ELCA receives grant through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative

10/15/2020 1:50:00 PM

​CHICAGO – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has received a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the "Congregations Lead: Innovation Denomination" initiative.

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment's Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of this national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with one another and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them 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.

The ELCA envisions a world that experiences the difference God's grace and love in Christ make for all people and creation. As ministry challenges and opportunities only become increasingly complex, congregations must be grounded in Lutheran faith practices and equipped and inspired to adapt and innovate for the future so that their communities may thrive. With a decline in membership and a demographic profile that does not reflect the diversity of the United States, the ELCA has embarked on a renewed purpose to invite more people into the way of Jesus.

In collaboration with strategic partners, including four ELCA synods, and through a congregational team cohort model, the ELCA churchwide organization seeks to inspire congregations as they discover new and useful ministry innovations, sparking the ELCA's "innovation denomination" movement. In 2019, the ELCA launched the Innovation Lab as a space for the church to generate ideas, unleash creativity and create positive change in the world.

"As we consider the future of the ELCA, we are developing plans to ensure that we are positioned to answer God's call to invite more into the way of Jesus — the way of community, justice and love," said the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. "Lilly Endowment's Thriving Congregations Initiative enhances this work, and will help us reach more new, young and diverse people so that they will know about life in Christ through the bold, faithful, courageous witness of our congregations, in order that all might 'have life, and have it abundantly.'"

ELCA ministries that are also receiving grants through the Thriving Congregations Initiative are the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod, the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod, the ELCA Oregon Synod, St. Olaf College, Augsburg University and Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Minn.

The ELCA is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. 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.

"In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries," said Christopher Coble, Lilly 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."  

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

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About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a 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 exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment's grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.

About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.3 million members in more than 8,900 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands.," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.

For information contact:
Candice Hill Buchbinder


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