How One Congregation Uses Technology to Build Relationships with Military Families No Matter Where they Are

When Rev. John Perling first traveled to Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Robert, MO, he was working on his Ph.D. at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

He was not seeking a Call at the congregation. However, as he continued to preach there as part of the seminary’s Pulpit Supply, he built relationships and soon took the role of vacancy pastor.

In 2016, the church called him formally. Located in the shadow of Fort Leonard Wood, the congregation has
a clear draw to military families and military-connected people. In fact, when the congregation was founded
in the 1950s, the growing importance of the nearby military base was a key part of the strategy.

Now, Fort Leonard Wood houses people at many levels of the military. From basic training to officer training,
it also houses a school that accepts children whose parents are in all branches of the military. There are also military police, chemical engineers, chemical readiness specialists and advanced infantry.

At his ordination, Rev. Perling and President Hagan discussed the vision for the Plus One process, a movement to encourage congregations to find a way take one new step into their communities. The congregation agreed
to pilot Plus One. On May 20 (Armed Forces Day), 2017, the congregation hosted an Armed Forces Ministry Summit, with visitors from the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces team came to attend.

As the summit unfolded, they discussed many ideas about how to become more present to the local military community. The idea that emerged with the most potential was to work with the chaplaincy office on base. They reached out to the Director of Religious Education, a position that’s structured a little bit like a DCE for the army base.

The Director of Religious Education at the time had need for an adult education class. Because it was also the 500th anniversary of the reformation, the wanted someone to teach a Wednesday night class about the reformation. Rev. Perling taught the class, covering Luther, Calvin and the English reformation.
Since then, Rev. Perling has taught several other courses on base, strengthening existing relationships.
This compliments the many other activities the congregation organizes for the military community,
such as hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the many service members only receiving 12 hours of leave to enjoy their holiday. Approximately 40 to 50 first and second lieutenants showed up for that dinner.

In addition to adult education, the congregation used a Plus One grant to upgrade software that helps them keep in touch with people after they move away from the area. All their relationships start face-to-face, and Rev. Perling usually has a sense pretty quickly if the faces in his congregation will be around for just a short while (like basic training) or if they might be there awhile (like an engineer).

However, there’s a lot of value in continuing the relationship even after people get assigned to live
somewhere else, no matter how long they were involved with Faith. With their new software, they’re able to keep track of where people are going next, and whether or not an LCMS congregation serves the area.
They’re also working on getting electronic resources available to people assigned to areas without an LCMS presence. This includes electronic bible studies and the ability to live stream and record church services, with appropriate lighting.

If you’re on the fence about participating in Plus One, Rev. Perling recommends looking at it as “Taking something you’re already doing well and giving it an evangelism nudge.” Rev. Perling thinks Plus One projects can be an opportunity for members to try new things. He points out, “Everyone assumes the accountant who spends 50-60 hours a week crunching numbers can’t wait to be the church treasurer. What if his dream is to be a chef? It’s a great chance to let people be creative.”

Additionally, Rev. Perling suspects most congregations focus really hard on attracting new members, but have room for improvement when it comes to getting them situated within the church. A Plus One project is a great way to disciple new members and engage them for the long-term.

For more information about Plus One, contact Rev. Bill Geis at (314) 590-6205.

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