From Apple to Starbucks to your favorite local restaurant, every organization has a culture. And whether or not you realize it, your church is creating a culture. It’s what you become known for, and it powerfully shapes the way you see the world as well as the decisions you make.
Culture strategist Brian Zehr says it plainly: “What makes your church work or not work is the culture you have. So we need to pay attention to and define the culture we’re creating for our church.”
In growth terms, are you developing a “survival culture” characterized by what you will do after you grow and can afford it? Or maybe an “addition-growth” culture defined by an insatiable drive for conquering the next hill and breaking the next growth barrier? Or are you creating a “multiplication culture,” best described as release versus consumption and movement versus accumulation?
As a leader, your role in stewarding and cultivating culture may be the most important one you play. Value survival, and you’ll establish a scarcity or subtraction culture. Value addition growth, and you’ll establish an addition culture. Value multiplication, and you’ll establish a sending culture.
THE BIG 3 ELEMENTS OF CULTURE
How do we get to the tipping point where our churches shift from working hard to multiply to a place where reproduction is just a natural part of the DNA? Every culture shares these common elements:
* a unique set of core values
* a distinct dialogue that celebrates and communicates those values
* behaviors and practices that bring those values to life in tangible ways
The most effective cultures powerfully align their core values, narrative and expected practices in ways that build trust and devoted followers and make it simple for people to participate personally. Alignment of the pieces helps people know what you’re about and that you’re serious enough about it that your words translate into action and impact. Let’s look at each piece.
1. Your church’s core values
Your values are deeply embedded and affect how your church does everything. You see it, you hear it, and you feel it. They are like a magnetic force field surrounding the people and operations of the church, proactively shaping the things to come and correcting the things that go off track. Multiplying leaders value multiplication, trusting numerical growth will happen as a byproduct.
The questions people outside your church ask based on what they see, hear and experience give you the best insights into what your actual values are—not what you want them to be. What questions would outsiders most likely ask about your church? Be honest. What core values are bleeding through to the language and practices or behaviors that people see, feel and hear? Would they ask, “What is the secret to your multiplication?”
Zehr says we can identify and begin to change our values by asking telling questions: What is the most important thing we need to be doing or that we’re about right now? What is God saying to us in this season of our church? What is so important that it transcends all we do and shapes how we do it? What priorities should we pursue if we want to multiply leaders and our congregation?
2. Your narratives
Your core values shape and define how you talk about what matters most to you. This is why visitors can discern so much about your true values in one visit to your church.
For example, if your church says one of your core values is caring about the surrounding community, then the language you’re using to describe that care should indicate your convictions. Do the people in your church talk about inclusiveness and building relationships? Or is the conversation about simply giving money to various community efforts? Do you integrate regular stories of community engagement and impact in your sermons, newsletters and social media?
I remember reading an interview with Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly who talked about the importance of storytelling to effectively reinforce the company’s values: “Storytelling is the single most effective way to remind employees of the company’s purpose and to reinforce the purpose in their day-to-day interactions with customers.” To tell their story, every week Kelly gives a shout out—public praise—to employees who have gone above and beyond to show great customer service. And each month Southwest’s Spirit magazine features the story of a deserving employee.
What core values do your church’s stories reflect? Are there specific themes or patterns? Do you have core values you publicly cite but don’t have the stories to bring them to life?
There is real danger in forcing language and storytelling that doesn’t line up with your real core values. In our zeal to project something that we’re not, we risk being perceived as disingenuous or shallow. People will see through and pick up on our integrity by looking at our words and actions. Does what we say (or don’t say) line up with what we do (or don’t do)? Your language and narrative are key components in helping move people from knowing your core values to actively participating in what you do.