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Whitworth Office of Church Engagement Receives Nearly $1 Million Grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. for “Resilient Church” Program

October 12, 2020

Whitworth University has received a $999,873 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the “Resilient Church: Discovering the Past, Discerning the Present, Designing for the Future” program. 

The program will be based at the university’s Office of Church Engagement and is being 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.

The purpose of the OCE’s Resilient Church initiative is to lead churches to develop a deep root system in the historic Christian faith, to understand their cultural context, and to adapt resourcefully and creatively to new circumstances, challenges and opportunities in ways that serve the gospel. 

At the end of the process, it is expected churches will demonstrate the following markers:

  • A vital life of worship 
  • A sense of belonging to a community 
  • A robust engagement with a set of spiritual practices 
  • A commitment to evangelism and growth of the church 
  • A culture of disciple-making 
  • Vocational impact (outside the four walls of the church) 
  • Service to the needs of society 
  • Congregational ownership of church identity and mission 

A secondary purpose of this initiative is to provide educational experiences that will lead the younger generation to establish roots within and commitment to the church as an integral element of lifelong Christian faith. By attracting and involving Whitworth students and recent graduates, churches can establish resiliency for generations. 

“We are so grateful for the support of Lilly Endowment and our church partners,” says Mindy Smith, interim director of the Office of Church Engagement. “Through this grant we believe we will be able to discern together innovative and creative ideas to equip churches to continue to thrive amidst our ever-changing culture.”

Whitworth’s OCE 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,” says 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.

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.

About Whitworth University:

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church. The university, which has an enrollment of more than 3,000 students, offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Mindy Smith, interim director, Office of Church Engagement, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4341 or

Trisha Coder, media relations manager, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or