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 gathers a cohort of 48 congregations from across the ELCA to unleash and harness their collective genius and discover new and useful ministry innovations. These congregations are excited about more new, young, diverse people knowing a life in Christ.
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)
Participant congregations will:
The first cohort of the Congregations Lead Initiative concludes this fall, with member congregations implementing their grant-funded Capstone Experiments. This video features reflections from Program Director Rebecca Payne and several cohort members regarding their community's experience with the Initiative. The Congregations Lead Initiative was also featured in an October 2023 Living Lutheran article by Jennifer Bringle, "Leading the way forward: Congregations Lead Initiative focuses on ministry innovation."
Congregations Lead Initiative participants gathered for the final CLI Learning Event at the Lutheran Center in April 2023.
The Congregations Lead cohort represents 27 ELCA synods in 20 states and in Puerto Rico. These congregations serve communities in rural, suburban and urban ministry contexts. Each congregation accepted to the initiative has exemplified a creative spirit and a willingness to try new things. Together, congregational teams learn from each other and grow in their ability to experiment with user-centered ministry.
“I felt like we could start to have meaningful conversations about truly innovating our church.”
—Congregations Lead participant
“All of the congregations in the initiative are on the leading edge of innovation, which means that there is no one in front of us leading the way, telling us what it looks like or what to expect. But we are not alone in this. We’re blazing a trail but not blazing alone. . . . This is the time for innovation in the church — it has to happen. It's life-giving to be in this cohort with other innovators.”
—Congregations Lead participant, St. Stephen Lutheran Church in New Kingston, PA
Congregations Lead Initiative participants gathered in person for the final time in April 2023. During this Learning Event, congregational cohorts each planned and pitched a capstone experiment. Each experiment was drafted with guidance from insights gained during multiple phases of user interviews with non-ELCA members in the local community and the congregation’s own mission statement. Intentionally designed for local contexts and needs, the experiments themselves varied widely -- from mobile outreach ministries, to large-scale, one-time public events, to development of a community center. The congregations’ resulting 32 experiments had two things in common: their intent to share the gospel and their design with and for the congregation’s neighbors. Once experiment plans were finalized, congregations were eligible to apply for grants to help implement their visions. In early summer 2023, Congregations Lead Initiative congregations were awarded $85,000 in grant funding to support these innovative efforts. The congregations who have completed the 18-month cohort process have shown remarkable transformation in the way they connect to and interact with the communities they are called to love and serve.
The Congregations Lead Initiative has partnered with LEAD to develop resources for the prototype phase of the cohort's journey. This workbook, available in English and Spanish, will guide congregations as they conduct their own ministry experiments.
The Congregations Lead Initiative seeks to unleash and harness the collective genius of congregations to discover new and useful ministry innovations for the sake of this world that God so loves. By the end of this two-year initiative, more new, young and diverse people will know about a life in Christ through the bold, faithful, courageous witness of your congregations — so that all might "have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
The Congregations Lead Initiative equips participant congregations with the tools needed to ideate, test and implement innovative ministry. By bringing together congregations and leaders from varying contexts and experiences across the ELCA, this initiative will foster a learning environment that embraces failure and nurtures new and useful ideas that may ultimately be shared across the wider Church.
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 provides assistance; financial need will not be a barrier to participating in 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.