Thank you for your interest in Open Doors Grants. The Open Doors initiative was launched to support congregations in meeting new people during a time of re-gathering in physical spaces, as COVID-19 health considerations allowed. In June 2021, 134 grants were awarded to ELCA congregations by random selection.
Grant applicants and recipients are implementing their ideas and will be invited to share their learnings toward the end of 2021. All applicants committed to answering a survey for the next three years so the church can continue to learn together.
Together as the ELCA, we share a ministry goal of connecting with a million new people and activating our communities so that more people may know the way of Jesus.
The Open Doors Initiative invited congregations from across the ELCA to try new and actionable ideas for meeting new people in an unprecedented time of re-gathering in physical spaces. Many congregations have implemented their ideas for ministries, events, or new community connections.
These ideas varied, but common traits emerged in congregations that succeeded in engaging new people: dedicated core volunteers; community partnerships; a hopeful, curious outlook; and an empathetic, user-centered approach to planning. Many congregations found that, to truly open their doors to new people and partnerships, they needed to lower their expectations that their new idea would increase worship attendance.
A complete list of ideas submitted for Open Doors funding, as well as data culled from this year’s learning survey, will be available later this year.
With its Open Doors grant, St. Timothy Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn., purchased a tent to host outdoor gatherings. “We are finding that the most impactful way to think about evangelism is through fostering belonging in our community and our neighborhood,” wrote the Rev. Liesl Spitz. “The Open Doors grant did this by allowing us to make our backyard not only usable but welcoming for all the warm months in Minnesota. We are now considering how we can make our parking lot a more welcoming place for our neighborhood too." Since then, St. Timothy has hosted a joint community event in the parking lot with the local public library branch.
“When we host something new together, there is a sense of possibility and co-creation. For our library partnership in the parking lot, new members shared ideas and stepped in to organize. A young adult offered face painting. A teenager learned how to grill hot dogs for the first time. Little ones led the way by laughing at their favorite stories and choosing games to play. Every detail feels like an opening for the Holy Spirit.”
—the Rev. Liesl Spitz, St. Timothy Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn.
Pastor Liesl leads communion with children under the backyard tent.
The Open Doors Initiative inspired St. Timothy Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., to find new uses for its outside space. The congregation hosted a community event with the local public library, providing food, music and storytelling activities for all ages.
Some congregations who received Open Doors grants used the funds to encourage creative use of their building space. Located in Indianapolis, Servants of Christ Lutheran Church opened its building to groups in need of a meeting place during the COVID-19 pandemic. A boxing club trained weekly in the church’s fellowship hall. Then, to express their gratitude, members of the club collected donations for the congregation’s laundry ministry. First English Lutheran Church in Whitewater, Wis., used building space and grant funds to host a reading buddy program for local elementary school students. Volunteers from the congregation committed to reading weekly with neighborhood children to bolster their literacy skills.
A boxing club that trains at Servant of Christ Lutheran Church, Indianapolis, donated supplies to the congregation’s laundry ministry.
Reading buddies take a break between books at First English Lutheran Church in Whitewater, Wis.
Many congregations that weren’t awarded an Open Doors grant used the application process as a catalyst for trying a new idea anyway. Without the grant, this often necessitated such creative leadership as seeking other funding, reevaluating the initial idea or adding the project to the following year’s congregational budget.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Bismarck, N.D., missed out on a grant, but congregational leaders went ahead with the neighborhood block party they had planned with their community’s needs in mind. The gathering has since become an annual event. The Rev. Mark Narum commented, “This experiment has opened our eyes to who our neighbor is, how we might get to know them and how we might listen and learn from them.”
Face-painting booth at the neighborhood block party hosted by Trinity Lutheran Church, Bismarck, N.D.
Service projects, prayer activities and games at Trinity’s first annual block party, summer 2021.