One of the most common questions I get from church planters is, “How do I build a staff culture when I’m the only staff member?”
Even though church planters might not have many full-time staff members, they should invite their volunteers and bivocational staff into the culture building process because they are bought in from the beginning.
Church planters have an advantage when it comes to creating a great culture: They have the opportunity to start from scratch. As I was doing research for my book Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace, many of the leaders I interviewed who had great cultures were church planters or leaders of start-ups. They all attributed their culture success to laying the foundation early.
What steps should church planters take to build an intentional culture from the ground up?
1. Set team values.
Church planters should gather their staff and key volunteers together for a team values brainstorming session and ask, “When our team is performing at its best, what characteristics are common to us that are uncommon to other teams?” I led this exercise with my team when we were only about eight people strong, and it was a crucial moment in our history as an organization because it centered us around nine organizational values that inform everything we do today as a company.
2. Designate a “culture whip.”
You aren’t serious about culture until it becomes someone’s job to build an intentional system. It isn’t too early for a church planter to appoint a “culture whip” who serves as an excellent example of the church’s values and mission. It should be part of this person’s role to drive culture through the organization. Our culture whip, for example, spends 30 to 40 percent of her job on culture building, including managing our culture calendar and budget.
3. Make team values part of daily life.
Church planters should intentionally infuse staff values through the regular rhythms of the team. This might include sending staff members weekly articles that align with the church’s cultural values. For example, one of our organizational values is “ridiculous responsiveness,” so our culture whip might send an article to the team with interesting facts about how getting back to customers in a timely manner helps drive customer satisfaction.
It’s also important to plan events that circle back to the organization’s values. A few years ago, one of our teams decided to try an escape room. They were locked in a room built around a mystery and had to work together to solve clues in order to unlock the door within a certain timeframe. In the escape room, our team found solutions to problems they had never seen before as they practiced our value of “solution-side living.” This fun activity made the team better at their jobs.
When these beginning steps are put into place, the church’s culture will begin to grow as the church plant grows along with it.