Change Your Church's Culture to Change its Future
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- Published Jul 19, 2005
Is your church life stagnant? Are your efforts to reach out to your surrounding community falling flat? You can try to revitalize your church by copying the latest programs that have made other churches popular. You can try to pump new life into it by implementing formulas from church growth conferences.
Or ... you can do the only thing that will lead to significant, lasting transformation for your church - change your church's culture from the inside out. When you change your church's culture to reflect God's unique, authentic mission for it, you change your church's future as well!
Here's how you can change your church's culture:
Understand what makes up a church's culture. A church's culture is an overall life force that the Holy Spirit uses to give energy, personality, and uniqueness to everything a body of believers says and does. It is to a church what a soul is to a human body. Realize that you can't clone a church culture; it must be incarnated by God to be authentic. A church's culture contains three foundational elements - God's kingdom agenda, who you are as your congregation's leader, and your church's unique local setting.
Figure out what your church's culture currently looks like. Study your church's values and the way they are currently expressed. Consider four main areas: leadership and values (What values do leaders communicate by their lifestyles?); your vision statement (Is it something people can identify with and use to measure their spiritual lives? Does it clarify how to be, instead of just what to do, as a congregation?); symbols, ceremonies, and celebrations (Who are what did you honor and celebrate during the past year? Embedded in each of those things are your real values.); and you as the pastor (Ask yourself, "What do I want to accomplish here at this church? What is it that makes me come alive and feel successful before God?"
Realize that, as the church's leader, you pull everything you do toward the things you value most.) Analyze your church's culture through the eyes of an outsider. Ask yourself: "What values are communicated most strongly when someone approaches our church from the outside?," "What would an outsider, after sitting through several worship services, say our church values most?," "What are outsiders' two or three leading perceptions of our church, after they have participated for a month in a variety of our church's programs and ministries?," and "How would an outsider describe the spirit (or attitudes) most prevalent in our church?"
Sum up your impressions. Then list a handful of values that the church seems to be broadcasting. Compare these values to what you want to be known for. Then put together a focus group of people who don't belong to your church and ask them to study it for one month. After they give you feedback, consider how close their observations are to what you had hoped they would say.
Pray for wisdom. Once you know what values are truly driving your church's culture right now, pray for God to help you understand whether or not those are the values He wants for your church. If not, ask Him to clarify specific ways He would like your church's culture to change. Ask Him to reveal the answers to questions such as, "What are our true needs in this church?," "How can we best meet those needs?," "How can we truly serve people?," and "What can we do to bring out the best in our people."
Have faith that you can create a better culture. Don't limit God's plans for your church. Realize that whatever God wants your church to be, it can be and do. Be willing to take risks and work creatively toward a better future. Be confident that God can grow your church in all the ways He wants to do so. Believe God's promises about your church's potential.
Follow the Holy Spirit's lead. Remember that the ultimate culture shifter is the Holy Spirit. Make sure that you welcome the Spirit's guidance, listen to it, and cooperate with it. Trust God to work through you and other people to make the changes that should be made at your church. Rely on God's strength rather than your own.
Submit your personal agenda to God. Know that you can build your church's right culture only when it reflects God's kingdom values instead of just your own personal preferences. Trade your own agenda for God's priorities. Check your life for inconsistencies in what you model, and ask God to help you become a better leader who is marked by integrity. Whatever you believe God wants your church to be, you become it first, striving to be genuine to the core.
Communicate the vision and build support for it. Clearly communicate God's vision for the church to your staff, board, and laypeople, and challenge them to surrender their own personal agendas to God's grander vision for your congregation. Honestly evaluate your church's structure and traditions together to see if they're compatible with God's vision for the church. List the concrete values that would exemplify the new culture you're trying to create. Encourage healthy discussion about them. Gradually and lovingly build understanding, acceptance, and unity among others in your church.
Enlist allies to champion the culture shift. Preach about your church's core values in a sermon series. Write down a specific vision statement that answers the question, "What is our church going to be?" Discuss the vision in Sunday school classes and other small groups. Understand that you release the new culture through people as they embrace it and live it out. Believe in the potential of the people God has given your church, and release the right culture through them. Celebrate and honor those in your congregation whose lives have been transformed in ways your church's vision emphasizes.
Be accountable. Adjust your church's ministries to reflect its new vision. Ask other key church leaders to hold you accountable to guide your church in the right direction. Learn from feedback you receive. Every year, evaluate the progress of your church's culture shift. Spend time with people on the front lines of ministry and see how they're doing living out your church's core values. Listen to them voice their concerns. Determine how to stay on course.
Celebrate successes. Thank God for all the specific ways you've observed Him at work transforming your church. Celebrate victories together as a congregation. Give God the glory.
Adapted from Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, copyright 2005 by Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro. Published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, San Francisco, Ca., www.josseybass.com.
Robert Lewis is the author of The Church of Irresistible Influence and many other books, as well as lead pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a church known for its innovation.
Wayne Cordeiro is the founder and leader of New Hope Community Church in Honolulu, Hawaii. New Hope produces internationally broadcast television and radio programs, and Wayne speaks at a variety of large events and conferences, including Willow Creek's Summit.