Sept. 29, 2020
Contact: Judith Cebula
317.916.7327 |

Lilly Endowment grants nearly $93 million to help congregations thrive across the nation


INDIANAPOLIS – Lilly Endowment has awarded 92 grants to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

The grants totaling nearly $93 million were made through the Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. Taken together, organizations receiving the funds will be able to work directly during the next three to five years with thousands of congregations across the United States. The programs will help congregations gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve,  and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

Today, Christian congregations face a wide array of challenges and opportunities, including those created and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These range from using new technologies to extend worship services and keep members connected with each other to understanding and responding to demographic shifts and welcoming new neighbors in their communities.

“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”

The 92 organizations include colleges and universities, theological schools, denominational agencies, individual congregations and other faith-based organizations.  They represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational.  Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

The grants will support a wide variety of programs that will convene groups of congregations in supportive learning communities to collaborate and share insights as they design and launch new ministries. For example:

  • Marquette University will assist churches in drawing on Ignatian spiritual practices to identify ministry opportunities and deepen congregational vitality.
  • Hood Theological Seminary will support Black congregations in the southeastern U.S. as they assess ministries, deepen knowledge about changes in their local communities and implement new ministries.
  • Dakota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will build partnerships between town and rural churches and provide them with resources to strengthen their ministries.
  • Augsburg University will help congregations explore their neighborhoods and build relationships with local community organizations to work together in serving their neighbors and strengthening community vitality.
  • Mere Christianity Forum will work with congregations in college and university towns to engage young people and learn from them.
  • Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas will help Hispanic Baptist churches address challenges of serving communities near the Texas-Mexico border.

Many programs will help congregations strengthen their own ministries while they foster ecumenical collaborations among churches from different Christian traditions.  These include programs that will help congregations build bridges across social, economic and racial and ethnic differences.

A complete list of grants can be found here.

Duke University has received a $3.79 million grant to support this initiative during the next five years by gathering grantees for mutual learning, collecting and sharing insights emerging from the programs and tracking the initiative’s overall progress.

The Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain and financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christian in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities.