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Jun 15, 2017 | Carol E. Barnwell

New Website Outlines Goals, Streamlines Strategic Mission Grant Process

The Diocese of Texas has launched a new website for its Strategic Mission Grants (SMG), part of a comprehensive structure of support for congregations to fund growth initiatives. The site, at www.smgedot.org, outlines revised goals and offers a streamlined, online application process.

According to David Fisher, Director of Foundations, the new site will make it easier for churches to understand if their ideas fit SMG goals as well as provide a clear timeline for application. “Strategic Mission Grants are designed to support church growth and evangelism,” Fisher said, adding that they “provide seed funds to foster new relationships and encourage new ideas.” The process of accepting grant applications has increased from once annually to quarterly. The grants are not intended to support capital projects or operating budgets but encourage creative ideas.

“Inspired by the very spirit of adventure, risk and entrepreneurship that incubates God’s mission, our SMG grants invite our congregations to think big about the impact God invites us to make in our communities,” said Bishop Andy Doyle. “The grants are one of the resources we have to realize that dream as we become the future church together.”  

Three diocesan foundations fund the SMG grants: the Bishop Quin Foundation, Episcopal Foundation of Texas and the Great Commission Foundation (created with a tithe from the sale of St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in 2013). The grants committee includes board members from the three Foundations.

A board member since the SMG’s inception in 2005, Karla Randle Schapansky has served as chair and now co-chair with Flo Ray. Both women are members of Christ Church Cathedral, Houston. “This ministry to our Diocese continues to be a passion of mine,” Schapansky said. Noting the abundant resources of the Diocese, she said it was a privilege to help discern where funds are directed. “It is personally rewarding to me to meet with the applicants and grantees and to see what new ideas for missional communities and innovative programs come up. With the launch of a dedicated website, it will be easier for applicants and the board to move forward for the Glory of God.”

The initial focus of Strategic Mission Grants in 2005 was intended to support smaller congregations, only later including specific targeted areas for growth—newcomer ministry, creative evangelism within communities and new church plants. Challenged by Bishop Doyle to transform the way they “do church,” congregations, clergy and lay leaders began to reach beyond their church campuses to do ministry. At the same time, the SMG program began to revise its application process and by early 2016, sharpened its own focus to support initiatives that represent community evangelism with intentional invitation (discipleship), missional communities (apostolic) and second sites.

“The Episcopal Diocese of Texas is changing the way we both see and ‘are’ church in an ever-changing mission context,” Bishop Doyle explained. “Our focus has shifted from programs to people and from the congregation to the community so that now, our resources support the work of building new partnerships outside the walls of our church buildings.”

The board expanded their revisions to streamline the application process and at the same time encouraged applicants to take the long view. “Before a church considers an application,” Fisher said, “we want them to meet their neighbors, determine the issues and needs in their community and begin to engage their community. We also want them to focus on the impact of any strategic plan they have, rather than its sustainability,” he added. 

The new website is designed as an engagement tool for prospective applicants who have inspiring ideas with a missional vision. Here they can learn from past grantees, follow a simple workflow to complete and submit proposals online, find resources, track their application and find a calendar for deadlines and grant cycles, which are now quarterly. 

“What we have seen recently is innovative,” Ray, co-chair of the SMG Committee said. “It’s exciting to see all the creative ways churches are reaching out in response to the needs in their neighborhoods.”

Prospective applicants first must do their homework. “Research is a critical criterion, especially for missional communities,” Fisher said. Asking several questions can help churches discern whether or not their ideas fall within the purview of SMGs: Who is our community? How can we serve them? Where is the relationship? How can we get the church in conversation with our community? “Find the need, evaluate the data and motivate lay people,” Fisher said, adding that the website will provide specific criteria for proposals.

After an applicant submits ideas in the online proposal, the Strategic Mission Grant Committee does an initial evaluation, then either invites the applicant to make a presentation to the Committee or chooses not to move forward with the proposal. A covenant agreement is required for those approved applicants and grant funds are distributed on a quarterly basis. This new process saves applicants many hours on the application process if their ideas don’t exactly fit the goals set forth by Strategic Mission Grants.

Community evangelism through intentional invitation aims to reach out to new people and invite them into relationship through bold strategies. Second sites may be the work of one or multiple congregations to establish a second site or satellite – perhaps a new mission in an emerging area of high population growth where there is not an Episcopal presence.

Success is measured by relationships built and impact and applicants must answer for themselves how they will measure their success, their desired outcome. The first step is to identify the people in a congregation with needed skills and talent for a particular ministry or missional community. “Find the need, evaluate the data and motivate the lay people in the congregation,” Fisher said. “Where can you meet people outside the church walls and share the Gospel? That’s our Commission from Jesus, to go and make disciples. We want to support and encourage Episcopalians in carrying out that Commission.”

For the Spanish version, please go here.

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