Wendy Cadge (Brandeis University); Elan Babchuck (Clal / Glean); Jennifer Bailey (Faith Matters)

January 1, 2024 – December 31, 2025

The American religious landscape is in the midst of tectonic shifts: the fastest growing religious group in America is “nones” (those who identify as having no religion), nearly 2,000 faith leaders in America are leaving the pulpit each month, and thousands of houses of worship have closed each year for the past decade. Despite these trends, there is an emergent groundswell of next-generation innovative spiritual leaders, with bold and innovative projects, communities, and ventures taking root across the country, categorically redefining the role and experience of faith and spirituality in public life.

In this context, “Spiritual innovation” refers to a set of actors at the forefront of faith and social innovation. Spiritual innovators creatively bring the assets of their spiritual and cultural traditions to bear, pursuing new models of faith and hope in action, generating broad-scale social and spiritual impact. Spiritual innovators may include leaders across clergy, lay-leadership, higher education, the non-profit, social impact, and social innovation sectors, and even volunteers among grassroots organizations and local activism.

By convening spiritual innovators, investing in their leadership and unearthing new insights about the impact they are generating in their communities, we can harness and amplify these efforts, yielding even greater solutions, fostering deeper coordination among them, responding to the complex challenges of human flourishing with greater strength and resilience.

In acknowledgement of these trends and in order to lay the groundwork for a new generation of spiritual leaders, this project makes three interventions with the guidance of an Advisory Group:

We aim to launch 3 strategic interventions:

  1. Conducting a national field study. This includes comprehensive research and mapping to understand the presence and collective impact of spiritual innovation in local communities and economies as driven by the following. To date, these innovations are mostly taking place disconnected from one another without the ability to leverage their strengths and expand their collective impact:
    • Congregation-supported, mission-aligned social impact ventures
    • Faith-rooted-leader-founded social impact ventures
    • Training and funding offerings uniquely tailored to support spiritual entrepreneurs
    • To participate in this mapping project, please submit a response to this survey. The process should take no more than 10 minutes. 
  2. Hosting regional convenings. We will offer a series of three to four regional gatherings exploring the successes and challenges of spiritual innovators in a collaborative, values-driven, generative space of learning, practice and connections.
  3. Partnering with theological educators. The project will also partner with theological schools to support innovators in teaching about their work, as well as platforming these innovations through third spaces like the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, Glean Network, and Faith Matters Network.
  4. Launching a network of networks. We will identifying key actors in the field, deepening understanding of our respective interventions and building the networks to engage in coordinated efforts and greater collective impact.

In the media:

Jonathan VanAntwerpen, “Telling the vast and complex story of religion in America,” Henry Luce Foundation News, January 17, 2024.

This project was made possible with the generous support of these organizations: