With $1.25 Million Grant, TEDS Will Create the Center for Faith and Children

April 10, 2023

Dr. Mimi Larson Set to Lead this Center Dedicated to Researching Children’s Faith Formation

Center for Faith and Children text on photo with a child's praying hands on a bible. Trinity International University has received a five-year, $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., to help establish the Center for Faith and Children. This new center, based at the university’s Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will be led by assistant professor of Educational Ministries, Dr. Mimi Larson. Lilly Endowment made the grant through its Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. “This new center embodies the core values of TEDS as we attempt to think deeply about ecclesial practices within a robust theological framework,” said TEDS Dean David Pao. “As theology serves the gospel mission of the church, this center bridges the gap between theory and practice while focusing on how children live out their faith, a research area that is often ignored in serious theological reflections.” The Center for Faith and Children will equip ministry leaders through educational opportunities, research and vision; empower the local church with training, assistance, and imagination; and encourage parents by developing curated resources, tips, and encouragement through a dynamic website, podcast, research articles, and a conference. The Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative was launched in 2022 as part of Lilly Endowment’s commitment to support efforts that strengthen the religious education and formation of children and enhance the vitality of Christian congregations. TEDS is one of 26 organizations taking part in this $32 million initiative that supports organizations that help children grow in their faith and deepen their relationships with God. “It is a deep honor to be named the executive director of the Center for Faith and Children. This has been a long-time dream of mine and an answer to prayer to create a center focused on children’s spiritual formation,” said Larson. “By creating and sustaining this center, we hope to deepen the conversation regarding children and their ability to make meaning of faith and cast a vision for children’s faith formation that is rooted in research and equips ministry leaders with both education and practical ministry solutions.” Larson has decades of experience in academia and practical ministry. “Dr. Mimi Larson is the most qualified person to lead such a center—she is not only an experienced practitioner who is passionate about children's ministry, but she is also a highly trained academician who can provide a clinical examination of contemporary practices that would in turn point forward to creative paths for the renewal of such a ministry,” said Pao. Beyond teaching at TEDS, Dr. Larson serves on the board for the Society of Children’s Spirituality: Christian Perspectives and has more than 25 years of practical ministry experience within the local church. She also served as the Children’s Ministry Catalyzer for the Christian Reformed Church in North of America’s Faith Formation Ministries and was a recipient of two Calvin’s Institute of Christian Worship’s grants—2020 teacher-scholar grant and 2022 worshiping communities grant. Through this center, Larson will be expanding upon the work of many industry leaders, including TEDS alumna Scottie May (PhD in Christian Education ‘93), author of Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community. “The establishment of a center devoted to the study of the spiritual nurture of children through their practices of worship and prayer thrills and excites me,” said May. “To have scholars and researchers intentionally continuing the work that was begun in rudimentary fashion a few decades ago, will be a much-needed resource and encouragement to the local church and to families. Dr. Larson is an avid scholar and researcher, and I am thrilled that she will be heading up this center.” As we continue to emerge from the global pandemic, pastors and other ministry leaders are still struggling with how to engage children in the life of their congregations due to a lack of volunteers, low attendance, increased family struggles, and other family concerns. It is an all-too-common reality that seminaries seldom provide resources devoted to research on children and spirituality. A center like this at TEDS will provide new and creative ways to address these challenges through quality academic research that is rooted in scripture. “Thanks to Dr. Mimi Larson’s expertise and initiative, the generosity of Lilly Endowment, and our shared dream of a Center of Faith & Children, TEDS is now uniquely positioned to deliver that focus,” said TIU President Nicholas Perrin. “I am so grateful that as this new center becomes a reality, we as a church will be all the better equipped to ‘let the little children come,’ just as Jesus commands.” Larson will be supported in her work through the hiring of key staff made possible by the grant, including a managing director, project director, and a research fellow. Stay tuned for updates about this new center as it develops here at TEDS. If you’re interested in the research fellowship, reach out to Dr. Mimi Larson directly at [email protected].