Continuity Team Recommendation to Session

February 2018


The Continuity Team (originally called the Transition Team) was appointed by Session to make recommendations about a way forward for Calvary in the wake of the resignation of John Weems as Head of Staff. The hope was to avoid the kind of lengthy interim period that followed Laird Stuart’s departure in 2010. The Continuity Team commenced work in the following areas:
1)Planning for pastoral staffing through December 2017 (with Personnel Mission Team taking thelead).
2)Developing a process for review of the 2011 Mission Study to determine if it was still valid, with theunderstanding that pastoral staffing should be in service to Calvary’s mission.
3)Determining the long-term pastoral leadership needs of the congregation, with consideration ofnumber of pastors, Head of Staff with Associate(s) or Co-pastor model, or some other leadershipmodel; budgetary restraints were a consideration as well.
4)Soliciting direct input from the congregation with regard to the Church’s mission, staffing and otherfactors.
The CT met in person and by conference call numerous times over the past 6 months.
1)We organized two congregational forums, each held on a Sunday, with an independent facilitator, toelicit input from the congregation on the mission of Calvary.
2)We reviewed more than 50 email communications sent to a special Continuity Team email address.
3)We reported regularly to Session on progress, and shared a summary of the notes from the forumsas well as the email communications with them.
4)We communicated regularly with the congregation through various means—USPS, email, newsletterarticles, pulpit announcements, and the church’s website.
5)Based on our work, Session determined that Calvary did not require a new Mission Study, but it wasnoted that there were significant differences of opinion about some aspects of our life together as acongregation. While the overarching goals, mission and purpose stated in the 2011 Mission Studystill feel relevant, we have changed and grown as a congregation and some type of update oraddendum to reflect this may be necessary. For example, the term “social justice” was onlymentioned once in the 2011 Mission Study but since then it has become a larger part of our churchdialog. (Note: Presbytery may require us to produce some sort of mission document.)
6)In order to inform our inquiry with regard to current trends in mainline churches today, were viewed several articles and other literature on the religious climate in the United States and in California, and noted that, contrary to national trends, Calvary had added 147 new members in the past several years. We provided the Session with a bibliography of several articles in the CT October 2017 Report.
7) We undertook to interview a representative cohort of newer members at Calvary to determine what drew them to Calvary, what kept them coming, etc.
8) We undertook to interview a representative cohort of longer-term members at Calvary to see what had drawn them to Calvary, what kept them coming, and what their sense of the church is now.
9) We arranged for Pnuematrix (Jim Kitchens and Deborah Wright) to make a presentation to Session (including Session members elected to terms starting January 2018) and Foundation trustees about the religious landscape and adaptive change.

Major Themes – from Congregation (forums, emails, interviews, analysis of New Member input)

