Belmont has just been awarded a $1 million, five-year grant — with it, they plan to support church communities all over Nashville.
The grant, provided by Lilly Endowment Inc., is designed to help Belmont assist 18-20 local churches in creating and implementing “thriving strategies,” according to a press release sent out Wednesday.
The strategies were built to allow churches to focus on their strengths, said Dean of the College of Theology and Christian Ministry Dr. Darrell Gwaltney.
“Our work will make it possible for churches of varying sizes from different denominational and theological backgrounds to learn from each other,” he said. “We are excited to learn how this will unfold in each church.”
Last March, using a $50,000 planning grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., Belmont collaborated with the Center for Healthy Churches to create a study team that analyzed 14 flourishing church communities across the country.
The team wanted to identify key aspects of these communities’ successes that could be replicated in Nashville. The research it did was an essential part of the larger application for the full $1 million grant, according to the press release.
Gwaltney worked with Dr. Jon Roebuck, executive director of the Rev. Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership, to help build the grant proposal. Roebuck expects the money to allow Belmont to encourage participation in Christianity around Nashville, he said.
“We’re offering these churches a mirror and a window,” Roebuck said. “The mirror will hold up to their leadership structure to say ‘here’s who you are, here’s where you’re strong, here’s where your church is.’ But we also hold up the window to say ‘here’s who’s outside … here’s what your neighborhood looks like,’ so the churches on the inside begin to reflect the community that’s around it on the outside.”
Roebuck has waited for the grant application to come to fruition for a long time, and finally seeing Belmont recognized by Lilly Endowment Inc. has been inspiriting, particularly in a time when Nashville is growing and changing quickly, he said.
“It’s just a very exciting opportunity. In the world of universities, to be recognized by the Lilly Endowment is a really big deal.”
In the press release, university President Dr. Bob Fisher said he looked forward to the opportunities afforded by the grant.
“This grant provides a significant opportunity for Belmont to bring its resources in the form of faculty, staff, organizational and business expertise to bear on what is, in our eyes, the most important organization that there is – God’s church.”