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Fuller Seminary Receives $1 Million Grant From Lilly Endowment

Fuller Seminary has received a $1,000,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish The Online Adaptive Capacity Project.

The project is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative with the aim 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.

Fuller Seminary is building this project upon insights learned from several efforts at the seminary. These include research documented in Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Dr. Tod Bolsinger, senior congregational strategist for the De Pree Center’s Church Leadership Initiative at Fuller Seminary; expertise developed through Fuller’s online formational education efforts; and the experience of numerous cohort leadership formation projects from our Leadership Formation Division Centers like Micah Groups, Growing Young Cohorts, The Road Ahead Groups, and Fuller Formation Groups.

The Online Adaptive Capacity Project, designed to enhance the thriving of a wide range of congregations, is built on three fundamental convictions: 1) the need for ongoing growth in a leader’s adaptive capacity, 2) strong relationships are necessary for learning to lead change, and 3) the formative power of local contexts.

The project will test the theory that online formation and training both privileges and disrupts local contexts and therefore offers an even more formative experience for leadership development than onsite learning. The online learning community will utilize different learning modalities, experienced coaches, and missional experiments to develop the adaptive capacity that leads to holistic, missional engagement and congregational change, and ultimately, greater congregational thriving.

“Because of Lilly Endowment’s commitment to deep learning and congregational vitality, we have an opportunity to develop and test a process that could be made accessible and used by congregations around the world that would otherwise never be able to afford or access the kind of learning, coaching, research, and expertise that comes from a graduate institution,” said Tod Bolsinger, principal investigator of the project and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Church Leadership Initiative.

Fuller Seminary is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. They 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.