Applications Open May 1 for Third Cohort of Perkins Testimony HQ Congregational Initiative

Applications opened May 1 for congregations interested in joining the third cohort of Perkins School of Theology’s Testimony HQ grant-funded initiative. Up to 10 churches will be selected for the third and final cohort, which launches January 1, 2024.

DALLAS (SMU) – Applications opened May 1 for congregations interested in joining the third cohort of Perkins School of Theology’s Testimony HQ grant-funded initiative. Up to 10 churches will be selected for the third and final cohort, which launches January 1, 2024. Churches of any denomination within a 350-mile radius of Dallas, Texas, are eligible to apply.

Applications will be accepted through June 26, 2023. Two Zoom informational sessions are scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. on both May 15 and June 13 for those interested in learning more. To register and receive the Zoom link, RSVP to Jeanette Cordova at

The program, supported by a $999,975 grant made through Lilly Endowment’s nationwide Thriving Congregations Initiative, aims to increase the practice of testimony as community engagement both inside and outside the church. The Reverend Dr. Priscilla Pope-Levison and Bart Patton of Perkins School of Theology are the co-principal investigators.

“A testimony is a good story that is also a God story,” Pope-Levison said. “It is sharing where we see God’s presence and activity in our lives with our children, our neighbors and our coworkers and inspiring others to do the same. Because many people are not sure how to talk about God in today’s world, Testimony HQ offers a curriculum to help them become more comfortable and adept sharing their testimonies.”

Congregations that are ready to focus wholeheartedly on testimony as community engagement are encouraged to apply.

Sixteen churches currently are participating in the program. These churches receive teaching, coaching, and print and video material related to testimony. Church leaders work through the Testimony HQ curriculum and learn how the regular practice of testimony can transform the church’s ministry. Each church receives a stipend to cover food and other expenses for the Testimony HQ learning sessions, as well as expenses related to outreach into the church’s wider community.

“For these churches, the practice of testimony as community engagement is becoming an indispensable part of their DNA,” Patton said.

This is the second Lilly Endowment grant awarded to SMU to fund the work of Pope-Levison and Patton; the first was a $1 million grant awarded in 2018 to strengthen congregational ministries with youth.

SMU is one of 92 organizations funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions; explore and understand better the communities in which they serve; and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

With the third cohort, the project at Perkins aims to embed testimony as community engagement into the practice of up to 30 congregations within a 350-mile radius of Dallas.

“Testimony HQ got started because we could see the incredible value of testimony in building community,” said Pope-Levison. “After much thought and prayer, we decided to become a hub or headquarters for churches to learn and practice this way of doing testimony. “Community and connection flow out from a thriving congregation’s practice of testimony into the world around it.”

The Rev. Dr. Priscilla Pope-Levison, co-principal investigator, is research professor of practical theology at Perkins, as well as an award-winning author, pastor, professor and higher education administrator.

Bart Patton, co-principal investigator, is director of the office of external programs at Perkins anda proven congregational leader, youth minister, worship leader, teacher and pastor.

For more information and to apply, visit or email Jeanette Cordova at

Watch a short video about the program here:


Perkins School of Theology, founded in 1911, is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Ministry, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Pastoral Music as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and sons Eli and J.K., Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a 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 exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the endowment’s grantmaking in religion 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 their pastoral and lay leadership.