$1.2 M Lilly Endowment grant to fund research about how parents in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis share their faith and values with their children

The IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI is proud to announce that a new $1.2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to Indiana University Foundation will fund research about the hopes, challenges, and experiences of parents in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis in passing on their religious faith to their children.

Lilly Endowment is supporting the research through its Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to help parents and caregivers share their faith and values with their children.

The project is a collaboration between researchers at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI and the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, which includes 47 congregations in central and southern Indiana.

Dr. Brian Steensland, sociology professor in the IU School of Liberal Arts and the project’s lead investigator, will assemble a research team that will interview parents in the diocese about the experience of raising children within their faith tradition. Topics will include parents’ aspirations, challenges, and needs.

“National studies show that parents play the primary role in their children’s spiritual development,” notes Steensland. “But often, parents feel poorly equipped to share their faith and help their children grow spiritually. Many parents and congregational leaders see spiritual formation as something that happens for the most part inside churches and within other formal religious settings. With this project we want to learn how parents can grow in their confidence to share faith with their children. We also want to learn how congregations can encourage parents and equip them to be successful in sharing their faith both in their family’s daily activities and through church programs.”

Based on findings from the research phase of the project, the diocese will develop resources, host speakers, and organize events for parents. “One way that the present is different from the past, even a generation ago,” continues Steensland, “is that today parents raise their children in increasingly pluralistic and diverse religious and cultural contexts. There are many religious and worldview options, and an increasing number of individuals are choosing not to commit to any of them. Better equipping parents to navigate their role in shaping their children’s faith commitments in these dynamic social and cultural contexts is one of the goals of the project.”

Heather Kenison, Diocesan Youth Minister for the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, is thrilled to partner with this project. “Parents have traditionally relied on youth group as the place that their teenagers learn about faith,” Kenison shares. “Churches have an average of 40 hours with teenagers each year, but parents have 3,000 hours of potential influence. Perhaps the holiest thing our diocese can do for youth ministry is give parents the tools to have faith conversations at home.” 

Indiana University is one of 77 organizations that are receiving grants through this competitive round of the Christian Parenting initiative. Reflecting the diversity of Christianity in the United States, the projects being funded represent mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Pentecostal faith communities. Many of the projects are rooted in Black church, Hispanic and Asian Christian traditions.

“We’ve heard from many parents who are seeking to nurture the spiritual lives of their children, especially in their daily activities, and looking to churches and other faith-based organizations for support,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “The thoughtful and creative organizations that received grants in this initiative are embracing the important role that families have in shaping the religious development of children and are working collaboratively with others to launch programs to assist parents and caregivers with this task.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative in 2022 because of its interest in supporting efforts to help individuals and families from diverse Christian communities live out their faith fully and well passing on a vibrant faith to a new generation.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.