Published on October 25, 2020 by Sarah Cain  
Samford Center for Congregational Resources

Samford University has received a grant of $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. supporting the Center for Congregational Resources’ "Churches Calibrating to Thrive" initiative. Samford is one of 92 programs nationwide to receive a grant as part of Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative.

The grant will enable the Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) to work with congregations to discover and apply adaptive strategies in their changing contexts. A key component of the initiative is the formation of small learning communities of churches that work together to learn from each other as they navigate the changing context in which each church exists.

“We designed this initiative around a colleague’s comment, ‘The church as we know it is calibrated for a world that no longer exists.’ Our goal is to help congregations navigate change in their ministry contexts, moving from a reactive stance to a responsive stance,” said Michael K. Wilson, CCR director. “COVID-19 has taught us that thriving churches know how to be agile, to adapt to their new realities without losing focus on their core values. They’ve discovered that what may seem like a crisis can be an opportunity for creativity as they consider new possibilities and discern a renewed sense of calling.”

Churches Calibrating to Thrive will draw upon the resources of Samford’s Center for Worship and the Arts, Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, the Ministry Training Institute and Beeson Divinity School, each providing content and leadership for elements of this new effort.

The program will focus primarily on congregations in the Birmingham metropolitan area. An estimated range of 25-30 participating congregations will be divided into five learning communities of 3-5 churches. Four groups will consist of churches from the Birmingham metropolitan area's geographic quadrants plus a group composed of churches from the central city area. Additionally, one group will be formed, consisting of churches from various locations in the state whose key leaders are enrolled in the Ministry Training Institute. 

“Our goal is to involve churches from a variety of faith traditions, sizes and racial contexts,” said Kelly Adams, CCR project coordinator for the center’s Life is Calling initiative. 

For more information about the CCR or any of its programs, contact the center’s director, Michael K. Wilson, at 205-726-4064 or by email

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family - J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. - through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state of Indiana. Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.