$1M Grant Aids Work with Area Churches

Santa Barbara's Chromatic ScaleWestmont College has received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the Westmont Center for Thriving Communities.

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.

Westmont's Winter Lawn with outdoor tents

The Westmont Center for Thriving Communities will gather local churches to explore how they can best serve the distinctive Central Coast region as individual congregations and as a network. Through plenary retreats, local church events, and individual consulting, the program offers congregations the diverse resources of Westmont College, drawing especially on the insights of three existing initiatives: the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which helps Westmont students and faculty understand and engage the Santa Barbara area; the Westmont Initiative for Public Dialogue and Deliberation, which gathers people to discuss complex social problems and shared values that might drive solutions; and the Westmont Decision Lab, which uses formal economic theory to help churches and other organizations make crucial decisions.

The Ventura coastline visible from above Westmont“Demographic change, racial and socioeconomic dynamics, and shifting patterns of suburban development make the Central Coast a challenging and vital place to do ministry,” says Aaron Sizer, co-director of the program. “The pandemic has introduced new hurdles, but also fresh opportunities to rethink how we’re doing God’s work in the world.”

Campus pastor Scott Lisea, who co-directs the program, looks forward to engaging local congregations in new conversations. “This is a fascinating time for churches and leaders as they engage their communities,” he says. “A great deal of current research can help churches consider what real impact looks like. Westmont has scholars in theology, sociology, economics, history, art, and many other fields who can connect congregations to those discussions, helping them thrive as they serve where God has placed them.”

Westmont College 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.

The Westmont Initiative for Public Dialogue and Deliberation examined how the region cares for its vulnerable children in 2018

The Westmont Initiative for Public Dialogue and Deliberation examined how the region cares for its vulnerable children in 2018

“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. 

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.