What If Churches Were Missional Outposts?

In March, we were able to hold our 2nd Urban Legacy Gathering, where twenty-two San Francisco PCUSA churches gathered together. This time we were able to gather ALL 22! Since this was the second gathering, we wanted to continue the energy and excitement from the last gathering. While the first gathering focused on getting to know each other and coming up with a collective “legacy” to live into, this gathering balanced providing a big picture plan and opportunities to collaborate.

The main theme of the gathering was shifting our perspective from being 22 individual congregations to being one church with 22 missional outposts. How different would we be and do church if we viewed ourselves as missionaries in our particular neighborhoods? For one, we would consider 22 PCUSA churches in a 7 x 7 mile city not as too many but as not enough. We would imagine the many neighborhoods where ministry is possible. We would stop judging each other as who is viable and who is not and see each other for what we uniquely offer. We would no longer feel like we have to do it all, but how we could partner and share.

So, this is what we came up with as way to begin shifting our focus:

Missional Legacy

For congregations who are discerning their viability and want to process the legacy they wish to leave, have a discernment team to walk with them and access resources for them.

There are some local resources that are forming and cropping up to address this like Presbytery Associates (Retired or Members-At-Large Minister Members) who have expertise in financial assistance or real estate and the Lazarus Project who could provide guidance in the process of discerning the legacy the church would like to leave.

Missional Church Development

For congregations who don’t have the financial resources for a full-time pastor and still have the energy to do “something,” have them be a training post for seminarians or recent graduates.

Providing hands-on opportunities for seminarians and recent graduates to plan worship, preach regularly, and experience the joys and struggles of working in a parish is a gift that these churches can offer. In return, they will have some stability in having someone provide pastoral care and leading worship. Local veteran pastors can provide support, guidance, and whatever is needed to cover internship requirements for the seminarian or recent graduate.

Missional Initiatives

For congregations (especially racial ethnic or smaller congregations) who struggle to find the skilled leadership, have lay leaders trained and skilled to provide leadership in their particular context.

By providing affordable retreats for pastors and lay leaders, churches can benefit by having a wealth of skilled lay leaders. In May, we are offering an affordable retreat and bringing in speakers for those who want to continue the conversation of missional leadership. We were able to get free housing and use of San Francisco Theological Seminary at no cost so that the fee was minimal.

Also, the Presbytery of San Francisco transformed a church building that is no longer in use into an Education Center for Commissioned Lay Leaders. They will provide classes in Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.

Missional Collaboratives

For congregations who want to partner around different issues and ministries, provide opportunities for these churches to gather, plan, brainstorm, and collaborate.

Some of the ideas that came out of the second gathering were forming a city-wide youth group, address housing and homelessness issues, how to welcome interfaith families, nursing home ministry, and how to reach the “unchurched.”

One of the next steps is gathering some of the pastors and elders at the last gathering to brainstorm ways that we can connect with each other. Some ideas are to have a Pulpit Switch day. What if someone from every church agreed to switch and preach at a different church? Another idea is to have a Sunday where all twenty-two churches worship in one place. I don’t know if any of these ideas are possible, but it is fun to dream of ways we can actually get to know each other and see each other’s church in action.

Well, that’s it. That’s where we are starting. I’m excited to see how this lives out and transforms from here. If anything, it’s wonderful to redefine what makes a church healthy, valuable, and worthy.

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