The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is among 92 organizations receiving new grants from the Lilly Endowment to strengthen Christian congregations and “help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.”
The grants totaling nearly $93 million were made through the Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. Lilly said the grants should help congregations “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.”
For its part, CBF intends to use its $1 million grant to establish a Thriving Congregations Initiative among CBF congregations.
“Our proposal focused particularly on the urgent needs revealed in a Fellowship-wide initiative we convened called Toward Bold Faithfulness, where in part, we sought to discover the greatest gifts and most urgent needs of our churches and communities,” said Paul Baxley, CBF executive coordinator. “We also included vital learnings from CBF’s convening of a group of theological school leaders and pastoral leaders on better ways to collaborate for the sake of nurturing the ministry callings of young people.
“This grant will enable us to collaborate with CBF states and regions, partners, field personnel and others as we draw congregations into deeper relationships with one another and share their learnings and innovations across our Fellowship. We look forward to launching this new initiative in 2021 and sharing much more in the days to come.”
The grant to CBF was announced by Lilly just days before the CBF Governing Board adopted a 2021 budget that calls for a 10% reduction in undesignated spending. The Lilly grant money will be administered over three years as designated funding, alongside the rest of the budget; it neither increases nor decreases the planned budget reduction.
Baxley said CBF will invite 51 congregations into one-year congregational learning experiences that will be organized in communities with three or four other congregations.
CBF’s recent nationwide research project identified five qualities of thriving congregations: holy tenacity, compelling clarity, faithful agility, rooted relationship and dynamic collaboration.
CBF’s participating congregations will “design new ministries that fully utilize their gifts to meet an urgent need through a holy experiment.”
Participating congregations will “design new ministries that fully utilize their gifts to meet an urgent need through a holy experiment,” CBF said in a news release. “Throughout these journeys, congregations will engage with one another in leadership team retreats while also inviting their entire congregation into deeper encounters with Scripture, theology and Christian practices.”
“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.”
The 92 grant recipients include colleges and universities, theological schools, denominational agencies, individual congregations and other faith-based organizations. They represent 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.
One of the other grant recipients is Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas, which will use its funds to help Hispanic Baptist churches address challenges of serving communities near the Texas-Mexico border. Convención works alongside Fellowship Southwest, a CBF affiliate.
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. The Endowment 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.