1) Social Justice – this is a topic that came up in a majority of emails, interviews and forum comments. There is a vocal group that equates social justice with politics, which they believe does not belong in the church. Many in this group also felt that there was an assumption by leadership that we should all feel the same way on controversial social issues. However, there is an equally vocal group, including many new members, who view social justice conversations positively and believe that Calvary should be at the forefront in discussing and taking action on these issues.
2) Preaching – for the most part, our pastors received compliments on their preaching. There was appreciation for our sermons because they are “stimulating”, “make me think”, and “feel relevant.” Again, a common theme was the amount of social justice (or politics) that is present in the pulpit. Even though many of these respondents feel very good about the state of Calvary’s missions, they expressed a desire for a break from the issues of the day. Another common theme was a desire for more biblically based sermons, or more incorporation of scripture within them.
3) Music – Overwhelmingly, respondents praised the quality of Calvary’s music. A few people objected to jazz or anything contemporary, but for the most part the quality and variety of music is highly valued. A few expressed distain for clapping after the choir or soloists sing.
4) Missions and Programs – In large part, people are pleased with programs for Children, Families, Youth and Seniors. Volunteer opportunities feel appropriate, although there were comments about not enough people taking advantage of them. Several people wished for more adult Bible study opportunities.
5) Finances – a number of the members that were interviewed have experience and knowledge about Calvary’s budget. For the most part, these were longer term members, many who have served on Session, Finance or Property over the years. There is concern about drawing down the Church’s reserves. This topic did not generally come up with people that have not been involved in financial leadership positions, perhaps indicating a lack of knowledge about the Church’s fiscal status.
6) Grounded in Tradition but Not “Stodgy” – many positive comments about the traditional aspect of our main worship service, but often with a contemporary twist. Several people commented that Calvary “combines old and new” well. The traditional worship format offers some comfort because it is familiar, yet the incorporation of contemporary music and different music styles, strong messages of inclusiveness, interfaith opportunities, and a focus on mission work makes the church feel relevant. Several appreciate that it is not overly “formal”, “stuffy” or “stodgy”.
7) Community – quite a few new member and long-term members mentioned the welcoming, friendly atmosphere at Calvary. Some long-time members commented that the church community feels warmer and more welcoming to outsiders than in the past. Many people commented that the church’s “inclusive” message and truly welcoming and accepting spirit is very appealing.
8) Our Building – some people expressed that the beautiful building, stained glass windows and light, bright space makes a difference for them. There is appreciation for Calvary’s historic, landmark building and it draws some people to the church.

Major Themes – from External Articles and Experts 1
(1 From articles listed in CT’s October 2017 Report to Session, from presentation from Pneumatrix, and from 2018 Leadership Retreat speaker, Rev. Floyd Thompkins.)

1) Mainline churches are declining 2% a year. More people are claiming to be “unaffiliated” with a specific religion. And active members also don’t come as often so churches ‘feel’ like they are shrinking more even more. That said, there is still a strong yearning for spiritual satisfaction.
2) Churches sometimes die because they are too inwardly focused and/or unwilling to change. The people who have the most to lose are the most resistant, but change must connect with the “core DNA of the existing church.”
3) There is hope for attracting Millennials and engaging the Millennial giver. “They must be the future of a church in attendance and giving… They have a desire to connect with and give to causes they care about.” “Engage their hearts.” “They believe the world needs changing and they are the generation to do it.” Explain what their gifts support directly (transparency), make it convenient for them to give, and align their gifts with faith and Jesus’ generosity. Focus on developing them spiritually.
4) Many churches are experiencing the need to revisit their mission and strategies and discern what to change and what to keep, in order to attract new members and sustain. Many churches feel a need to do something different, yet their current strategies/ministries hold a lot of meaning for the current membership. “What do we do when the ways we witness bring us comfort but no one outside the church is paying attention?” “The art of leadership lies in discerning when to press for the new, when to maintain speed and direction for the established, and when to let go of the no longer effective – and then bring others along in executing these moves.” Ultimately, Mission Statements matter but the impact a church makes in the world will matter more, in terms of growth. Can others in the community see evidence of a church’s impact?
5) Sometimes the elephant in the room is the room. Some congregations decline and become a small church in a big building, which is hard to sustain. This is the path some churches are trying to navigate.
6) One view of managing change: To thrive, opposing groups must be willing to “envision a shared future together”, embrace the risks involved in creating trust, accept painful losses and acknowledge that the other side will be accepting similar losses, and work together. Start with where people are. Have a plan but keep iterating as you learn from the “others” in your congregation. Build empathy. Listen.

As the demographics in the country keep changing, churches will need to keep evolving – safeguarding the integrity of what deserves protecting, giving other things up, and creating new ways to be and make a difference that are relevant.


