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Vital Congregations

Dakotas Connection Initiative

Rural Ministry Grant Program

Dakotas Connection Initiative

Rural Ministry in the Dakotas Conference

Rural ministry in the Dakotas Conference is a way of life. But as rural communities have decreased in population – watched their younger generation migrate to “the city” seen schools close and businesses shut down – a narrative of “not enough” (people, resources, value) – has often paralyzed churches when it comes to the thought of letting go of familiar ways of doing things and imagining new life and vitality. The Dakotas Connection Initiative (DCI) will help rural congregations embrace the message that God is not done with them. Funded by a five-year grant from the Lilly Endowment, this Initiative will address the challenges and opportunities experienced in our rural churches and communities. 

The DCI will provide grant dollars to support innovative projects that champion the values of sharing resources, raising up local leadership, creative partnerships, and strategic use of technology for better use of ministry resources with other churches. Some project examples include:

  • Team Ministry grants for partnering or resource sharing that impacts multiple churches or communities. This could involve an individual or team of ministry leaders serving one or more churches, it could involve utilizing ministry discernment internships in rural churches, or it could involve other innovative ways to share ministries or ministry leadership between churches. These models will draw on effective leadership models and mission advancement strategies of the early church (e.g. Ephesians 4) as well as the early Methodist movement (e.g. Circuit Riders, small group discipleship.
  • “Hub” Connection grants that capitalize on relational culture and connectional values by providing resources and platforms that allow hub-city churches to share and multiply their resources to support other congregations. These partnerships might emphasize providing administrative and management support or other ministry or program areas. This effort will have a mutually synergistic effect on both churches, promoting the healthy characteristic of looking beyond ourselves and our organization and seeking ways to bless others.
  • Technology grants for various digital connections between churches. This could involve rural churches partnering with each other or with larger churches for the purpose of streaming worship services, connecting small groups between churches, or even connections between church leaders for routing education, support, and sharing of ideas.
Gayville Umc Front

Beyond project grants, our Dakotas Connection Initiative will provide coaching, equipping and education for rural ministry, as well as administrative support to oversee these efforts. This will include things such as Conference-wide and regional events, workshop/resources for “Discerning a Local Calling” to help individuals gain insight into spiritual/pastoral leadership, and platforms for networking, idea-sharing, and support.


How to apply for a project grant

All grant applications will follow a two-step process.

  • Step One:  Submission of a preliminary grant proposal document to the DCI Steering Team which includes general information outlining the concept of the proposed rural ministry project. Prior to detailed project work, the applicant should visit with the DCI Coordinator to discuss a preliminary proposal.
  • Step Two:  Preparation of a detailed grant plan of action. This plan will be created through collaboration of the applicant and the DCI Steering Team.

The Preliminary Grant Proposal must comply with the general parameters of the DCI Grant Award. The following criteria will be addressed and evaluated with the applicant. 

  • Values Driven –
    • Partnership formation and / or resource sharing between churches
    • Innovative development of church leadership roles and responsibilities
    • Outward / Community focused approach to Kingdom growth
  • Readiness Assessment –
    • Church partners must be positioned for change and impact
    • Church partners must exhibit willingness to break new ground in ministry
    • Church partners must offer time and resource commitments
  • Vision / Mission Opportunity and Sustainability
    • Include a vision and mission to serve present opportunities
    • Consider both short- and long-term goals
    • Provide a plan for sustainability beyond grant period
  • Project Description and Purpose (who, what, where, how, when, why)
  • Resource Requirements (Finances, Facilities, Personnel, etc.)

A Detailed Grant Plan of Action will be developed upon acceptance of the preliminary grant proposal. A team consisting of the key players from the applicant groups and the DCI Steering Team will collaborate to create a strategic Detailed Grant Plan of Action. This plan will include items such as a project vision / mission, specific priorities, goals, and objectives, clear assignment of duties, responsibilities, and accountability, evaluation tools, and reporting requirements including potential duplication expectations.


We know that the vast majority – approximately 80% – of our communities have a population of under 1,000 and most of our churches worship on average less than 50 in attendance every Sunday – and that average attendance number drops below 40 when our largest churches are factored out of the equation. Yet, our rural communities are exactly what Jesus had in mind when he ministered in His day. Most of His time was spent in unpopulated agricultural areas as He took His message to His disciples. If this was the heart of Jesus, it should certainly be on our heart today. 

Dakotas Connection Initiative

Our hope for this initiative is that it will allow the Dakotas Conference to continue our commitment to experiment and innovate to enhance missional effectiveness in rural communities. We will do this not only to see our ministries grow in vitality but also to be able to share learnings and inspiration with other rural communities across the country as we seek to advance God’s Kingdom.


Growing God's Kingdom: A Rural Ministry Team Model
Dakotas Connection Initiative: Changing the Landscape for Rural Ministry
The Dakotas Connection Initiative: Rural Ministry Matters
Rural Ministries Connect at Fall Gatherings
Dakotas Conference to Launch Dakotas Connection Initiative with Lilly Endowment Grant

Making Rural Work: Models for Churches
Dakotas Connection Initiative Update 



Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church 605.996.6552 1331 University Ave. Mitchell SD 57301-0460 US 43.69689310 -98.03291320 122 W. Franklin Avenue Ste 400 Minneapolis MN 55404 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 W University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000