Our project is a collaboration between local and regional congregations, visionary leaders from across the country, and Yale Divinity School (YDS) students, faculty and staff. This initiative is designed to equip congregations with renewed vision, mission, and vibrancy by examining social and cultural contexts impacting partner congregations and helping them gain clarity about values and mission. We will provide an array of opportunities for congregations to engage in transformational learning and growth. We will engage with 40 congregations over the five years of the grant, 10 each year that will work through an extensive self-study facilitated by YDS students in their final year of study. The 40 participating congregations will represent a mix of denominations, size and demographics from across New Haven and the region. Each cohort, of which there will be four, will be engaged in peer support and learning during their program year and beyond. Both clergy and lay leaders will be active in the work of exploring the vision and mission of their congregations. Visiting visionary leaders will provide models of Church that will engage and inspire these leaders to think both within and beyond the traditional roles of Church.
For two millennia, Christian practices have awakened congregations to God’s activity in their communities. The constellation of practices that make up our way of life give us eyes to behold ourselves, our world, and God. In all of this, new imagination for God’s work in our community is opened wide. Our proposal offers a response to the scholarly research conducted by Dr. Christopher James involving 317 congregations in Dane County -- the county in which Madison, Wisconsin is located -- and his subsequent formation of Missio Madison. Awaken Dane represents a growing partnership between five Christian organizations who long to see congregations in Greater Madison thrive. The Wisconsin Council of Churches has partnered with Collaboration Project, The Missional Network, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, and Upper House to develop a learning community experience designed to help congregations thrive. In the five-year cycle of Awaken Dane, as many as 40 congregations of diverse Christian traditions -- 20% of the churches in our city -- will participate in a cohort experience intended to awaken them to God’s call, form life-giving friendships and partnerships, and fuel their love and understanding of the place where they abide.
Our project is designed to equip churches and their leaders to cultivate the traits of resiliency. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed weaknesses in the church that, though often unnoticed, have been present for many years. The habits and practices of Christendom are hindering the thriving of the church and its members and should give way to a new arrangement, one which draws on the church’s rich history and engages a spirit of creativity and innovation guided by the Holy Spirit. Over the next five years, the Whitworth University Office of Church Engagement (OCE) will collaborate with three cohorts of eight to 10 churches over sequential two-year periods. The OCE will engage in a collaborative learning process with cohort churches as they discover and appropriate the resources of the past, discern current challenges and opportunities in their congregations, neighborhoods, and cities, and design innovative plans to adapt in ways that serve the gospel. With the support of Whitworth faculty in the social sciences, humanities, and business, Whitworth student fellows, and experienced practitioners in the areas of city engagement and urban planning, the OCE is uniquely poised to support churches as they engage in the difficult and fruitful work of the discovery, discernment, and design phases. Through the activities of this initiative, the OCE and participating congregations seek to develop the resources to support churches in their ongoing efforts in faithful gospel ministry and cultivation of the traits of resiliency.
The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center is a world hub of inspiration and training for mission and evangelism. It created the Church Evangelism Institute to help catalyze a movement of evangelism and mission in local communities through local churches. Traditionally our cohorts have included senior or lead pastors and a key evangelism champion from their congregations. Through our cohort ministry we have started working with influential African American pastors and they would like to partner in launching a new African American Church Evangelism Institute that will serve 150 African American churches in learning communities of eight to 10 churches each over the next five years. The new institute will focus on challenges facing African American congregations such as effectively reaching the next generation, fruitfully navigating shifting contexts and demographic changes occurring around their churches, developing team ministry approaches and leadership pipelines in congregations to launch new ministries, and creating new evangelism models that work effectively in a new era. These cohorts will broaden to include each congregation’s senior pastor, their outreach leader and a leadership development person from the church, with the goal that one of these will be a leader under 40 years of age. We will also launch a pilot project with church music ministers in the area of missional worship. Our hope is through this collaborative approach we can also model mutual learning and genuine partnership in ways that will inspire and start to heal some of the racial divisions that challenge our nation.
The Westmont Center for Thriving Communities (WCTC) will invite churches in the Central Coast region of California into fresh exploration of life together — as organizations, as communions of individual followers of Christ, and as members of our universal Christian and human families. WCTC will draw into collaboration three innovative Westmont programs with close ties to Westmont’s ongoing Lilly-supported initiatives: the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which has helped the Westmont community understand and engage our own local social context; the Westmont Center for Dialogue and Deliberation, which invites individuals and groups to explore complex problems and the shared values that might drive solutions; and the Westmont Decision Lab, which uses the formal economic tools of decision analysis to help churches and other organizations walk through major inflection points in their corporate life. Together, these entities will design and implement a new learning process that can be packaged for use by congregations in the WCTC program and beyond. The program will begin with an initial planning year, followed by four program years, each of which will engage cohorts of eight to 12 congregations drawn diversely from Westmont’s broad constituency of Central Coast churches. Congregational teams will attend quarterly plenary retreats, plan and execute event-based learning processes for their own church communities, and enjoy robust support from Westmont faculty and staff liaisons, student fellows, community partners, the larger WCTC network, and purpose-built digital tools.
The Churches in Mission initiative at Western Theological Seminary will help congregations locally discern and articulate a communal vocation. A process-oriented approach will encourage faithfulness to the particular complexities, gifts, and challenges of each church’s neighborhood. The first part of the learning journey will center around a process of listening and discernment. Team members will work with seminary leaders and other ministry practitioners to produce a possibility profile, helping the church see its neighbors and stories as though for the first time. The second process will commission churches in a Gratitude Challenge. This challenge will help them recognize that the Holy Spirit is already at work in their community and encourage them to creatively celebrate what God is up to. Congregations will move from the Gratitude Challenge into a story-sharing festival. Finally, those ready to move forward and re-imagine local ministry will be invited to apply for six months of coaching in missional engagement and a visioning trip to a teaching congregation. In joining the work of God in their neighborhoods, congregations will have an opportunity to move from being insular to networked, from an ethnocentric and tribal focus to a view towards ethnic and economic diversity.