Baylor University Receives $1 Million Grant from Lilly Endowment to Help Truett Seminary Launch ‘Future Church Project’

December 15, 2021
Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-709-5959
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Dec. 15, 2021) – Baylor University has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help the University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary launch the Future Church Project. The project – co-directed by Truett faculty Angela Gorrell, Ph.D., and Dustin Benac, Th.D. – is designed to respond to the expressed needs and challenges of the church through relational engagement, research and resourcing.

“We are grateful for Lilly Endowment’s vision and its support for the Future Church Project,” Benac said. “In a time of so much transition for the church and its leaders, I am hopeful because of what is emerging in this moment: the renewal of theological education through more collaborative approaches to ministry, teaching and leadership. We look forward to partnering with many others across Baylor, Truett and the broader Waco community to envision and implement this collective work.”

“We are thankful and thrilled to have the support of Lilly Endowment,” Gorrell said. “With great hope and joy, we look forward to collaborating with excellent scholars, practitioners and students to pilot helpful, imaginative solutions to challenges facing the church.”

The project is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

The Future Church Project will connect the Seminary’s Program for the Future Church, the Truett Church Network and local nonprofit organization Mission Waco to achieve five stated goals:

  1. Discovering and addressing current and emerging challenges that confront local churches while cultivating collaboration between Truett, the church and the community.
  2. Building collaborative, interdisciplinary hubs for research around the challenges facing the church.
  3. Creating a culture of experimentation and exploration of alternative modalities for theological education and leadership development.
  4. Nurturing and enlivening the souls and work of early-career ministers.
  5. Increasing Truett’s financial sustainability through innovative fundraising and recruitment efforts.

With a focus on forward-thinking strategies and initiatives, the Future Church Project will strengthen Truett Seminary’s capacity to prepare and support pastors and congregational lay ministers into the future. The Future Church Project also will support collaborative and interdisciplinary research across Baylor University, engaging researchers in order to understand and pilot solutions to the complex challenges facing local communities and Christian leaders.

“Baylor’s Truett Seminary is particularly poised to give attention to research and programs around human flourishing, leadership and ethics, one of the five initiatives of Illuminate. The grant award by Lilly Endowment affirms the Seminary’s ability and potential to address the needs of congregations and ministry leaders in thoughtful and innovative ways,” Baylor Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., said. “We are grateful to Lilly Endowment for this award and look forward to witnessing the realized goals of the Future Church Project.”

Truett Seminary is one of 84 theological schools that will benefit from a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of the Pathways initiative. Together, the schools represent evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Black church and historic peace church traditions (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers). Many schools also serve students and pastors from Black, Latino, Korean American, Chinese American and recent immigrant Christian communities.

“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Today, these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change.  Through the Pathways Initiative, theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them. We believe that their efforts are critical to ensuring that Christian congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Pathways initiative in January 2021 because of its longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations by strengthening the leadership capacities of pastors and congregational lay leaders. 

“Even though various reports of the demise of the Church in North America are greatly exaggerated, this is no time to rest on ecclesial laurels,” said Todd D. Still, Ph.D., The Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and The William M. Hinson Chair of Christian Scriptures at Truett Seminary. “That Lilly Endowment would invest so generously and Drs. Gorrell and Benac would devote themselves so fully to such a timely and necessary project is a great grace. Through the years, Lilly Endowment has helped to fund significantly a number of strategic programs at Baylor in general and at Truett in particular. May the multifaceted, innovative, collaborative work of the new Program for the Future Church flourish and bear much good fruit.”   


Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and 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 supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.  The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is an orthodox, evangelical school in the historic Baptist tradition that equips God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, Truett Seminary provides theological education leading to the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Master of Theological Studies, Doctor of Ministry and Ph.D. in Preaching. The M.Div., M.A.C.M. and M.T.S. degrees also can be completed at the seminary’s Houston and San Antonio locations. In addition, Truett Seminary offers joint degrees: M.Div./M.S.W. and M.T.S./M.S.W. with the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, M.Div./M.B.A. with the Hankamer School of Business, M.Div./J.D. with Baylor Law School, M.Div./M.M. with the School of Music and M.Div./M.S.Ed. or M.Div./M.A. with the School of Education. Visit to learn more.