Like other congregations in the Beacon collaborative serving as Families Moving Forward hosts, Woodlake Lutheran Church faces challenges filling its hosting volunteer opportunities.
“Mainline Protestant denominations all face reality of declining membership – which means a decline in money and time” directed toward church ministries, says Woodlake’s lead host coordinator Scott Dahlquist.
Yet Dahlquist, a retired Minneapolis police officer, believes his faith requires an “obligation to care for those who for one reason or another don’t have enough.”
So a couple of years ago when he accepted the host coordinator position, he took a hard look at the dwindling volunteer base at Woodlake (average worship attendance is about 350) and decided to ask church leadership for permission to reach out to neighboring congregations to invite volunteers in.
He started with the two other nearby ELCA churches, which he figured would make people feel more comfortable. There was also pastoral encouragement to try to connect with other congregations, which eventually resulted in a formal effort of three Richfield ELCA congregations to work collaboratively on several issues.
While the other congregations expressed some interest in Families Moving Forward, there wasn’t a groundswell of engagement right away.
“The general response was, ‘It sounds good,’ but it takes a while for people to warm up to the idea,” Dahlquist said.
Now Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer, already connected with Beacon through efforts to develop 66 West youth housing, has committed to one evening including dinner and activities during each of the last few hosting weeks. Hope Church has also provided volunteers.
Coordinating volunteers, especially those from other congregations who may be unfamiliar with Woodlake’s buildings, people and practices, takes good communication and organizational skills, says Dahlquist.
“People need specific guidelines,” he said. He provides a 5-page FMF handbook and reviewed position descriptions to make sure they were accurate. He coordinates with prospective volunteers via email and ensures there is always a Woodlake volunteer on site with the keys and knowledge of the building.
He hopes to engage the non-Woodlake volunteers in Beacon training opportunities as well.
Extending the hosting opportunity beyond the church’s own pews has made a difference at Woodlake. In fact, they’re now reaching beyond Lutheran neighbors. Volunteers from St. Richard’s Catholic Church, just across the street, have expressed interest.
“At this point I am open to any church that would be willing to collaborate,” Dahlquist said. “I think it would be difficult or impossible to do hosting without it.”