Investing in Congregations grants extend churches’ reach

September 19, 2019

By: Christa Meland

Food insecurity is a widespread problem across the U.S., but it really hit home for the people of Tracy UMC when they learned that 14 percent of the people in their community live below the poverty line.

In an effort to address that problem, and after receiving a $2,500 Investing in Congregations grant from the Minnesota Conference, they created a Little Free Pantry on the church property that opened last month. (Little Free Pantries apply the Little Free Library concept to help neighbors address food insecurity.)

At any given time, community members can stop by and help themselves to canned goods and other nonperishable food items—no questions asked. The church is still getting the word out in its community, but donations have already been left inside of the Little Free Pantry. Rev. Nick Scutari plans to create a lawn sign to draw attention to the pantry and hopes to partner with a nearby elementary school to let parents know that it exists and is available to them.

“As disciples of Jesus, faith looks like more than just coming to church on Sunday, paying tithe or offering, and serving on a committee—it’s putting faith into action,” Scutari said in the church’s grant application. “By establishing a Little Free Pantry ministry in Tracy, we are expressing our love for God, and love for our neighbors, through physical, tangible means.”

Tracy UMC's Little Free Pantry opened in August and is available to everyone in the community.

Investing in Congregations grants are awarded annually to churches that demonstrate a potential, capacity, and commitment to reach new people, grow in love of God and neighbor, and heal a broken world—and applications for 2020 grants are being accepted through Oct. 15. There is $150,000 in grant money available, and individual grants can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $20,000.

Peace UMC in Virginia received $7,000 earlier this year for its PORCH ministry (which stands for “People Offering Relationship, Community, and Hope”). This two-year-old program provides a free meal and various activities for the community each Wednesday evening.

The church reports that there are new faces each week, and some of the new attendees have attended worship or become involved in other facets of church life.

Meanwhile, Centenary UMC in Mankato used its $4,000 grant to boost its children and family ministry. With the help of a new staff person, the church has grown its Sunday morning faith formation ministries and its Wednesday night programming. As of July, the church had made contact with 10 new families this year—each of them having visited, attended programming, or expressed interest in what the church offers.

And First UMC of Red Wing used its roughly $8,000 grant received this year for its bold “God is on the move” initiative, which it describes as “an experiment in shaping an active neighboring movement and identity in our church and wider community—seeing Christ in the persons of our vulnerable and partnering neighbors.” This effort involves everything from organizing community service camps, to providing year-round assistance to homeowners and renters in need, to developing relationships with public housing residents living next door to the church.

A committee of six, which includes both laity and clergy, reviews Investing in Congregations applications each year and decides how to divide up the grant money that’s available through the conference’s apportioned budget. Projects are funded for up to three years. Grant money is reduced each subsequent year for projects that receive funding more than once, and the goal is for each one to become self-sustaining by the end of the three years.

How could you reach new people and live into God’s vision for your congregation with the help of a grant? Pray about it, discuss it, and apply by Oct. 15!

Access grant information and applications (fill out the appropriate application and follow the submission instructions listed on it):

2020 guidelines, philosophy, and criteria

2020 micro grant first-time application ($2,500 or less)

2020 major grant first-time application ($2,500 or more)

2020 application for grant renewal

All applications must be reviewed by each church's district superintendent (so if you apply, please tell yours and send this form to him or her): Access DS review form

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058