Our Purpose

Thriving Congregations

Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving Congregations Initiative aims to help congregations strengthen their ministries so they can better help people deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world.

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Overview

Reassessing, adapting ministries to new and emerging contexts

In all, 115 charitable organizations were awarded grants of up to $1 million each to help congregations adapt to changing social and cultural contexts, clarify their values and mission, and draw on Christian practices. Leadership Education at Duke Divinity supports and networks these grantees and shares what they are learning.

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Our Commitments

What makes congregations flourish?

Local congregations are the primary form of Christian community. Those that thrive share three characteristics.

Contextual knowledge

Relational and relevant ministries emerge from understanding rapidly changing communities.

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Mission clarity

A strong sense of identity and values draws from a church’s theological and ecclesial tradition.

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Vibrant practices

Common rituals help congregations effectively address new challenges and nurture spiritual vitality.

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Lilly endowment inc. 2020 annual report

‘The Times They Are A-Changin’

Shifting demographics, social disruptions move congregations to explore how to remain relevant and serve their communities

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Project Directory

Explore our grantees

Grantees include colleges and universities, theological schools, denominational agencies, individual congregations and other faith-based organizations and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions.

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United Methodist Church of Los Altos

We aim to launch a national movement of Changemaker Churches. Laypeople are the connection between their churches and their rapidly changing communities. They embody their churches’ social and cultural contexts….

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Payne Theological Seminary

Going into this project, we believed that a set of concerns framed the issue of congregational thriving. We believed that the “economics of ministry” needed either reformation or explanation, because…

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Boston University School of Theology

This project explores what it means for urban congregations to thrive in the midst of collective trauma. As ministers increasingly find themselves as first-responders and their churches as safety-nets to…

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Instituto de Formacion Fe y Vida

Instituto Fe y Vida is a Catholic, nimble, and strategic ministry founded in 1994 by the De La Salle Christian Brothers and a group of Hispanic pastoral professionals. Its mission…

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Children’s Defense Fund

This program addresses a need for congregations to connect deeply and authentically with the problems they see around them: using their faith as a guide for transforming the world into…

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Children’s Defense Fund

This program addresses a need for congregations to connect deeply and authentically with the problems they see around them: using their faith as a guide for transforming the world into…

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Learn More About Children’s Defense Fund

Stories & Resources

What we are learning

Discover stories, essays and interviews about topics related to congregational life, including racial healing and justice, economic models, innovative ministry, leadership and more.

Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows: Congregations should see their buildings as assets, not albatrosses

Talking about church buildings is fun for the bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis — not just because she is trained in architecture and historic preservation, but also because it leads to questions like, “What is this congregation for?”

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Erin Raffety: Understanding congregations through digital ethnography

Using a method from anthropology, a pastor and researcher studies congregations through “deep hanging out” online.

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El Refugio offers learning and community to immigrants

A church-based resource center works with local institutions to help immigrants build new lives — work that has become more vital during the pandemic.

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Proclaiming the liberation narrative of God through church art

A Chicago church has installed a trio of stained-glass windows to help its members reclaim their past, honor their present and look ahead to their future.

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Sharing a building leads to a shared mission for an AME church and a Latino congregation

Two pastors built a friendship across barriers of language and culture, uniting their congregations and together reaching out to their community.

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