Good economic times or bad, many congregations look for new kinds of funding for ministry programs. I often run into church staff members who are convinced there is a "magic grant" somewhere that can alleviate their congregation's financial worries—they just need to find it.
Usually, though, there is no magic grant. Congregations who receive grants often work at securing the funding during a period of years because building relationships with funders takes time.
Grants, it's also important to note, most often go toward supporting church programs focused on serving the community, and usually can't be directed toward deficits, operating expenses, or the core internal ministry programs of a church.
Throughout the years, I have worked with a number of church congregations that have secured grants to support their community ministry efforts. This outside funding helps churches hire outreach staff, and sponsor health clinics, housing programs, youth centers, and schools (among many other programs). If administrative or pastoral staff members of the church are working on community programs, then grants may even pay part of their salaries.
The following are six characteristics of church programs that are most likely to receive funding from a foundation or corporation. A church that can answer "Yes" to all or most of the items on the list has a better chance of successfully finding grants to help with its ministry efforts:
1) The program benefits at least some people outside of your church congregation. Many foundations and corporations are sensitive to supporting programs that are targeted to an exclusive group of people. A proposal that benefits only church members or people in a particular denomination (or just Christians, for that matter) may struggle to secure grants. Foundations and corporations often work communitywide on key issues and want to see that as many people as possible have access to the services they fund.
2) The program is not one of the core internal programs of your church. Many foundations and corporations will not support core internal ministry programs of a church, such as worship, spiritual formation, Sunday school, or pastoral care. From a funder's perspective, church members ought to be the ones who pay for services they use in a church setting. There are exceptions to this, such as the funding received through a denomination, or through foundations like the Lilly Endowment, which work to build the capacity of clergy.