Signposts of St. Timothy’s Future

Saint Timothy (ortodox icon)
St. Timothy via Wikipedia

Two years ago as part of the formative stages of our 20/20 Vision long term strategic planning process, I offered our working group a concept of using scenario analysis as a way of engaging and involving the congregation in a transparent process of thinking out loud about our parish future.

Scenarios are a powerful tool for strategic planning.  They are NOT predictions or forecasts.  Rather they are stories that describe plausible alternative futures that are used to ‘rehearse’ alternative strategies for what God is calling St. Timothy’s to be for that future.  Like role-play they give us permission to think outside the box, to imagine alternative possibilities and in so doing create a shared language among the congregation participants to identify options, evaluate them objectively and choose the strategies for mission and ministry that best live into our values by listening for God’s call to us as we go about this adult version of Godly Play.

Scenarios of St. Timothy’s Future

Below are summaries of the four scenarios presented in that 20/20 Vision exercise.  For each scenario I have tried to identify a series of signposts or events over the last two years that offer clues about which scenario pathway we might be traveling:

Doubling Down 

  • Parish focus is growing membership and the revenue base to double membership by 2020 and make the parish a hub for community activity.
  • Active evangelism and marketing outreach to both the unchurched and underserved in the service area brings more people to first try out and then join the church.
  • With a focus on youth ministry, music and young family services the parish is a constant buzz of activity.
  • Strong outreach and pastoral care programs and staff based on targeted services to population segments from seniors to singles supported by a large intergenerational volunteer corps and growing use of seminarians and deacons assigned by the Bishop to support shared Diocesan programs.
  • Capital program focus is on new parish hall/education space with gym and kid-attracting programs.  The Youth floor in Grace House becomes an adult programs space and new kitchen, dining and meeting space expands campus use and pledges soar.

Doubling Down Signposts

  • Steve Mason starts a new evangelism ministry organizing a table at the Danville Saturday market to introduce people to St. Timothy’s in a non-threatening, welcoming way.
  • Bishop Marc initiates a Dougherty Valley mission strategy inviting St. Timothy’s, St. Clare’s-Pleasanton, and St. Bartholomew’s-Livermore to work with the Diocese to reach out to the unchurched and underserved in the fast growing, ethnically diverse Dougherty Valley.
  • Episcopal Charities Action Networks are formed in each Deanery.  St. Timothy’s actively participates in Contra Costa Deanery process along with other parishes.  We discover to our surprise that many congregations are supporting the same outreach ministry needs yet little collaboration or cooperation is going on between us.

Transformation Mission

  • Financial pressures on the Diocese of California worsen.
  • Average Diocese daily attendance flat for years declines with revenue stagnating.
  • The mission of the church is weakened by financial problems and half the parishes are not self-sustaining.
  • To avoid conflicts and restore Diocesan finance a transformation mission strategy emerges from dialogue of clergy and lay leaders.  The bold plan consolidates 79 parishes to 35 in five years.
  • Using an area ministry strategy, larger parishes absorb small ones, manage transitions, serve multi-site congregation needs and end Diocesan subsidies and cutting costs to balance budgets.
  • Executive Council uses surplus property sales to create a Diocesan Mission Growth fund for endowment income for shared program ministry costs by parishes.
  • The transformation mission strategy restores a sustainable Diocesan finance base, builds its endowment and focuses its mission to double average attendance in five years with stronger programs, shared staff and collaboration.

Transformation Mission Signposts

  • As pledge income falls the Diocese cuts its budget by $300,000 for 2012 continuing to critically assess mission and ministry programs to identify the highest priority needs.
  • Diocesan assessment is reduced to 17% from 20% reflecting the slow economic recovery and its continuing effects on the congregations, but fears of further pledge income erosion results in contingency planning for additional budget cuts and assessment reductions.
  • St. Timothy’s pledge income is still falling and it faces a $162,000 deficit for 2011 appealing to congregation members to increase giving to close the gap.
  • Bishop Marc launches a new Area Ministry Strategy in East Contra Costa County seeking to leverage the combined strength of three congregations struggling to serve the Brentwood-Antioch area with support from the stronger Contra Costa Deanery parishes in exploring new ways to ‘do church’ through collaborative area ministry.
  • St. Timothy’s dispute over Diocesan assessment formula opens collaborative discussions between the Bishop and parish over solving the problem in ways that advance the transformative mission work of the church through the area ministry strategy.

Aging Gracefully 

  • Parish focus is serving the needs of current members. While we welcome all newcomers there is no marketing for growth.
  • Membership size stays about the same but ages over time reflecting service area demographics. Young families are attracted to Noah’s Ark preschool but often do not join the parish or pledge.
  • Youth programs remain but churn is high as kids out grow the limited programs or get involved in sports or other non church activities.
  • In 2020 St Timothy’s looks about the same but parish hall/education wing have been replaced with addition to Grace House catering mostly to adult programs.
  • Pledge levels remain relatively flat but the steady loss of major pledges as members age challenge the parish financially.
  • Turnover of members increases especially young families but the parish muddles through with flat budget and little growth.

Aging Gracefully Signposts

  • Pledge levels at St. Timothy’s fall along with the economy with a loss of several large pledges due to retirements, moving away or lay-offs pledge income falls with a projected $162,000 deficit for 2011.
  • Attendance grows modestly especially at the traditional 11am service but the parish continues to attract people ‘trying us out’ a good sign of green shoots of growth.

