Learning Methods: Approach and Methodology


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, especially the parish priest, 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 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 the primary task of a parish church and the elements needed to help it be healthy and faithful
  • Working on three interdependent themes
  • Developing the habit of practical and timely action
  • Learning from experience — a structured process of reflection, feedback and coaching 
  • Theory and methods
  • Exams

Primary task and key elements

Together we seek ways to move your parish toward a fuller expression of the marks of a healthy parish — 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. Our assumption is that these elements will help you create an effective Renewal -Apostolate Cycle in the parish.

Three themes

We are working with three interdependent themes.

  • Spiritual practice grounded in Anglican and Benedictine spirituality
  • 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) - During the program you’ll probably engage in dozens of interrelated initiatives as you shape the parish. There will be self assessment, feedback, and coaching as you do your work.

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.

Learning from experience — a structured process of reflection, feedback and coaching

Shaping the Parish is an intensive program of learning from your experience. There is a weekly, and sometimes daily, routine of reflection, sharing, feedback and coaching. That takes place in the period between three week long workshops.  There are two key elements: First, that participants actually do something; they take action. 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 and the developmental initiatives. 

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.

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.


There are a few exams that you’ll take on-line and/or during workshop weeks. 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.