Building a Bigger Table: Explaining the tier modification of the program

Table building seems like an ancient exercise. Like gardening, hunting, and raising children, there is something primal in this practice that seems to tap into our need to build a community of safety and interdependence.

As our team embarked on this quest and invited others to join us, we realized that we couldn’t ignore our call to be inclusive when there was every reason to make that choice. So I am publishing here part of the letter sent to the churches who were not chosen to be fully-funded to implement their ministry innovations:

Dear “Christian faith community,”

We are pleased to offer you a Tier 2 slot in the Pivot NW Innovation program funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and supported by Seattle Pacific University. Upon acceptance of our offer you will be one of the congregations that we will partner with as a ministry innovator. You will receive all the privileges for your ministry innovation project, with the exception of funding.

You are probably asking yourself “what is a Tier 2 slot?” During the process of soliciting, receiving, and reading the applications our team realized something. While every congregation engages the questions we asked differently, all who are engaged see connecting with 20-somethings as a vitally important issue to tackle for the sake of the ministry in their communities. We did not relish the idea of leaving anybody “out in the cold.” However we only have funding for ministry innovations for 12 churches.

Therefore we have developed a 3-tier system for our grant program:

  1. Tier 1 will be offered all the benefits previously described on the website including funding for your ministry innovation project.
  2. Tier 2 will be offered all the benefits previously described on the website with the exception of the grant funding for ministry innovation projects. Joining as a Tier 2 congregation is contingent upon a completed application.
  3. Tier 3 will be the designation for churches who show interest in our collective ministry innovations or engage our research.”

Making the choice to create a larger table was not easy. It could easily double the amount of communication and coordination our team would be doing and it was not “written into” the original grant ask. But we felt the Holy Spirit’s nudge and we trust God to provide the time and resources to make this expansion a fruitful one. If you are just hearing about our project or were unsure about the commitment of being picked to develop and fund a innovative ministry, please consider filling out an application and joining us as unfunded learning partner. Our learning and community can only be more enriched by expanding our table and adding more curious and hungry voices.

Some technical definitions and explanation:

The 3rd Tier is really a way of telling you we are collecting contact info to document how far interest spreads in our work. The data will not be disseminated except to demonstrate the amount of individual faith communities we connect with and the frequency of contact. This is one of many measurements of success for both our program design and the quality of its execution. This information will be combined with data from other standard data tools such as Google Analytics to create a larger, clearer picture.

The 2nd Tier is permeable and assumes that congregations will join (post-application) and leave this group as they go through various design and implementation processes. We do not believe that grant funding is necessary for successful ministry innovation and can sometimes be a hindrance. However the Incentive of grant money can be a catalyst to help both fund-receivers and non-receivers open their strategic thinking to new possibilities. This is important because it moves “money” from being primary to the grant’s aims to being a tool for creating a vibrant test community to challenge and renew each other’s ministries to 20-somethings.

Indeed, we have already heard reports that even the simple act of applying for this grant had a profound effect on a congregation’s perspective on its own ministry strategy(ies). Our theological assumption is that God is moving in every faith community, and primary among the many important questions to ask is “How is God moving?” and “Are we working at odds with God’s mission in our community or are we working with God’s mission?”