Following Paul 

  • St. Timothy’s takes on a new mission challenge but instead of planting a new church in Dougherty Valley it chooses instead a social outreach ministry targeted on the underserved in the Monument Corridor.
  • Working with other groups a property is leased and multi-service program is developed to serve client needs.  Parish participation is expansive at first then settles into a smaller but dedicated outreach group.
  • By 2020 St. Timothy’s is providing more than 50% of the total cost of the mission program as a combination of budgeted outreach, leveraged grants and fundraising projects.
  • The parish focus shifts from youth ministry to outreach as a result and membership stays about the same but ages along with the demographics.
  • Youth ministry is built around confirmation and work in the outreach programs with more participation by high school ages.

Following Paul Signposts

  • Episcopal Charities Action Networks in Contra Costa Deanery reveals that many congregations are supporting the same outreach ministry needs especially in the Monument Corridor yet little collaboration or cooperation is going on between us.  Participation in the EC action networks process of allocating funding opens stronger communications ties between parishes.
  • 20/20 Vision surveys says Outreach is a common bond across parish age groups suggesting that strategies that encourage participation in outreach efforts could be a solid foundation for both ‘soft’ evangelism by attracting the unchurched and under-served to join with us as well as getting existing parish members more actively involved in an outreach program.
  • Plant a Mission Church 50th Anniversary goal is alive and well as evidenced by the collaborate work beginning with the Diocese and other parishes on mission outreach to Dougherty Valley, coordinating outreach efforts for the Monument corridor across parishes, and joining forced for a new area ministry strategy to serve the Brentwood- Antioch area

Signpost Lessons

  1. St. Timothy’s current year budget deficit is not because we are in-between Rectors   The parish deficit is caused by the loss of several large pledges due to retirements, moving away, or the lousy economy. From my experience as Rector’s Warden I suspect that as much as 50% of the current deficit is the result of lost or reduced pledging by as few as 10-12 people.  We have always had a concentration problem of being too dependent upon a few large pledges for a big share of the budget.  In a bad economy it often bites us as it is today.
  2. The biggest risk a parish faces in the interim period is complacency, but St. Timothy’s isn’t being complacent about its financial situation.  The actions the Vestry and staff have taken to reduce expenses and conserve cash reserves have served us well.  The appeal for increased pledge giving is timely and we will see whether the response makes a difference in closing the gap, but new pledges typically are a fraction of the size of the largest pledges being lost.  It takes 2 to 3 times the number of average sized pledges to fill the gap and grow the pledge base—that is the stewardship reality we face.
  3. The relationship between St. Timothy’s and the Bishop is on the mend.  St. Timothy’s decision to reduce its paid share of the Diocesan assessment has been contentious but may well turn out to be a ‘healthy conflict’ for both the parish and the Diocese.  For St. Timothy’s it clarified our priorities to the mission and ministry work of the church in a falling economy.  It said business as usual is no longer acceptable if it compromises the work of the church.  It forced the Diocese to face the realities of its cumulative financial problems—in time to do something about them before it was a crisis.  Doing so also enables the Bishop to confront the issue of subsidies for unsustainable congregations, expenditures for ineffective programs, and the reality that a new strategy for ‘doing church’ was desperately needed to reflect the rapidly changing demographics of the Diocese.   St. Timothy’s act of Diocesan civil disobedience by cutting its assessment payment broke the patterns of complacency and, I believe, will come to be seen as the turning point for the Diocese of California in rejuvenating its mission and ministry work of the church.
  4. We are not ‘Aging Gracefully’.  The signposts tell us we are not complacent and unwilling to sit by as the mission and ministry work of the church atrophies.  St. Timothy’s active participation in the work of the Diocese is more than doubled over the past two years.  Calling Kathy Trapani to be Interim Rector and Kurt Levensaler to be Associate Priest is an act of intentional faith in our parish today and for the future.  The parish willingness to get involved with other congregations and reject isolation is a healthy and holy sign.
  5. We are part of an unbroken chain of faith calling us to ‘Follow Paul’.  There is something holy and revealing for us at St. Timothy’s that this parish was founded only one month after Bishop Shires sent that letter to Rev Hodgkin at St. Paul’s Walnut Creek asking him to start a mission congregation in the San Ramon Valley.  God’s economy is awe inspiring.  The growth and influence of this congregation over the last 58 years is testimony to God’s call to us.  But planting a mission church is the easiest part of living into God’s call.  We can do in Dougherty Valley as St Paul’s did in Danville and organize home church and outreach mission work and community building, but the pull to do the mission and ministry work of the church goes beyond just that church plant.
  6. God has a plan for us and the work of the church to come —our job is to pray and live into His plan.  After years of flat growth the mainline denominations are fragmented.  The Episcopal Church faces our own controversies across the Anglican Communion.  Yet in the pews we still show up each Sunday to pray together and we still seek to know God’s plan for our lives and how we can do the mission and ministry work He is calling us to do.  Events are showing us the needs in changing demographics, our horrible economy and its impacts, and the necessity to transform the way we do the mission and ministry work of the church as a result.  Is this God’s hand at work showing us the way forward?  The signposts for ‘Doubling Down’ and ‘Transformational Mission’ are powerful clues that things are changing in the church and in the world around us.  The needs for mission and ministry have never been greater and our resources are not often used wisely to address them.  Are these signposts messages that God wants us to come to his table for more of that ‘renewal’ He’s been preaching all these years and renew the church for the time ahead.  There is plenty to renew and God sent us Bishop Marc who is turning over the stones to reveal sand beneath our feet.  I think the signposts should encourage us at St. Timothy’s to be bold, to step up and try new things, to select a rector willing to lead us into the great unknown future with faith and purpose.  If God is using these signposts to prepare us for the person He has chosen to be our new Rector, the question is are we ready to receive the Holy Spirit’s message?
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