January 31, 2023
Contact: Judith Cebula
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Lilly Endowment Launches New Round of Initiative to Help Congregations Thrive


Indianapolis – Lilly Endowment Inc. invites organizations that support Christian congregations to participate in the second competitive round of a national initiative to strengthen churches by helping them adapt to rapid changes affecting their ministries.

“Christian congregations have long played a vital role in nurturing the religious lives of individuals and families and in reaching out to serve the needs of those in their communities and around the globe,” said Christopher L. Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “Like other institutions, congregations have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted established patterns of congregational life and accelerated many social and cultural trends influencing their ministries.”

Those trends are varied and include, among others, growing diversity within congregations and the communities they serve, the increasing religious disaffiliation among young people, and the reliance of congregations on digital media to livestream worship services and conduct other ministries.

The Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative seeks to help churches understand and respond to these and other changes so they can adapt and strengthen their efforts to carry forward their gospel missions.

The initiative is designed to support organizations in the United States that work with congregations to develop new or strengthen existing programs to help churches understand better the changing social and cultural contexts in which they serve; gain clarity about their values and mission in light of these changes; and draw upon Christian practices that are rooted in the congregations’ theological or ecclesial traditions to adapt and strengthen their ministries.

Interested eligible organizations in the United States may submit proposals for up to $1.25 million to be used for up to a five-year period to plan and implement programs. The Endowment anticipates that many different kinds of organizations will apply for funding, including theological schools, denominational organizations, colleges and universities and faith-based agencies. In this open and competitive initiative, the Endowment expects to make approximately 60 grants. Learn more about the application process here.

The Thriving Congregations Initiative builds on the work supported during earlier rounds of funding in 2019 and 2020. Those grants supported 114 organizations representing a broad spectrum of Christian traditions and communities that have developed programs to work with congregations serving in a wide variety of ministry contexts and individuals and families from diverse backgrounds. They include helping congregations extend the reach of ministries through practices of hospitality, use of new technologies to enhance worship, support and nurture better the religious lives of young people and develop ministries that connect more deeply with the neighborhoods, towns and cities in which they serve.

As part of the initiative, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, which is based at Duke University, is connecting leaders of participating organizations for shared learning and mutual support.

“Many pastors and congregational leaders are asking critical questions about their missions and values as they move toward a post-pandemic future,” Coble said. “The Thriving Congregations Initiative aims to help congregations step back and assess their ministries, embrace challenges and opportunities, and reimagine how they can enhance and sustain their vital ministries into the future.  Our hope is that these efforts will help congregations thrive so they can better help people encounter God, connect with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world.”

Enhancing congregational vitality is a grantmaking priority of the Endowment rooted in the conviction that local congregations are a primary form of Christian community. They are places where Christians gather to worship; where their children and youth are formed in faith traditions; and where they extend care to one another, to neighbors and to people around the world. Therefore, the Endowment supports efforts that help congregations address challenges and embrace opportunities.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly and his sons, Eli and J.K. Jr., through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although gifts of stock remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. The Endowment supports the causes of community development, education, and religion. Grantmaking in religion seeks to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.