Rural Church

The Duke Endowment is committed to preserving the pivotal role churches play in rural communities. We support clergy and congregations — ensuring they have the tools to walk faithfully together — as they strengthen rural areas. We help United Methodist Churches make greater contributions that have lasting, positive impacts in their communities.


United Methodist Churches have long contributed to the rich cultural heritage of rural North Carolina. Shifting demographics, however, have deeply affected rural communities and the churches that serve them. Understanding how churches can best contribute to their changing communities requires deep and prayerful discernment involving church leaders and congregants.


We serve as an initiating partner, working closely with the North Carolina and Western North Carolina conferences of the United Methodist Church, Duke Divinity School, and pastors and congregations. Our support builds on the strengths of the United Methodist system, optimizing its potential so that local churches can answer their call to transform the world. Our partners are church leaders and congregations who collaborate to achieve their vision of the central role Methodism plays in community vitality.

Rural Church Program Director Robb Webb explains the program area’s mission and strategies

Helping Early Readers Avoid Summer Learning Loss

The Duke Endowment is working with rural congregations in North Carolina to combat learning loss in their communities through evidence-informed summer literacy programs for rising first- through third-graders.

Our Focus

Our focus is on helping rural communities harness their abundant God-given gifts to meet demographic and economic shifts. We help rural communities offer equitable opportunities for people of all races and ethnicities to serve one another, raise families in safety and reach the potential that God intends for us.


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Cultivate and Support Pastoral Leaders

We support programs that recruit and retain candidates for ministry; nurture clergy growth and competencies including cultural sensitivity and racial equity; and support training for district superintendents to develop missional strategies that strengthen connections between churches and their communities. We believe that doing so benefits rural communities across the state.

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Reimagine Church Real Estate

We support conversations that help rural congregations make informed decisions about how to optimize their assets and use them as catalysts for community-focused ministry. Using real estate in ways that meet community needs and increase usefulness of facilities can increase connections between church and community and increase vitality for both.

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Build Congregational Capacity

In healthy churches, clergy and laity maintain strong awareness of their community and ties to it. We support programs that engage rural congregations with their neighbors to identify and implement solutions that could have a lasting, positive impact on their rural region. 

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Identify and Test Selected Programs

We identify, develop, test and share programs that have demonstrated positive outcomes, with a special focus on children. Simultaneously, we provide funding for churches to implement these programs.

Apply for a Grant

Select 501(c)(3) organizations in North Carolina may be eligible to receive funding.

Before You Proceed

If you have previously started an application, please select Edit an Existing Application” to prevent loss of information. If you have not already started your application, please proceed by selecting Start a New Application.”

Project Details

Project Details

Building Congregations’ Capacity to Engage with Community

Rural churches stay vital and live their calling to transform the world by reaching out and helping neighbors thrive. The Duke Endowment is committed to helping congregations build their capacity to engage in meaningful service ministries that make positive change in the wider community.

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Project Details

Clergy Health Initiative

Studies indicate that clergy are in one of the nation’s most overworked professions. The Duke Endowment has invested $21 million in the Clergy Health Initiative since 2007.

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Project Details

Providing Scholarships for Rural Church Leaders

Rural churches can be a powerful force in creating more vibrant rural communities, especially when a strong and visionary minister is at the helm. To help prepare ministers for service in rural congregations, The Duke Endowment supports several clergy leadership programs at Duke Divinity School.

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Project Details

Church Legacy Initiative

The Church Legacy Initiative (CLI), an effort by the Western North Carolina Conference with support by a grant from The Duke Endowment, seeks the best path to renew and revitalize rural communities. The project assists churches in making faithful decisions about their future, including closure in some cases.

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Project Details

Advancing the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative

We believe that rural churches are anchor institutions that can serve as a catalyst for human, community and economic advancement in the communities they serve. Developing leaders for the complex and dynamic ministry challenges in North Carolina’s rural communities is a primary focus of our grantmaking investments.

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Project Details

Summer Literacy Initiative

The Duke Endowment works with rural congregations to combat “the summer slide,” or learning loss, in their communities through evidence-informed literacy programs.

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Rural Church Grants

For a full list of our 2022 grants, see the 2022 Annual Report Grantmaking Addendum. Many of these grants represent multi-year commitments.

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