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

At the Next conference, I shared about a gathering where we gathered the 22 churches in San Francisco to see how we could better partner with one another and address some of the issues that urban churches face. The first gathering was getting to know each other and putting together a document that named our collective legacy as 22 PCUSA churches.

This second gathering we wanted to think more big picture as well as come away with concrete ideas for networking and partnering. 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 Committee on Ministry. With supplies, food, and daycare, we budgeted $500.

Here are the details of the process we went through and the topics discussed. The process was similar to the first one, but we used a different process modality. You can view pictures of the gathering here.


Gathering Songs – singing songs to bring us together.

Lighting the Christ Candle

Opening Prayer –

What are your hopes?

What are your expectations?

The Welcome – Welcoming One Another

  • Welcome from pastor from host church

Community Building –

Participants were invited to cut out images and words to answer the following questions about their church. They made a collage from their clippings. Then, pastors and elders from each church were invited to share their collage.

  • On the church template, what are you proud of about your church? What identifies your church?
  • On the outline of the church template, what is your church lacking or missing?


We then spent time hearing from Rev. JD Ward who has done a lot of work around missional leadership. He talked about moving from a perspective of 22 individual PCUSA churches to one church with 22 mission outposts. If we looked at ourselves as missionaries, we would look at how our churches engage with the city much differently than we do now. Functioning as a church is very different than functioning as a mission outpost.



Open Space Time – Participants were invited to throw out topic that they would like to have and then brok up into small groups to talk about those topics and then we gathered back together to harvest the ideas and share them with the larger group. Participants were asked to follow the following Open Space guidelines.

  • What topics would you like to talk about?
  • How’d you like to network and partner?

What Is Open Space?

Open Space is a time for people to gather in small groups around an interested topic. You pick the topic.

Open Space Guidelines:

  • Whoever comes is the right person.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • When it’s over, it’s over.
  • The Law of Mobility: if you are neither learning nor contributing, join another session where you will be inspired.
  • Be prepared to be surprised.
Conversation Guidelines: Please practice and encourage these conversation guidelines.
  • Open-mindedness: Listen to and respect all points of view.
  • Acceptance: Suspend judgment as best you can.
  • Curiosity: Seek to understand rather than persuade.
  • Discovery: Question assumptions, look for new insights.
  • Sincerity: Speak what has personal heart and meaning.
  • Brevity: Go for honesty and depth but don’t go on and on.
  • Use Law of Mobility: Take responsibility for your participation. If you feel you are neither contributing nor learning where you are, join another session where you will be inspired.
Conversation Host Guidelines: 

Thank you for being willing to host an Open Space conversation at a presbytery meeting. The process is simple. Email the Meetings Working Group your topic and a brief paragraph describing the topic. The Meetings Working Group will be in contact with you. Topics are considered depending on the presbytery meeting schedule. Open Space time is usually one hour long.

During Your Conversation: 

Remember the six guidelines of Open Space.

Remember you are the host! This is not a workshop but a place to host good conversation around your idea or topic. Trust that what the Spirit wants to say will emerge in the space of open and honest conversation.

When you are ready to begin, read the Conversation Guidelines to your group, briefly introduce yourself and the topic, encourage visual harvesting and begin.

Harvest your conversation by taking notes on the Harvesting Sheet or providing some type of visual. Take a picture of the harvested notes or turn them into a presbytery staff person so that they can be shared on the website.

With 5 minutes left, make connections and discern any important insights that can also be harvested for future partnerships or networking.

The Big Picture –

We then had the participants break out into four groups. This was to a glimpse of a part of a big picture about how we can collectively address some of the issues our urban churches face. The groups were:

  • Missional Legacy – for churches who are looking at their future and assets and interested in some type of assessment
  • Missional Church Development – churches who can’t afford a pastor be a training post for seminarians or recent grads interested in more urban ministry training
  • Missional Initiatives – a clump of churches who can train lay leaders
  • Missional Collaboratives – topics and projects that churches want to partner and collaborate on

Going Out

  • Song of Response
  • Praying together – We began the day with a map of San Francisco and did a collage of the individual churches which was added to the map. For closing prayer, participants were invited to add a word or image to the map that described the 22 mission outposts as one church.

  • 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. We are truly making it up as we go along and look forward to seeing how these gatherings build on one another.

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

6 thoughts on “How to Shape Conversations in the 21st Century? Part III

  1. Pingback: sfurbanlegacy

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