How to Shape Conversations in the 21st Century? Part II

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18.20)

Back in February, I led a process sponsored by the six agencies of the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Office of General Assembly, Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, Presbyterian Church Foundation, Investment and Loan Program, and General Assembly Mission Council). The conversations were focused on different aspects of leadership. (You can read about the process here.) However, during the gathering, a discussion about dying churches sprang up. It’s interesting that when church people gather around whatever the topic, it always seems to lead to dying churches. This got me thinking about my own context. I am a Presbyterian associate pastor in San Francisco that has twenty-two Presbyterian churches in a seven by seven mile area. Many of the churches are struggling for a variety of reasons.

In a previous blog, I shared more thoughts on this and what led to planning a gathering of all twenty-two San Francisco Presbyterian churches. We called the gathering, the Urban Legacy Convocation. Every church was invited to send two representatives (1 pastor & 1 elder or 2 elders). We provided daycare for those who had children. Although the gathering was a grassroots effort and planned by San Francisco pastors, the gathering was financially supported by the Presbytery. With supplies, food, honorariums, and daycare, we budgeted a little over $1000.

Here are the details of the process we went through and the topics discussed. The process was similar to the one mentioned above, but tailored to the San Francisco context. You can view pictures of the gathering here. Throughout the gathering, there was an artist (who is also a local pastor) who created a visual piece as she listened, observed, and interacted with the participants.

Gathering Together

Gathering Songs – singing songs to bring us together.

Lighting the Christ Candle

Opening Prayer –

Lord, this candle that we have lit,

May it be a Light from you

to lighten our way

thru difficulties and decisions.

May it be a Fire from You

to burn up our selfishness,

our pride and all that is impure within us.

May it be a Flame from You

to warm our hearts and teach us to love.

Lord, this candle is a little bit of ourselves

that we offer to You.

Help us to continue our prayer

in all that we do this day. Amen.

The Welcome – Welcoming One Another

  • Housekeeping Issues – where’s the bathroom?
  • Purpose of the gathering
  • History of how we got here
  • Introduction of facilitator and artist interpreter

Community Building – Who Are We?

  • Write down what you bring to this gathering?
  • Write down one expectation you have of this gathering?

Chronological Order:

How many of you live in San Francisco? How many of you have ever lived in San Francisco? (Dependent upon answer adjust the following):

Line up in order of how long you have lived in San Francisco. (Randomly choose some people to share how long they have lived in San Francisco.)


  • How many were here when the SF Giants almost won the World Series in 1962?
  • How many went downtown to watch the SF Giants parade when they won the World Series last year?
  • How many were here during the 1989 earthquake? Where were you?
  • How many were here when Harvey Milk was supervisor and was killed?

Would You Rather: (According to their preference and answer have participants move to opposite ends of the room. Then have them get in groups of two or three to discuss the question in parenthesis.)

  • read an awesome book or watch a movie? (What is the last book you read or movie you watched?)
  • go to Starbucks or Peet’s? Non-coffee drinkers, go in the middle. (What is your favorite hangout spot in SF?)
  • have a mansion in the middle of nowhere or a small apartment downtown? (Share one thing you love and hate about living in SF.)
  • tweet or facebook? If you do neither, go in the middle. (How do you find technology to be relevant in your church?)
  • be stuck in the Caldecott Tunnel or on the Bay Bridge?
  • live in perpetual San Francisco fog or Central Valley heat?
  • swim to Alcatraz or surf with the sharks at Ocean Beach?
  • always say everything on your mind or never speak again? (What is an important truth that your church is facing?)

Make a Map on the Floor: (Left – Pacific Ocean; Front – the Bay; Right – East Bay; Back – South Bay

Walk to where you live. Notice your location. Now walk to where you go to church.


  • How many stayed within the same neighborhood? How many traveled 5-7 miles? How many crossed a bridge or traveled more than 7 miles?
  • Is your church racial ethnic? Multi-cultural? White?
  • How old is your church? Over 100? 50-100? 25-50? 10-25? < 10?
  • How many have a weekly food pantry?
  • How many feel your church is in transition?
  • How many feel their church needs a new vision or direction?

Introductions and Sharing – Learn about One Another Using Mutual Invitation.

  • Share your name, whether you are an elder or pastor, your church, and complete the sentence:
  • For elders – “I go to [church] because . . .” (sharing should be no more than a minute.)
  • For pastors – “I feel called to serve at [church] because. . .” (sharing should be no more than a minute.)


Discern Together – World Cafe Conversations

  • Explain World Café Process (5 min)
  • Answer the World Cafe questions – (20 minutes each)
  • Large group reporting and feedback (1 hr)

There were four topics. We set up eight tables (2 tables with same topic) with 5-6 participants at each table. Each table had a table host who kept the conversation flowing.

For fun, instead of numbering the tables, they were identified according to San Francisco landmarks: AT & T Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, Mission Delores, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, Ocean Beach, San Francisco Zoo, and Union Square.

Each participant was given a World Cafe map that directed them to the tables they were to go to next.

Below are the World Cafe questions used:

Topic 1: Leadership

Reflecting on leadership:

  1. To move a church into the future what leadership qualities are needed?
  2. What images express this type of leader? (coach, shepherd, servant, etc.)
  3. What are the products or results of effective leadership?
  4. How does one measure the effectiveness of this type of leader?

Topic 2: Context

  1. What are the particular aspects of being in San Francisco that provide unique challenges to our ministry?
  2. What are the particular aspects of being in San Francisco that enhance our church’s ability to do ministry?
  3. Given the diversity of neighborhoods in San Francisco, how are we relevant in our neighborhood and community?
  4. Does the presence of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in San Francisco matter at all and why?

Table 3: Challenges

  1. What are the challenges of Presbyterian churches in San Francisco?
  2. What barriers hinder our ministry? How does church building or facility use enhance or hinder our ministry?
  3. What are the things that are difficult to let go of from when a church was at its peak?
  4. What traditions and rituals hinder our ministry and are hard to let go of?

Table 4: Future Legacy

  1. When you think about the 22 Presbyterian congregations in San Francisco, what do you dream our collective legacy to be? How do we go about living into that legacy?
  2. What do you feel is missing or lacking in our collective ministry or presence in San Francisco?
  3. Knowing the diversity of San Francisco (socio-economically, racial ethnically, life experiences), what do we value together? (hunger issues, youth ministry, racial ethnic ministries, etc.)

Respond Together

  • Next Steps – discuss in large group suggestions for next steps.
  • Artist Interpreter shares her gleanings and observations

Into the World Together

  • Song of Response
  • Praying together – There was a map of San Francisco. Participants were invited to light a candle and say a prayer regarding what they experienced from the day.

  • Lord’s Prayer
  • Closing Song
  • Benediction

I share the process because I believe the model worked well to generate and foster good conversations, especially in the midst of diversity. I believe that this model levels any possible hierarchy or division.

Feel free to use and adapt this process. I look forward to hearing your own experiences if you choose to use this process.

11 thoughts on “How to Shape Conversations in the 21st Century? Part II

  1. Theresa, I have so enjoyed your posts! You have helped me begin to think more creatively about worship! Thanks so much for your posts!

    BTW – where did you get those colored tealight candles?

    1. Wonderful Mary! I got the colored tealight candles, frames, and table vases at IKEA. They were 99 cents a piece. The tealight candles were also really inexpensive.

  2. Pingback: sfurbanlegacy

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