Lilly Endowment Inc. released a list of successful grant recipients in July for its Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative, an effort to “assist organizations in designing and implementing programs to help interested parents and caregivers directly or through congregational ministries learn, adapt, and embrace time-honored practices to share their faith and values with their children.” The Christian Reformed Church in North America is one of the grantees, receiving $1,248,172.
A news release from the CRCNA said the denomination’s Thrive ministry will use its grant over five years on an initiative “to strengthen the partnership between church and home when it comes to the faith formation of children. As part of this program, Thrive also seeks to accelerate and amplify support of children’s ministry leaders in Christian Reformed congregations and develop resources these leaders can use to encourage and equip parents.”
Lilly said in an October 2022 announcement that the program “builds on recent research that affirms the pivotal role parents play in the religious lives of their children.”
Chris Schoon, Thrive co-director who was the primary author of the CRCNA application for the grant, said the leadership team decided together to apply. “Lilly Endowment's objectives for this initiative line up quite closely with our priorities around faith formation with children,” he said. “In our discernment process, we noted how research in the U.S. and Canada continues to point toward the importance of parents and caregivers in forming lifelong faith among children and youth. We also recognized that children's ministry leaders in Christian Reformed congregations have been saying similar things as well. They want to know how to better come alongside parents in supporting faith-formative efforts that work with family routines and commitments that often have less room for traditional discipleship programming.”
Thrive is going to start with “listening opportunities to hear directly from parents and caregivers in their unique contexts,” the CRCNA release said. Schoon said that will begin this fall.
“Some of our listening sessions will be virtual; some will be held in particular geographic areas. This approach will help us to hear the variety of opportunities, challenges, and best practices that parents and church leaders are encountering throughout the CRC.”
Schoon said a priority is to “ensure that we are listening well to parents and church leaders across the various ethnic and linguistic communities represented within the CRC.”
Lesli van Milligen, Thrive co-director, said, “We have had frequent requests from several communities in the CRC to develop resources in a variety of languages.” With this grant-funded project, “We want to develop resources that reflect the felt needs of diverse families and that support the congregation-based ministry leaders with regard to faith formation with children, and not simply default to those designed for the majority English-speaking communities,” van Milligen said.
Grant recipients include other denominations such as Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Church of the Nazarene; schools including Boston University and City Seminary of New York; and specialized ministries such as Philadelphia-based Esperanza, which strengthens Hispanic communities, and Grand Rapids-based Mel Trotter Ministries, which fights homelessness in West Michigan.
Indiana Wesleyan University received additional funding, to “support a coordination program for grantees in this initiative,” Lilly said in its grants listing. That’s being developed and directed by the university’s School of Theology and Ministry, a November announcement from the university said.
Thrive’s work with this project aims ultimately “to strengthen the partnership between Christian Reformed congregations and the parents and caregivers who are connected to those congregations in order to support and enrich faith formation with children in the ordinary moments of life,” Schoon said. He sees it as a continuation of the type of work the denomination has already been doing with resources like Everyday Family Faith and the Faith Practices Project.