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Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College Recipient of $1 Million Grant from Lilly Endowment to Equip Senior Church Leaders for Revitalization

October 23, 2018

Billy Graham CenterThe Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has received a grant of $1 million to help establish the Church Evangelism Initiative. It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry. 

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $70 million in grants through the Thriving in Ministry initiative.

As Billy Graham stated at its opening, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College is a world hub for evangelism and training, and is now becoming a major thought leader in church revitalization. The vision of its Church Evangelism Initiative is to see thousands of churches across the United States and beyond develop communities where people find their way to Christ and where every disciple of Christ is equipped and mobilized to reach and make new disciples.

In the past three years, the Church Evangelism Initiative led revitalization efforts among the senior leaders of 120 churches across 7 states. With support from Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry, the Church Evangelism Initiative’s fruitful efforts will considerably expand to gather pastors into pastor cohorts of 6-10 each for peer mentoring, problem solving and mutual support. The result is that pastors will thrive in their congregational leadership and thus enhance the vitality of the congregations they serve. 

“We have piloted an approach to revitalization that has begun to work in many churches, and now, thanks to the Lilly Endowment grant, we can expand significantly in both the numbers and the diversity of the pastors and churches we are serving,” said Dr. Rick Richardson, Project Director.

Within five years, more than 200 pastors will be revitalized, leading churches that experience increasingly effective missional engagement into diverse contexts, with plans to multiply groups and churches.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive a grant from Lilly Endowment to help senior pastors in the church today who are leading in such a way that entire congregations and communities are changed,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “Pastors today face a complex set of leadership challenges and are often struggling to feel like they are thriving—or even succeeding—in ministry. Although the complexity of the task has been there for some time, pastors today face a unique set of circumstances, and we are ready to pour into them to see the church thrive in the decades to come.”

The Billy Graham Center is one of 78 organizations located in 29 states that is taking part in the initiative. The organizations reflect diverse Christian traditions: mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States. This has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. These promising programs, including the Church Evangelism Initiative, will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family - J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. - through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, 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 supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state Indiana. Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.