Bridging Gaps: New Grant Will Launch Young Adult Ministry Innovation Hub at Candler

August 30, 2022

Candler School of Theology at Emory University will create and foster new partnerships with local congregations in ministries with young adults thanks to a $1.5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

The grant to Emory University through Lilly Endowment’s Young Adult Initiative will enable Candler to launch an innovation hub with the goal of building bridges of connection and healing for young adults and Christian congregations.

EllisonCorrieSpearheaded by Professor in the Practice of Youth Education and Peacebuilding Elizabeth Corrie and Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling Gregory C. Ellison II, the program at Candler will be known as The BRIDGE (Building Religious Inclusion, Diversity, and Generational Equity) Young Adult Ministry Innovation Hub.

The BRIDGE aims to live up to its name by addressing points of disconnect in today’s church and world and bringing disparate groups closer together. The program’s objectives include:

  • Strengthening communities and invigorating the 21st century church by connecting the gifts and values of young adults in their twenties with the divine mission of congregations.
  • Addressing the social, generational, and theological breaches that frustrate relationships and possibilities for transformation.
  • Creating innovative spaces that connect young adults’ talents and needs with the lived wisdom of churches, community groups, and Candler initiatives.

To accomplish these objectives, Candler will partner with Fear+Less Dialogues, an organization founded by Ellison that creates unique spaces for unlikely partners to see gifts in others, hear value in stories, and work for change and transformation in self and others.

“We are at a moment in history in which we are divided along political and theological lines, but we are also divided along generational lines,” Corrie says. “Churches are asking, ‘Where are all the young people?’ but at the same time, young people are asking, ‘Where are the communities willing to walk alongside us?’

“We hope that by creating spaces for intergenerational groups to journey together to design innovative forms of ministry with young adults, we can close the generation gap just a little bit.”

A four-year program, The BRIDGE launches this fall and will engage 16 congregations in two cohorts. Cohorts will journey through a multi-week educational experience culminating in collaborative cohort projects alongside individual congregational projects. All projects are designed to encourage new expressions of young adult ministry in the greater Atlanta area.

During its first year, The BRIDGE will recruit congregational partners and engage in researching young adult spirituality and the different ways today’s young people navigate their lives. This initial work will inform the curriculum for the program’s next three years, which will include in-person and online educational opportunities, as well as immersive experiences in young adult spaces, from coffee shops and workplaces to online platforms. The BRIDGE and its partner congregations will use best practices from human-centered design to develop strategies for ministry that will support young adults’ health and spiritual well-being.

For Corrie, the program’s success will hinge on three areas: “When a cohort of diverse congregations are working together in creative forms of ministry; when young adults are finding communities that support them spiritually, emotionally, and materially; and when congregations are experiencing transformation due to this intergenerational work of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

To heighten the program’s impact, the cohorts’ journeys will be shared with the broader community. In its final year, The BRIDGE will culminate in a Festival of Learning, where participating congregational teams will share wisdom from their cohort experience and projects. The findings will be disseminated widely through a website and other publications so that more churches can have access to new practices for young adult ministry.

In the long run, The BRIDGE has the potential to shape how churches engage young people, strengthening connections across gaps. And that has the potential to shape our world.

“We are excited to find out what innovative forms of ministry the congregational teams will come up with, learning from each other, and discovering effective ways of working for change and transformation.”

Top photo: Miriana Doroban,