Flat Luther – A study in member engagement at Sherwood Park Lutheran

As seasons change, so do church attendance numbers. Over the past calendar year, the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod’s Sherwood Park Lutheran Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba put together an action plan to maintain member involvement, even when physically away from the church.

Led by Sherwood Park’s Family Ministry Coordinator, Candace Kostna, Flat Luther was born. In an attempt to remain ‘connected’ with other congregation members, a cross-generational activity, ‘The Adventures of Flat Luther’ kicked into high gear over the past summer months, ultimately concluding with a Reformation 500 social on October 14, 2017.

“This past spring, we talked about the challenge for all churches in summertime as attendance numbers go down.” Kostna said. “People are out and about, exploring all of God’s creation, so we wanted to do something that would highlight what the many members of our church are doing, while staying connected in our faith community.”

So how did that idea of remaining connected become ‘The Adventures of Flat Luther’?

“Simple,” said Kostna. “Believe it or not, this is all based off of a chapter book for kids – Flat Stanley. I had heard about something called Flat Jesus before, and that sounded appealing. We started talking about it and thought that we would incorporate Luther into this as we are Lutherans and celebrating Reformation 500 this year.”

Some may wonder what effective purpose a six-inch by three-inch cardboard cut-out would actually serve within the lives of congregation members who spent parts of their summers away from the church, but for Kostna, that thought never even crossed her mind.

“The goal was to help us stay connected over the summer months,” she reflected. “First we had to realize that we live out our faith all the time – not just that hour or so we spend in church on Sunday mornings. We wanted to find something fun for younger families to participate in, but something that would also draw full participation of members across the board.”

What started off as a cross generational activity to stay connected morphed into also being a way to commemorate Martin Luther and Reformation 500. For the members of Sherwood Park Lutheran, ‘The Adventures of Flat Luther’ opened up the opportunity for meaningful conversations inside and outside of congregational walls.

“People would take photos of them with Flat Luther and throw a hashtag on it and write a caption for posting on social media,” Kostna said. “That’s just how people stay connected nowadays. We actually started to use Flat Luther’s travels as a part of our Sunday morning announcements. We would show the weekly photos on slides and provide updates on what Flat Luther had been up to each week. It certainly led to many conversations even at coffee hour.”

Although some of the best pictures from ‘The Adventures of Flat Luther’ came from photoshoots in and around the city of Winnipeg, some members of Sherwood Park really embraced the challenge of taking Flat Luther nearly everywhere they went.

“It was incredible some of the places that Flat Luther went,” Kostna said. “Flat Luther had the chance to check out a bit of Norway as one congregation member took him with her when she went overseas to visit her granddaughter. He also went to Aruba and on a cruise. One member took him to New York.”

‘The Adventures of Flat Luther’ began on Mother’s Day 2017 and found itself extended through its original proposed conclusion of Back to Church Sunday, as many of the photos taken were featured in a joint Reformation 500 social hosted by the congregations of Sherwood Park, Abundant Life, Prince of Peace and St. Luke’s Zion.

“Our original plan was to share some of this at our Back to Church Sunday barbeque that we always host,” Kostna said. “But then we thought, “why don’t we tie it into our Reformation Sunday,” because it is Flat Luther after-all! We are definitely still looking for other ways to stay connected throughout the year, but this experiment has been a wonderful opportunity to build relationships throughout the church within all age groups and generations.”