BIG News From the Innovation Lab:
Lilly Endowment Grant & Introducing James

The Center for Youth Ministry Training (CYMT) recently received a $1.19MM grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., to fund the next phase of the Innovation Laboratory. The grant will enable CYMT to strengthen the Innovation Lab by building on what we learned from our original cohorts and tweaking our process and strategy for greater impact. We are grateful to Lilly Endowment for its support as we continue partnering with faith communities to develop transformative innovations that are theologically informed and responsive to people’s needs and assets.
The main objective in this season of our ministry is to broaden the Innovation Lab’s scope so we can collaborate with faith communities around the country that reflect a variety of cultural and denominational backgrounds. We believe now is a critical time for the Church to step boldly into innovation, and we recognize that change must be contextual. That’s why the Innovation Lab will prioritize establishing strategic partnerships, training local leaders, creating a more culturally responsive curriculum, and focusing on the process of innovation over product. We’re also broadening our focus to include areas of ministry in addition to youth ministry.
Lilly Endowment made grants to CYMT through its Strengthening Ministries with Youth Initiative, which is helping organizations design and test new models for ministries with middle and high school youth (ages 12 to 18). Through an initial grant from Lilly Endowment in 2017, which made possible the creation of the Innovation Lab, we gained insights that fundamentally shifted the direction of our efforts.
We initially anticipated the Innovation Lab would lead to the creation and dissemination of innovative models for youth ministry that could be implemented in churches nationwide. But through our work with congregations, we are learning that the ministry model is not nearly as important as the transformation that occurs through the practice of theological innovation. As teams within churches implemented new ways of developing ministry fit for their context, we observed transformation that affected individuals and entire congregations.
We witnessed firsthand that innovation in one area of a community’s ministry has the potential to catalyze creativity throughout the whole church. An Innovation Team member at Sturgis Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Sturgis, Ky., shared this about the experience: “When I walk into church and speak to people, this process — this innovation — is front and center in my heart.” We are eager for the Holy Spirit to continue sparking needed innovation throughout the Church so that more people experience the love and grace of Christ.

Innovation Lab Program Coordinator, James Turner Jr., pictured outside his home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

This new Lilly Endowment grant is making it possible to expand the Innovation Lab’s team. We want to introduce James Turner Jr., our new program coordinator. James has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management and a Master of Business Administration from Lynchburg College (now University of Lynchburg). He graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in 2018 with a Master of Divinity and a concentration in Urban Ministry and African American Church Studies. He loves comic books and comic book movies, video games, and music. James is a pastor of an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E) church in Maryland and was recently ordained a deacon in October 2021. He is married to Chelsea Turner and lives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
The gifts and experiences James brings will greatly enrich our work as the Innovation Lab grows. Welcome to the team, James!