Yale News

Last month, the Yale Divinity School was among 12 institutions who received $1.5 million to research and develop new ministry models for young adults.

The money originates from Lilly Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic foundation with a focus on community development, education and religion. The money will be put towards establishing the Young Adult Ministry Innovation Hub, which hopes to provide space for professionals to design and implement new ways of doing ministry with a focus on what resonates with young adults, according to a Divinity School press release.

Associate Professor of Religion Education Almeda Wright will be overseeing the implementation of the grant.

“[The Innovation Hub] signifies the key role YDS is playing in determining what’s next for American religion in a time of disaffiliation and of Americans opting out of institutions of all sorts,” Divinity School Communications Director Tom Krattenmaker wrote in an email to the News. “Professor Wright’s project is a new manifestation and continuation of the school’s longstanding mission to serve the church and world.”

Non-religiosity has been increasing within the young adult community over the last decade. According to a report done by Gallup, 31 percent of millennials have no religious affiliation — 10 years ago, the amount was 22 percent.

Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Young Adult Initiative has devoted $19.4 million in grants to 12 theological schools around the country in the hopes of discovering new ways congregations can connect with young people. Other schools include the Princeton Theological Seminary and Wesley Theological Seminary.

According to its website, Lilly Endowment Inc. started its Young Adult Initiative because “many pastors are concerned that too few 20-somethings are connecting with churches.”

The innovation hub will be a center for both young adults and religious leaders to think creatively about how to get young people involved in ministry. Wright plans on hiring about 20 “young adult coaches” to partner with 20 different congregations in the greater New Haven area to explore new methods for religious engagement.

“[Perhaps the question is not] how do we get young adults back in the building, but maybe how do we get congregations and congregational leaders out of the building into the communities where young adults are already working and active,” Wright said.

Wright said she was intrigued about the project after realizing many young activists are spiritual and approach their work with an implicit sense of religiosity.

Wright said that historically, churches and congregations have been the sites of social justice movements. For example, during the civil rights movement, Black churches were places of support and inspiration. She said this activist-church partnership seemed to have declined.

“There’s something I think valuable about communal and congregational life and resources, both historically and in contemporary times, that would benefit young people, and vice versa,” Wright said.

Wright said that the attributes that made churches a hub for social change –– meeting spaces, social capital, access to different constituencies –– still exist. Now, she wishes to reimagine how those partnerships could look.

One of Wright’s priorities with the project is to focus on Black, Indigenous and other POC leaders.

“In that constellation [of seminaries], I felt there was a need, and even looking at the demographics of what’s happening here in New Haven, for us to really prioritize Black, Indigenous, people of color voices and younger leaders,” Wright said.

Starting next fall, the Innovation Hub will work with a 10-church cohort for two years. Then, an additional 10-congregation cohort will join for another two years. After, the team will develop at least four general models for implementation within ministries.

The Yale Divinity School is located on 409 Prospect Street.

ALEX ORI
Alex covers campus politics. She is a freshman in Trumbull College majoring in English.