After considering all of the input we received, as well as our own observations of the way things have gone over the past several months, with Joann and Victor serving as Acting Co-Pastors, we recommend as follows:

1) Calvary needs a strong Head of Staff (“HOS”) to provide excellent preaching, to be the ‘steward’ of our mission, to be a visible leader within the church and in the larger community. The HOS needs to have skills in change management, but also needs the emotional and theological maturity to help bridge differences in a large, historic, diverse, urban congregation. Having a HOS that can lead an increasingly diverse church (diverse points of view) towards a “vision for a shared future” is critical for long-term strength of the congregation. To continue thriving, Calvary, like all other congregations, will need to continue evolving, deciding what to give up and what to add. This will require strong, graceful leadership, that can deftly bring together differing groups, build empathy among them and inspire working together. Changes in Calvary’s direction and style over the last five years appear to have been instrumental in attracting many of our newer members.

2) Calvary would best be served by a HOS and two associate pastors as we have generally had over the past several decades. Ideally, this HOS would be able to work with our two pastors, leveraging their strengths and passions while serving as a mentor. This would allow Calvary to continue to offer excellent worship services with first class preaching, valued by almost everyone, as well as to continue with excellent pastoral care for our members and friends in need. We would also be able to continue to offer opportunities for spiritual growth, education and fellowship that build community and also inspire many to serve our neighbors in need. While Victor and Joann have stepped up admirably, particularly in preaching much more often than they previously had, without a HOS who can take on most of the preaching obligations, some of our ministries will have to be reduced. [Indeed, there are already indications that some things are slipping through the cracks. Two pastors cannot do the work of three, and although some tasks that were performed by John have been assigned to non-clergy staff, there is still slippage.]Clearly, the financial implications of a three pastor model have to be dealt with if we move forward with this recommendation.

3) Our ability to implement these recommendations will depend on the congregation’s willingness to sharply increase annual giving. Over the past five years, we have not been able to balance the church’s budget with a combination of pledge payments and other annual revenue, combined with a 4% ‘draw’ from the Calvary Foundation. We have used significant funds from the church’s ‘savings’ or ‘reserves’ to balance the budget. These are funds that are separate from the Calvary Foundation and have been accumulated over the years for the purpose of covering capital expenditures and unexpected expenses such as roof leaks and repairs to the stained glass windows. The Finance Committee believes that it would be imprudent to continue to use those funds to fill normal operating budget shortfalls such that the savings/reserves go below $2 million. It may be necessary
to request that the Foundation increase the annual draw for a period of time in order to give a new HOS the appropriate amount of time and resources.

4) The Session should develop a presentation for the congregation that shows the impact of going from a Head of Staff with two full-time Associate Pastors to a Head of Staff with one full-time Associate Pastor. What activities and programs would have to be reduced or eliminated to enable a long-term HOS/one Associate model to become reality? There may be two or three different scenarios that could be developed—with different programs/ministries reduced. Then, the congregation needs to be challenged to step up, financially, even while we are in transition. While we might also ask the Foundation Trustees to provide additional financial support for a set number of years, we should not move forward with a three-person pastoral staff without sustained financial commitments from the congregation, which will demonstrate a commitment to the future.

Next Steps

Short Term:

1) Session votes at its February 6 meeting on whether we want to (1) seek a HOS for Calvary and put the wheels in motion to form a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC); (2) continue with a co-pastor model with our existing pastors, or; (3) appoint one of our existing pastors as HOS under a two pastor staffing model.
2) Session votes at its February 6 meeting on the “intent” to have a three pastor model. This decision cannot be finalized without understanding commitments from the Foundation but knowing the strong desire/intent of this Session will inform work going forward, such as: the type of work to do with the congregation, and whether to continue through the transition period, the ministries we started under a 3-pastor model.
3) If Session pursues a three pastor model, it will need to ensure that a reasonable staffing plan is in place to lead the church in the interim.
4) Continuity Team will draft a communication of Session’s decisions on February 6 such that it can be sent to the congregation well in advance of the March 11 Congregational Meeting.
5) Inform Presbytery COM of decision immediately after the February 6 meeting [NOTE: CT and certain Elders are meeting with COM at their request prior to the February 6 meeting].
6) Key members of Session to meet with Foundation Trustees to enlist specific financial support throughout the transition.
7) Appoint a team to update or append the 2011 Mission Study Report, to reflect our (a) learnings about the religious landscape, (b) the current differences of opinion within the congregation, (c) the changes we’ve made in ministries, staffing, style/approaches, etc. (d) and the direction we want to head (or at least our hypotheses of what we’ll need to keep/change/modify for continued growth).
a. This work could be led by the existing CT, or a modified CT (some members may need to drop off).
b. Try to do this work while the Nominating Committee begins working to identify possible members for a PNC.
8) Assign some elders to design meeting format for upcoming Annual Congregational Meeting (in March) to encourage attendance, more participation during the meeting, and increase perception of transparency.

