MC USA church-planting grants assist congregations redefining expectations

$5,000 Thrive grants support new ventures in Washington, Nebraska, California

Worshipers at Wild Church in Fresno, Calif., gather around communion elements by a river. — Mennonite Church USA Worshipers at Wild Church in Fresno, Calif., gather around communion elements by a river. — Mennonite Church USA

Recipients of Mennonite Church USA Thrive Church-Planting Grants include an LGBTQ-inclusive ­online congregation, a “missional replant” in Nebraska and an outdoor church in California.

The $5,000 grants, established last year, are renewable for up to three years. Funds can be used for outreach and other costs associated with establishing a new church, as well as a stipend for a church-planting coach and curriculum through Mennonite Mission Network’s Sent Network.

Community of Hope in Bellingham, Wash., is a queer-friendly church that meets online, with people from all over the U.S. joining in, but it has its roots in the local community. While many Mennonite congregations are LGBTQ inclusive, Pastor Rachael Weasley said the church plant takes this hospitality a step further.

“Community of Hope is called to do the work of constructing a queer Anabaptist theology, fleshing out our inclusive beliefs into new liturgical arts, devotional language and community ritual practice that can nourish the lives of LGBTQ folks and those who love them,” she said. “Our worship is designed to offer hospitality to those who haven’t attended church or who have been wounded by past experiences with church.”

Grant funds will allow the church to double the number of monthly gatherings and, hopefully, allow it to offer one of these services in-person.

Summit Street Mennonite Church is a missional replant of Beatrice Mennonite Church in Nebraska. It focuses on providing a church for those who are uninterested in church or feel they don’t belong, a decision congregants voted unanimously to support.

Pastor and church planter Tim Amor said that while Summit still uses the same building and has some of the same congregants as Beatrice Mennonite, the change in late October was much more than a rebranding.

“We are changing every aspect of how we do church,” he said. “We are refocusing everything around the mission that Jesus gives us: to be the disciple as you go, to baptize as you go, to teach as you go.”

The pandemic caused additional strain on the church plant’s financial resources. The Thrive grant provides some relief for church finances. The grant made it possible for the church to engage in community outreach efforts, such as fixing up its community playground.

Wild Church in Fresno, Calif., is an outdoor church that meets monthly, usually near the San Joaquin River, and seeks to “be church” in new ways that align with God’s love for all creation.

“Many people drawn to Wild Church have been hurt or disaffected by ‘institutional religion’ or by Christian fundamentalism,” said Pastor Katerina Friesen. “Since we meet outdoors near the river or on hikes, members don’t associate our community with traditional church structures or symbols represented by a building, a pulpit and pews.”

This model avoids many typical expenses like building maintenance or administration. This frees the church to use the grant for events, such as a canoe trip to help members grow in their love for the watershed and educational workshops to draw attention to the impact of the ecological crisis.

“The mission of Anabaptist/Mennonite congregations has not changed, but the world has,” said Michael Danner, MC USA associate executive director for church vitality. “Supporting new church plants that are engaging neighborhoods in fresh and creative ways, through new approaches and structures, is one way to move that mission forward.”

Applications for 2022 grants may be submitted between May 1 and July 31 at

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