How Your Congregation Learns

How Your Congregation Learns








Change isn’t always easy or intuitive. Written by Center President Tim Shapiro, How Your Congregation Learns introduces churches and leaders — both lay and ordained — to the process of the learning journey. By understanding learning dynamics and working to become a learning community, the congregation will be able to move more purposefully to achieve its goals.

How Your Congregation Learns is a book about how your congregation achieves new things. This book is a companion for program planning, initiating new ministries or designing innovative activities.  

The Learning Journey
Your congregation learns as it accomplishes new things. It also learns in a discernible way. That discernible is way is what I call the “learning journey.” This journey includes defining your challenge, exploration of the issue, disappointment, taking on and letting go, validation and then, inevitably, another challenge.

By becoming more aware of the journey that your congregation travels as it achieves its goals you help your faith community more effectively address its challenges and opportunities. The learning that takes places from the time an idea unfolds to the realization of a new program becomes a process over which you have agency.

The learning journey exists regarding almost any congregational issue that requires learning new ways of doing something. It occurs regarding topics that exist in three different realms of congregational life: the overtly religious realm, the realm of life practice, and organizational arenas.  

The learning journey dynamics can be applied to activities as varied as strategic planning, mission trips, education programming, community engagement, spiritual formation, building issues and much more.  

The Learning Congregation
A learning congregation facilitates the development of new abilities of its clergy and laity so as to continuously improve its capacity to address ever increasing demands for the sake of religious claims and commitments.

At the end of each chapter, the book contains coaching statements and questions that help you move your congregation through each passage of the learning journey. For example, accurately identifying the challenge you seek to address is an essential part of the learning process.  Learns

The Challenge Phase
You know you are experiencing the challenge phase of a learning journey when the following occur:

  • You experience unease about something important to the life of your congregation.
  • You aren’t sure what the unease is all about.
  • You realize the challenge isn’t clearly defined.
  • The challenge appears over time in different ways or in different experiences.
  • The discomfort of avoiding the challenge is stronger than the discomfort of taking on the challenge.

Questions to Consider
What are the one or two most pressing challenges facing your congregations?

What is something you’ve learned so far about one of these challenges?

Who will you talk to next about this challenge? 

Learn More
Click here to learn more about program planning and congregational learning.

The Author
timTim Shapiro, the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, is the author of How Your Congregation Learns: The Learning Journey from Challenge to Achievement. He is the co-author of Holy Places: Matching Sacred Space with Mission and Message. Tim is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

If you would like a free half hour consultation on program planning and learning journeys related to a challenge or opportunity that your congregation faces please email Tim Shapiro at

The Center for Congregations in Indiana has a limited supply of complimentary copies of How Your Congregation Learns to share with you.  To request a copy please email Tim Shapiro at

The Publisher
How Your Congregation Learns: The Learning Journey from Challenge to Achievement is published by Rowman & Littlefield.