Congregations Lead Initiative

Congregations Lead Initiative

Congregations Lead Initiative

Thriving Congregations, Thriving Church

Applications Closed


The world continues to change and grow more complex. What does this mean for ministry, today and into the future?

The Congregations Lead Initiative is a new, two-year program that will gather a cohort of 50 congregations from across the ELCA to unleash and harness their collective genius and discover new and useful ministry innovations. If you’re excited about more new, young, diverse people knowing a life in Christ, then your congregation might be a great candidate to apply for this initiative.

The ELCA seeks to activate each of us so that more people might know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice, and love.

“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

If your congregation is selected to participate in the Congregations Lead Initiative, your team can expect to:

  • Learn how to innovate for the future through semi-annual learning events (most expenses covered).
  • Conduct multiple ministry experiments.
  • Train with world-renowned innovation and ministry thought leaders.
  • Receive personalized group coaching for support and guidance.
  • Network with a cohort of other congregations doing similar innovation work.
  • Be eligible to receive a spark grant for the purpose of conducting a ministry experiment.




  • July 8, 2021

    Cohort application opens.

  • Aug. 15, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Central time

    Cohort application closes.

  • Beginning of September 2021

    Cohort participants selected.

  • Beginning of November 2021

    First learning event for program participants.


Program Eligibility

All congregations, Congregations Under Development (CUDs), and Synodically Authorized Worshiping Communities (SAWCs) are invited to apply! Any congregation applying must:

  • Exemplify a willingness to experiment with new ministry ideas.
  • Commit to shared learning with its congregational team over the next two years (2021-2023).
  • Demonstrate an active curiosity about building new and stronger connections with people and groups in its local community.
  • Be affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

To complete the Congregations Lead Initiative application, you will need:

  • The story of — and learnings from — a time when your congregation experimented, learned or made a significant change in ministry for the sake of meeting more new people.
  • Names and email addresses for your congregation’s team of three to five members.
    • Leadership buy-in and engagement is important, so please include one rostered leader and one church council member.
    • Resource: Identifying Your Team
  • A 2-4 minute video showcasing your congregation's creativity.
  • Three references from people in your community who are not congregation members (reference form included in the application). Examples: three individuals with distinct roles in a partnering organization; three individuals from different partnering organizations; individuals from the surrounding community who can speak to your congregation’s role in it.

If selected, a participating congregation will be asked to contribute a $500 registration fee. This fee will be used for a “community chest” to fund the cohort’s real-time experiments. Need-based assistance will be available.



Congregations Lead Initiative FAQs

No! Congregations will be ideating, exploring and learning together over the course of the program to develop new ministry innovations. However, your congregation must be willing to experiment and take risks.

The Congregations Lead Initiative is not a granting program, but rather a learning and training program. The main goal of this initiative is to equip and empower the congregations in the cohort with innovation and design thinking tools and resources. As part of joining the cohort, congregations are asked to contribute $500; this will make up a community chest to be used for seed funds to do ministry experimentation toward the end of the two-year program. If a congregation is unable to manage the $500 registration fee, the ELCA can provide assistance and it will not be a barrier to be part of the program.

“Innovation” means anything new and useful. This could come through developing new tools, refining processes or creating new products or programs. Innovation is not an end in itself but a way of thinking that you can apply to your ministry.

The ELCA has received a grant from Lilly Endowment that makes this work possible. The ELCA is one of 92 organizations taking part in Lilly’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. If you or your congregation would like to make a gift to support the initiative, write us at

  • Semi-annual Learning Events (anticipating Fall and Spring)
    • The first Learning Event in Fall 2021 will be virtual, with smaller workshops, webinars, and mixers taking place over the course of 2 weeks. We anticipate future Learning Events to take place in person over the course of 2-3 days and our goal is to make them as accessible as possible. A virtual/in-person hybrid model is part of the discussion.
    • It’s okay if only some members of the team are able to attend these events.
    • These events will be recorded for team members to access later.
  • Group coaching sessions – 1 hour per month
  • Outside of the Learning Events and Coaching, we expect that congregational teams will be meeting at least once per month in whatever format works for the team.


We anticipate a high volume of interest and applications, and therefore encourage you to use this FAQ page to self-solve. If you have a question about the registration or application itself, please email We will do our best to get back to you quickly and will also consider updating this page as new FAQs arise.