefit from.”    

Also during the conference, LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin Robson led daily Bible studies, and the many and varied other conference sessions included the Rev. Dr. John Mehl, director of Mission Partnerships and Church Relations, Concordia University, Nebraska, Seward, Neb., who spoke about “Home Mission,” emphasizing how rural congregations have a ripe mission field in their local areas. RSTM Director Rev. Todd Kollbaum also offered insight and resources for welcoming new people into congregations.

The 2017 National RSTM conference will be held at the Kansas City Airport Hilton under the theme “Standing On Our Heritage: It’s Still All About Jesus.” For more information and updates, visit lcms.org/rstm.

Roger Drinnon (roger.drinnon@lcms.org) is director of Editorial Services and Media Relations for LCMS Communications.

Posted December 14, 2016

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