Investigating transformational influences in ministry and formulating creative responses

The BTS Center’s Innovation Incubator supports Cairn and Compass Projects that map the contours of today’s religious and spiritual landscapes, mark creative paths for navigating them, and explore new ideas and insights for nurturing exceptional leadership in contemporary faith communities.

  • Do you have an idea for a unique, innovative program that you’ve always wanted to try? A hunch you’ve wanted to follow? A theory you’ve wanted to test?
  • Do you long to examine a specific site or a particular group of people where you see spiritual life, community, and leadership emerging in new and unexpected ways?
  • Do you seek insight into the conditions and circumstances shaping spiritual life in different contexts?

Welcome, Explorers and Cartographers. We look forward to working with you.

Types of Projects

Through its Innovation Incubator, The BTS Center will fund two types of projects:

  • Cairn Projects are experimental, have a practical or applied focus, and are local in character (i.e., specific to a location, a demographic, an institution, or a denomination). They offer outcomes that provide concrete direction, materials, and insight to religious and spiritual leaders who constantly contend with new, ever-changing circumstances.
  • Compass Projects are descriptive and interpretive. Compass Projects are undertaken by spiritual cartographers who desire to map what is occurring on the religious landscape from a 10,000-foot view—and thereby produce knowledge that can help faith leaders better serve communities of faith.


For sample initiatives and additional information about the differences between Cairn and Compass projects, download the Incubator information packet, below.

For information about Innovation Incubator projects that The Center has funded, click here.

Who Should Apply?

There is no perfect applicant for The BTS Center’s Incubator program. We desire to work with a variety of people, including but not limited to:

  • Faith leaders from various traditions
  • People who are religiously unaffiliated & spiritually inclined
  • Artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, and musicians
  • Teachers, scholars, social workers, clinicians, and chaplains
  • Community builders, activists, and business and nonprofit leaders
  • YOU

Award Amounts

Up to $70,000 will be awarded for the 2018 – 2019 funding cycle. The pool of grant money will most likely be divided between larger projects (each of which will receive up to $20,000) and smaller projects (each of which will receive up to $5,000). Cairn and Compass projects are equally eligible for the larger grants—but the amount of requested grant money should be commensurate with a project’s size and scope.

Application Process and Deadlines

As was the case last year, the full application process for The BTS Center’s Innovation Incubator is by invitation only, but all are eligible to seek an invitation.

Start the process by reading the Innovation Incubator information packet below. Then submit an initial letter of inquiry by January 26, 2018, following the guidelines outlined in the information packet. Those invited to submit a full application will be notified by February 23, 2018. Full applications will be due by April 6, 2018 and final decisions about project funding will be made by mid-May, 2018.

information Packet

Click here for the 2018 – 2019 Innovation Incubator information packet, which contains details about the program and the application process.

Application System

Letters of Inquiry for the 2018-2019 funding cycle are no longer being accepted; the deadline for submitting an initial letter of inquiry was January 26, 2018.

We will welcome your Letter of Inquiry for the 2019-2020 funding cycle and will announce new deadline dates, on this page, in the late fall/early winter of 2018.

In order to stay up to date with Innovation Incubator developments, click the words “Sign Up To Receive Our E-Newsletter” on the right-hand side of this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of projects have people sought support for in the past?

We have run two application cycles thus far. Of the total number of submitted letters of inquiry:

— 49% proposed Large Cairn projects.

— 33% proposed Small Cairn projects.

— 13% proposed Large Compass projects.

— 5% proposed Small Compass projects.

  • Can I submit letters of inquiry for multiple projects, or am I limited to submitting a single project for consideration?

We will only consider one project per person or research team. Therefore, please submit only one letter of inquiry.

  • Will The BTS Center consider projects that are not based in the United States?

As the Incubator’s informational materials make clear, funding priority will be given to projects that are located in or focus upon New England. Although we are willing to consider projects and research about international topics, we will only support initiatives that offer insight into changing religious and spiritual landscapes in the United States. Thus, international projects or research should in some way address or speak to what is transpiring in the U.S. Additionally, Incubator projects will be expected to produce information and/or products that help U.S.-based practitioners.

Researchers themselves must be based in the U.S., and incubator funding—which will take the form of reimbursements for expenses—will not be available to finance travel to/from other nations or cover expenses incurred outside of the United States.  

  • For team-based projects, do all members of the team have access to financial support and cohort experiences? 

Incubator funding is offered on a per-project basis, rather than to the individual researchers who make up a research team. For example, if a team of two people submit a project that is awarded $5,000 in support, the financial award—which will take the form of reimbursements for expenses— will be shared between both investigators. It is not the case that each of the individual investigators will be able to separately access $5,000 in reimbursement.

Typically, The BTS Center is only able to fund one team members participation in each cohort activity (e.g., an in-person cohort gathering). In other words, if The BTS Center is covering the costs of participating in a cohort event, research teams most likely will need to send a single representative. The BTS Center may be able to provide all project investigators with access to in-person events in future funding cycles, but for now, at least, budget constraints prevent us from doing so. That said, we hope to provide all researchers with access to helpful online resources and information.