In the spring of 2019, The Center for Congregational Health received an invitation from the Lilly Endowment to apply for a grant as part of a new initiative they are calling “Thriving Congregations.” Immediately, we began work researching this topic and soliciting feedback from clergy and lay leaders. We learned a lot about the things that support thriving, and the things that hinder it in a congregational context. We then used that information to write the grant that the Endowment just awarded us. Our Thriving Congregations project will create regional learning cohorts of lay leaders who will meet six times over the course of one year. In these meetings, leaders will learn the skills they need as lay leaders and–equally important–learn from one another and share insights across congregational and denominational lines.

The Center, in partnership with the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, received a previous Lilly Endowment grant last year (also for approximately $1 million), called “Thriving in Ministry.” We will be working on both grants simultaneously over the next five years. The two grants represent a kind of “bookends” approach to addressing the challenges congregations currently face. Thriving in Ministry is focused on helping clergy thrive in a variety of ministry roles and through various career stages. Thriving Congregations will focus primarily on congregational lay leaders providing skills and resources they need to help their congregations thrive. We believe this comprehensive “both-and” approach to helping clergy and congregations thrive is not only a better approach, but a more holistic, comprehensive approach to addressing the complex challenges facing congregations and their leaders. Stay tuned and watch for a new series of articles in 2020 talking about what we are learning and how we we plan to help clergy and congregations to thrive.

Dr. Chris Gambill
Director, Center for Congregational Health