“The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free and available to anyone who wants it.”
Patrick Lencioni, from page one of his book, The Advantage
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Peter Drucker
- Culture is the climate, the atmosphere, the “feel” of your church.
Some people call it the DNA of your church. Erwin McManus calls it the “environmental architecture” of a congregation.
Pastor Donald Camp made an unforgettable impression on me back in my Bible college days when he referred to culture as the “climate” of your church. He shared his observation that most of the churches in our “tribe” were giving their people a good strong diet on Sundays, but very few of them did so in a climate that was conducive to personal and church growth. The truth of his assertion was oh-so-apparent. The big takeaway? Diet and climate (culture) both matter a great deal.
More recently, I’ve been paging through the Scriptures asking, “What does this book of the Bible have to say about the kind of culture we should be pursuing for our churches?” I’ve come up with quite a number of answers. Most prominent among them have been: Humble, meek, loving, joyful, hopeful, forgiving, accepting, authentic, reverent and hungry for God’s presence.
- Values impact culture, but there’s more to culture than values.
Values and priorities are about what we value (of course), what we see as being extra important – in contrast to the church across the street. Is it more important that we do everything with excellence or that we do everything with joy? Is it more important that I straighten up the rows of chairs between the services or that I talk to the folks who want to talk to me? Should we put our money into staff, buildings or missionaries? Does our church have excellent “hang time” after the services, or do people get to their cars as quickly as possible?
Set ways of doing things, revealed by those all-too-common “around here” statements, also have a big impact on our culture. “That’s not the way we do it around here.” “Nothing ever really changes around here.”
Perhaps most importantly, culture is created by way of a spiritual and emotional environment. How does your church feel? Is it warm? Welcoming? Joyful? Somber? Tense? Hurried? Cold?
- A great culture is a great blessing for your church.
Did you notice the Lencioni quote above? He uses the word “company” in the quote, but he’s including churches in what he’s saying. A great culture is of inestimable worth.
I have a friend who claims he can feel the “vibe” (I know, not a very spiritual sounding word) of a church as soon as his feet hit the parking lot pavement. Even unbelievers can usually pick up on the feel of your congregation. To me it seems that Christian camps have the best cultural feel of anywhere on earth – and I think we should study this. But don’t miss this next big truth:
- Culture cannot be faked, purchased or imported.
You can’t order it from Amazon, download it from the web, squeeze it out of a book or bring it home from a conference. Deciding on a list of values at a strategic planning retreat doesn’t make them your values. Deciding on a desired culture doesn’t make it your culture. But here’s something very empowering:
- Every person present has an impact on the culture.
This truth flows from the Body of Christ analogy from Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12-14. Since every believer who is a part of a local body is a living, serving, entity, every body member makes that church better or worse, relationally and spiritually warmer or colder, more godly or less godly.
You may or may not be a social media influencer, but if you’re a Christian with a church family, you are a church family influencer.
- Some people have more impact on the culture than others.
It goes without saying that in almost any church that has a pastor, this individual is going to be the number one cultural influencer. I believe that this applies to any size of church. The senior or solo pastor spends more time “up front” than anyone else and has more conversations with more church people on Sundays and during the week than anyone else.
A pastor who has prepared to speak glorious words of “comfort and joy” might as well save his breath if his “spirit,” his behavior, before, during and after he’s in the pulpit, is one of tension, disapproval, impatience or anger. If your words are about love and your affect is about anger, it is your anger which your congregation will hear.
But I’m not suggesting that the pastor is the only major cultural influencer. Typically, a few other individuals also touch so many people on an average Sunday morning that they, along with the pastor, have a big impact on the church’s culture. Blessed is the church that has cultural influencers who radiate the love and joy of God!
- The culture that God wants for our churches is the culture of God, the culture of heaven.
God wants His truth proclaimed in our churches every week; there’s no question about that. But it may be just as important that His truths are framed in and delivered with grace in a culture that smells and feels and tastes like heaven.
Here’s a simple conclusion:
- Great people, shaped by a great God, create a great culture.
I’m not sure Lencioni knew how profound he was being when he said that organizational health [a great culture], is “…simple, free and available to anyone who wants it.”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
- How do you think the typical Christian visiting your congregation on a Sunday would characterize your church’s cultural “feel”?
- How about an unbeliever? Have you confirmed this (recently) by visits from a consultant or a “secret seeker”?
- Who are the major cultural influencers in your church and how do they influence your church culture?
- Has your church ever made a deliberate effort to cultivate a great and godly culture?
- What could we do that might improve our church’s culture?