Learning Methods: Approach and Methodology

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Shaping healthy parishes is difficult, complex, and joyful work. It requires an understanding of how to nurture and bring out the best in the parish, as a community and an organization. Leaders shape the parish. Healthy leaders are essential to the development of healthy and faithful parishes. The emotional and spiritual maturity of leaders is at the heart of what is possible.

We are also focused on making immediate, tangible improvements in parishes while building their long-term health. In doing that we will pay attention to the need to focus your energies around what works and the primary task of a parish church. 

Shaping the Parish will help participants address those needs through these learning methods:

  • Focusing on seven critical areas of health and three themes
  • Developing the habit of practical and timely action
  • Experiential education
  • Developmental initiatives 
  • Guidance and support
  • High expectations 
  • Theory and methods
  • Enough time to produce results 
  • Parish Teams
  • Exams

Seven critical areas of health

We work with a leadership team from your parish. Together we seek ways to move your parish toward a fuller expression of the marks of a healthy parish seen on the home page — the daily life ministry of the baptized, a community of formation, Anglican ethos, healthy emotional climate, a vibrant parish, skilled leaders, and actively addressing barriers to needed change.

Three themes

We are working with three interdependent themes.

  • Spiritual practice
  • Emotional and social intelligence
  • Change theory and methods

Practical & Timely Action

Participants will be helped to improve parish life and health as they develop the habit of practical and timely action. There are three primary methods used:

1) Developmental Initiatives (DIs) - Six or more formal initiatives over the course of the program. The DIs are designed to help shape the parish around the seven critical areas. Some DIs are projects assigned to all participants; others you select from a list of possibilities. You report on each, noting the results, what you learned about interventions & change, and what you learned about your own spiritual life and emotional & social intelligence.

2) Tools and methods every workshop week - You will return to the parish with practical and useful tools, skills, and methods that you can make use of quickly.

3) Many interventions - The assumption of the program is that parish leaders make many interventions every few months in the hope of improving parish life and increasing health. That just happens as part of parish life. Participation in the program will offer you a way to focus those actions in a more effective and efficient manner. 

We are working at both short term improvement in parish health and long term transformation.

Experiential Education

Shaping the Parish offers an in-depth, experiential approach to transforming leaders and parishes.  Experiential education requires two key elements: First, that participants actually do something; they have an experience. Second, they have an opportunity to reflect on and learn from that experience. What was tried? What was that like?  What worked, what didn’t?  What might you do differently in the future?  What did you learn about yourself, the parish, change dynamics?

This experiential approach will apply both to the workshop time, the developmental initiatives, and the many smaller interventions made in the parish.

In the workshop time there will be exercises, role plays and group work that we will learn from in a disciplined reflection process. The “here and now” experience will be used to learn about our impact on others and our own awareness and self management. We’ll also learn about how to work more effectively in and with teams.

Our experience in designing and implementing parish initiatives will be reflected upon and learned from in a process of self, peer, and trainer/facilitator critique.

You’ll learn how to learn from your experience through feedback, personal reflection, and a group method of disciplined analysis and learning. You’ll also learn how your parish can do that as a community. 

Developmental Initiative (Projects & Interventions)

Participants will design, implement and reflect on at least six developmental initiatives and numerous smaller interventions. Trainers will provide substantial support and guidance in helping participants carry out parish initiatives to foster health and spiritual and emotional maturity.     

Guidance and Support

The program provides guidance and support for parish teams and occasionally just for the priest. This happens during the workshop weeks and with teams between workshop weeks by phone, videoconferencing, and e-mail.

The coaching may be around developmental initiatives, other interventions, or about the leadership stance and skills of the team or priest.

High expectations

There is a lot to do.  Participants will be expected to implement parish interventions in a thoughtful and timely manner.  There’s a significant amount of reading to complete. While we are working on improving parish life and health the means toward that includes significant attention to the participant’s own spiritual life and emotional intelligence. That’s hard work.


Theory & Methods

Participants will learn from the fields of organization development, and ascetical and pastoral theology. Useful theory is essential as we decide on which methods and processes to use in the parish. At the same time we learn to build and understand useful and valid theory as we try out methods and skills.

Enough time

The program is long enough to make significant progress on two fronts:

  1. To develop momentum toward increased parish health.
  2. To develop a critical mass of learning for the participant. 


The program is for parish teams. The effectiveness of your work in the parish is enhanced by working together to improve parish life and ministry.  Learning is increased as you explore theory, methods and applications together.

If for some reason it’s not possible to come to the workshop weeks with a team we will consider your participation. However, in that case you will still need a back-in-the-parish team. Select people you trust and can work well with. That team will do the readings, take the instruments, help plan and implement the developmental initiatives and interventions, and receive coaching.  If this isn’t possible it’s likely that you need a different resource—a parish consultant, a congregation development educational program focused on your individual learning more than on improving parish life.


There’s a brief exam during each workshop week. You do need to pass the exams to stay in the program. You will be given several opportunities to do that if necessary. You are provided with the questions in advance.

As part of the mix, exams have proven to be a useful learning tool. We have used them in several programs over the years. They create a situation in which participants come to the program ready to enter into the action-learning process with a base of knowledge. That allows us to spend less time on presentations and more on application. We have seen a significant increase in learning since exams have been introduced in these programs.