Lutheran Church of Hope Connects People to Its Identity and Mission.
Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa, had 9,000 children and 4,000 volunteers at vacation Bible school this past summer. “VBS is a great evangelism tool,” says Senior Pastor Mike Housholder. “If you get the kids to come, their parents will often come too.”
Hope’s mission statement is paraphrased from the Great Commission. “We just want to share the light of Jesus with those around us,” Housholder says. “It’s our marching orders. We remind ourselves of it and make decisions based on it.”
Hope focuses on evangelism, but not at the expense of discipleship. “We stress the importance of the Great Commandment,” Housholder says. “We are to love God and love others. We want to help people grow deeper in their relationship with God and then teach them how to share it with others. We focus on both evangelism and discipleship.”
He credits God with the growth of his church. “When I started this church in 1993, we had 15 members,” he explains. “I realized early on that I wasn’t going to be able to do this. I had to surrender it to God and let him do his work. I was just given the opportunity to start something that God can use. It’s all him.”
Housholder also credits the church’s growth to a spirit of experimentation. “We are willing to try new things,” he says. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We take God seriously but not ourselves.”
“As a church grows, it’s very important for its leaders to remember the church’s mission and focus on the big things,” Mike says. “At Hope, I act as an interpreter for others. I explain that our identity as a church leads to our mission. When people know why we do what we do, they want to get involved.”
Hope’s goal is to donate 50 percent of its money to local and global ministries. “We’re getting close to that goal now,” Housholder says. “We know that God is calling us to support missions both here in Des Moines and around the world.
“Iowa is a rural state,” he adds. “Des Moines isn’t that big, but for whatever reason, God decided to plant a megachurch here. We’re just trying to be faithful to what he wants us to do and spread his love to everyone we can.”
Among the many people influence by the church’s ministry is Ken Fuson. Eight years ago, he was working as a freelance writer. “The Des Moines Register asked me to write a story about a church in our area that was growing really fast,” Fuson says. “I interviewed Pastor Mike for the story, and he gave me some tapes of his sermons.”
Fuson listened to the tapes and then decided to attend a service. “As soon as I walked in, the love was palpable. I’m a cynical person by nature, but I could just feel that something good was going on there. I could tell that the people genuinely cared about me.”
At the time, Fuson was in a bad place. “I’ve been a compulsive gambler for my entire life. When I was asked to write the story about Hope, I was very close to becoming homeless because of my addiction.”
He continued attending services and joined an Alpha class, a 10-week program that serves as an introduction to Christianity. “Several of the other participants were also struggling with some kind of addiction, and that helped a lot.”
After a few months of attending church, Fuson realized that his urge to gamble had gone away. Today, he’s celebrating eight years of freedom from his gambling habit.
“It was a miracle,” he says. “I stopped gambling, but it was more than that. I used to hate myself, but the people at Hope taught me that we’re all sinners, and that we can leave our baggage at the cross.”
He loves the Lutheran Church of Hope, but he says it’s not just a “feel good” church. “They make you feel good because they share God’s love with you, but it’s not the kind of church where you just sit back and enjoy the show. They challenge you to grow. You can come as you are, but then they encourage you to take in God’s love and spread it around.”
LUTHERAN CHURCH OF HOPE
West Des Moines, Iowa
Lead Pastor: Mike Housholder
Affiliation: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Locations: 6
Growth in 2017: +550 (5%)