Longer Term:

9) Have subset of elders consider ways to keep building empathy within the congregation during the search process. Waiting for a new HOS to lead this isn’t prudent. We will be more attractive to candidates if we can demonstrate how we are working to build bridges, while continuing to expand or alter ministries, and experiment. May also want to establish way to keep in sync with PNC as they identify candidates, learn about other churches, and begin to realize directions that top candidates are likely to take. While the PNC continues to identify the best HOS, the Session could take their “in-process learning” and find ways to prepare the congregation.

ADDENDUM: Questions / Considerations for Session as We Prepare to Call a HOS

1) How can we plan for living within our means and still offer the kinds of ministries that have enabled us to bring in 147 new members over the past 4 ½ years? How can we avoid becoming a ‘dying church’?
2) Are we truly a ‘missional church’? From the Todd Bolsinger Webinar (he wrote “Canoeing the Mountains”, which was recommended by Deborah and Jim): “Change must connect with the core DNA of the existing church.” Also, on understanding and protecting our identity, he asks, “What must we conserve? Most of us want to conserve more than we let go—too much. Let some things go but hold onto the core seed and it will grow.” Have we really identified Calvary’s core DNA? Do we have to be or become a ‘missional church’ in order to grow and thrive? Bolsinger says that if we stay as what he calls a ‘classic church’, with ‘preaching, programming, and pastoral care’, we will shrink. Do we have critical mass to continue to move us toward becoming a ‘missional church’?
3) From Deborah Wright: ‘Your budget is your mission statement.’ Is the lack of giving by the congregation a signal that the church is not willing to be ‘missional’?
4) From Peter Whitelock: “Do we want the church to grow? Everyone says ‘yes’, but when faced with the substantial changes required to survive, most choose to die.” See also “Why Dying Churches Die”.
5) Is our non-pastoral staff too big? It is not realistic to think we can rely on volunteers for many things the staff is now doing, such as maintaining the membership database, handling our communications, including the website and social media presence, taking over most of ‘pastoral care’, etc. If we reduce programs/ministries, what does the support staff look like? Some members of the congregation think staff cuts are needed.
6) From Mary Lynn Tobin, after reading the 2011 Mission Study and before the forums: The Mission Study is doing its best not to offend anyone. There is no information about the world around Calvary/potential new members. A church cannot be all things to all people. Also from MLT: Are we a congregation where we can talk about things, or are we a congregation where we won’t offend anyone?
7) Question asked at the forums: If Calvary disappeared, who would miss it?
8) Question posed in the Burlingame Presbyterian Church’s mission study questionnaire: If you weren’t a member already, would you come to church here?
9) On leadership, Peter Whitelock and Todd Bolsinger both quoted Tom Peters: “Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.” Bolsinger went on to say that leadership can require ‘taking people where they don’t want to go’. He refers to a book, “Failure of Nerve” by Ed Friedman, and says “It’s a waste of time to try to motivate people who don’t want to change.” Bolsinger goes on to say that, instead of wasting time trying to change people who don’t want to change, you have to keep changing but still maintain connections with those who don’t like it. He admits that this is hard for a leader to do.
10) From Todd Bolsinger: “People decide whether a particular church/congregation is a good fit for them within 5 minutes.”