Our Goal: Thriving Congregations, Thriving Communities

Journey to Thriving has one chief aim: the mutual thriving between congregations and their communities. We believe this is God’s Biblical vision of shalom and our call as witnesses to the Gospel. To accomplish this, we have three goals. We want to help congregations:

Know their Community
We believe that understanding our community’s context begins with knowing its story. The Durham Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope is an immersive experience in which participants learn local history from the people who lived it and the places where it took place. The Journey to Thriving program will also place congregational representatives in a cohort where, after the pilgrimage, they will continue to deepen their understanding of their context through regular workshops and reflection times about contextual challenges in their communities.
Know their Congregation
As congregation leaders learn about their context, they will also examine their own congregation’s story and presence in the community. This will begin with the Durham Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope and continue with the workshops and reflection times with the cohort. A key aspect of knowing their congregation will be articulating, reflecting on, and understanding the story behind their values and mission and reinforcing or reshaping them in light of contemporary challenges.
Make an Adaptive Plan
All congregations in the program will complete the program by creating and implementing a concrete action plan. They will consider their context–its history and the contemporary cultural and social changes–and their own congregation’s history, values and mission. They will ask, What is one adaptive change our congregation needs to make, and which action steps do we need to take to make that change? DurhamCares will help participants come up with plans that are historically informed, contextually responsive, mission- and values-based, practical, and measurable. We hope that this project will achieve a small yet meaningful concrete objective, and also cultivate a new imagination and adaptive culture within the congregation that might be carried forward in future years.

Who is a good fit for Journey to Thriving?

Who is a good fit for Journey to Thriving?
  • We encourage you to apply to Journey to Thriving if your congregation:
    • Wants to learn about your community, reflect on your congregational identity, and adapt to our changing world
    • Is committed to having a clergyperson and two lay leaders participate in the entire four-year program
    • Is committed to having 20 people participate in the Durham Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope as part of the program
    • Is committed to involving your whole congregation in the process through regular updates and opportunities for feedback

    In recognition of the significant  contributions of the Black Church to Durham’s story, please note that for each cohort, at least four of the six spots for congregations are reserved for African American churches.

What is the commitment for Journey to Thriving?
Participating congregations in Journey to Thriving:

  • Commit to having a clergyperson and two lay leaders:
    • Participate in the Durham Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope (Friday afternoon through Sunday evening on a weekend chosen by the congregation)
      • Dates: Between July 2024-December 2024
    • Participate in the Learning Cohort, which will include monthly workshop and reflection times (about two hours each) and 1-3 half-day workshops. 
      • Dates: January-December, 2025
    • Lead the congregation in developing and beginning to implement an Adaptive Plan
      • Dates: January-December, 2026
    • Lead the congregation in completing and evaluating the Adaptive Plan
      • Dates: January-December 2027
  • Commit to having 20 people participate in the Durham Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope (Friday afternoon through Sunday evening on a weekend chosen by the congregation)
    • Dates: Between July 2024-December 2024
  • Commit to communicating the program to the whole congregation by:
    • Announcing acceptance to the program in worship and congregational newsletter
    • Sharing the details of the program at a leadership meeting for all boards and committees
    • Sharing updates and testimonials in worship and the congregation’s newsletter twice per year
  • Application Deadline: Tuesday, April 30th, 2024. Earlier submissions are strongly encouraged. 
  • July-December 2024: Cohort 1 congregations participate in the Durham Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope. Each congregation participates in their own separately scheduled and customized pilgrimage.
  • January-December 2025: Learning Cohort workshops 
  • January-June, 2026: Adaptive Plan Creation
  • July, 2026-June, 2027: Adaptive Plan Implementation
  • July, 2027-December, 2027: Adaptive Plan Evaluation

Cohort 2 will begin in 2025 and Cohort 3 will begin in 2026 and follow the same timeline.


Dr. Dustin D. Benac, (ThD, Duke University) is an educator, practical theologian, and organizational strategist. He teaches at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary as the Director for the Program for the Future Church. He has supported and studied communities of faith who are navigating transition and uncertainty across North America. His latest book, AdaptiveChurch: Collaboration and Community in a Changing World, explores what it takes for communities of faith to navigate organizational change. He is the co-editor of Crisisand Care: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy and the Editor of Practical Theology, an international and interdisciplinary journal. An accomplished speaker, teacher, and fundraiser, he has worked with congregations and researchers across Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States. You can find him online at www.dustindbenac.com or on X @DustinDBenac.

Dr. Charles Denton Johnson is an Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). As a proud alumnus of NCCU’s History graduate program, he returned to the university in 2015 to serve as the Director of Public History. Dr. Johnson is an award-winning teacher and a co-author of two books: (1) Topics on African Diaspora History (2016) and (2) NC A&T vs. NCCU: More Than Just a Game (2023), a recent publication that chronicles the 100-year history of the Aggie vs. Eagle football rivalry in photos and newspaper articles. He holds degrees from Morehouse College, B.A.; North Carolina Central, M.A.; and Howard University, Ph.D. Dr. Johnson is a scholar of African Diaspora, African American, and Public History. Dr. Johnson is a recognized leader in the field of Public History inside and outside of the academy. In 2023, he was the lead historian and co-curator of America’s Voices Against Apartheid, a museum exhibition on the historical role African Americans played in the struggle for South African liberation, which was installed in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa in May and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in September. Dr. Johnson is the current Principal Investigator (PI) for the ACLS-funded Digital Extension grant, Expanding the Digital Library on American History Through Local Community-Engaged Digital Humanities Research, which helps to preserve the history of Bragtown, one of Durham’s earliest African American communities. He is the proud father of Xavier Johnson, a freshman in the Honors College at North Carolina A&T State University studying Civil Engineering.

Ruth Peebles, offers over 30 years of hands‐on experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, grant writing, organizational development and project management.  She is the President and Founder of The INS Group a national consulting firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ms. Peebles served as the Executive Director for The Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, as the Director of Development for Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and Associate Director and Development Officer for the North Carolina Caring Program for Children. She has served as an adjunct instructor for the School of Public and International Affairs Master of Public Administration Program at North Carolina State University. Ms. Peebles holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and graduate degree in Public Administration from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Peebles currently serves on Wake County Affiliate Board of the North Carolina Community Foundation. She is a founding member of the Next Generation of African American Philanthropists giving circle.

Journey to Thriving Cohort Costs

The cost for the first cohort of the Journey to Thriving program is $1,000. DurhamCares will return these funds to each congregation who completes the program to be used for the implementation of their Adaptive Plan. This drastically low cost is a $32,000 value thanks to the generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc.

Questions About Journey to Thriving?

Contact Reynolds Chapman at rchapman@durhamcares.org.