Toward Bold Faithfulness

CBF receives $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. for Thriving Congregations Initiative

October 7, 2020

By Jeff Huett

DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish a Thriving Congregations Initiative across the Fellowship.  

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them 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.

CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley said CBF’s Thriving Congregations Initiative speaks to the power of its work to convene and highlights the hope-filled path to a faithful future created by convening groups across the Fellowship both to teach and to learn.  

“CBF is deeply honored to receive this catalytic grant from Lilly Endowment so that we can create new ways to help congregations thrive in these challenging times,” Baxley said.  “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. 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.”

During the three years of this initiative funded by the grant, CBF will invite 51 partner congregations into one-year congregational learning experiences in communities comprised of three or four other congregations.

Congregations participating in these communities will represent a wide range of types of congregations present in the Fellowship, and the learning communities will be intentionally recruited to make sure participating congregations are drawn into community with compatible congregations, as each seeks more faithful thriving. Each congregation will have opportunities to cultivate qualities of thriving through gaining greater clarity both about their own powerful gifts and uniting convictions and also the needs and opportunities in their changing contexts. The five qualities of thriving congregations CBF identified are holy tenacity, compelling clarity, faithful agility, rooted relationship and dynamic collaboration.

Congregations will also design new ministries that fully utilize their gifts to meet an urgent need through a holy experiment. 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.

CBF is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. These 92 organizations represent and serve churches in 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. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

“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.” 

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.


CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith into practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

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. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it 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. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.

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