Parishes, schools and agencies

What I've learned in 10 years of Parish Renewal

From the parishesIt's been 10 years since the launch of the Parish Renewal Program in the Diocese of Melbourne. Here, Ken Morgan draws some lessons from the Program in practice...

By Ken Morgan

Ken Morgan

Jesus was right: “Love your neighbour…do this and you will live.”

Writers such as Australians Andrew Menzies and Dean Phelan, and American Bishop Robert Schnase, provide multiple examples of growth resulting from churches meaningfully and effectively meeting a need in the community in a tangible, practical way. In the Parish Renewal Program, it’s most often been the churches that show practical, intentional love to people outside of their congregation that have experienced significant growth.

Peter Drucker was right: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Because Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples”, I built the Parish Renewal Program on the Pathways concept: a demonstrably effective way to organise the church around disciple-making. Simple, right? Experience in the field has been a little more complex.

I’m led to suspect that many parishioners, and perhaps even some clergy, are yet to be convinced that the church should be in the disciple-making business. We need to address culture (the “Why?” question) before we get to strategy (the “How?” question).

Leonard Sweet was right: “Change is life, stagnation is death. If you don’t change, you die.”

Churches seeking to avoid closing at all costs will probably decline and close anyway, especially if they’re trying to preserve what’s familiar and comforting. Growth of a church, like growth in humans, involves change that can be uncomfortable. Jesus said: “Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.” I think this applies to churches as well as individuals. Churches that are willing to risk upsetting the apple-cart by doing something different often have a better shot at turning around. 

Bob Jackson’s research in the UK indicates that change – even if it’s a little ill-considered – tends to correlate with growth. Conversely, Jackson describes some churches as being on “the magic roundabout”, where the various seasons and celebrations of church year proceed one after the other, and each year the forms remain more-or-less identical. The only change is that the congregation becomes older and dwindles. Change disrupts the comfortable and familiar.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne were right: “Sunday is Game Day.”

The current Parish Renewal Program has specifically avoided tinkering with the worship service, partially because it frequently leads to parish conflict, and partially because it can lead to an internal rather than an outward focus. I have respected authors such as Mike Frost, Hugh Halter, Neil Cole and Mike Breen for support. 

However, perhaps even more church growth writers, including James Mallon, Christian Schwarz, George Barna and Thom Rainer, emphasise the importance of an excellent weekend public worship services. Weekend worship continues to be a major point of entry for unchurched people into parish life. It’s a make-or-break point for parishes, so we need to address it.

In 2021, I hope to introduce some pilot programs to put this learning into practice. Watch this space.


Ken Morgan is Head of Parish Mission and Resourcing (Acting) for the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.

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