Changing church culture is key to growth. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, according to the well-known quote by Peter Drucker. What we think corporately impacts what we do corporately. It’s all fine and good having ambitious plans and goals but if the mentality and values don’t correlate with them, we’ll risk swimming upstream and undermining our efforts.
Is your church culture a help or a hindrance? Wittingly or unwittingly, there are certain acts we take as leaders that shape and define our organisational culture. Self-awareness can ensure the message we give out is a message we want to be received. After all, as leaders, we are culture makers. So it makes sense that there could be times we need to be culture shifters as well. Here are some six areas to focus on, which if consistently tuned in to the message you want to give, will begin to permeate and shape your culture in a way that ensures it serves your mission and vision effectively:
Change Church Culture Through Example
How we live gives an incarnational example of the culture we are prepared to accept. This works positively, in the sense of setting standards and demonstrating attitudes or behaviours we want to see more of. But it also works negatively, as it will be evident if, for example, we talk about values or principles yet do not live them out. When it comes to the crunch, do we live up to the values we are encouraging others to embrace? Our example matters. Through our example and our attitudes, we show what we want more of. We show more than we tell.
Key question: when was the last time you went through your organisational values and graded yourself against them?
Change Church Culture Through Priorities
What you allocate your resources to shows your priorities. This is true financially, through energy and time, through focus, and through people resources – what are your best people leading and managing? These all speak volumes. If your priorities negatively demonstrate or influence the culture you want, it’s time for a review. This is especially true for budgets. Budgets are strategic documents that should reveal our priorities. They should be proactive, not reactive. If we say something is a priority, but on our budget, it is, say, the fifth or sixth or seventh well-resourced area, that communicates something to your people. Our priorities show the world what we are most serious about.
Key question: when was the last time you took a resource audit – finance, people, time and energy – on your organisation? Do the findings match up with what you want your priorities to be?
Change Church Culture Through Celebration
Actions and behaviours create culture, so how do you encourage the correct culture creating acts? You celebrate. Recognising, rewarding and endorsing elevates what you want more of, and dilutes what you want to see less of. What will remain in the mind of your people will be those things you have used your leadership platform to say powerful words such as “thank you for….”; “well done for…”; “that was great when you….”. Celebrate privately to encourage repeat performance; celebrate publicly to coach multiple people at the same time. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!
Key question: what are the culture-shaping behaviours you want to see more of in your organisation? What individuals live these out the best, and need to be celebrated privately and publicly?
Change Church Culture Through Challenge
I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying ‘the end justifies the means’. If you’re not, it’s a phrase presenting the case that results are more important than how those results are achieved. As you can imagine, if this philosophy was adopted in an organisation there would be a lot of room for dysfunctional and even toxic behaviour, all in the name of ‘winning’. As culture-changing leaders, we need to ensure that we aren’t OK with conduct that is destructive, even if it is successful from a results-perspective. We’ve all been part of teams where one person gets away with whatever they want because of what they deliver. They might be late, or not pull their weight in certain loads, cut corners, or even do their own thing and ignore policies everyone else follows. Letting these slide shapes the culture more than results, because the message becomes ‘if you’re successful, you can do what you like’. By challenging actions we know undermine our desired culture, we can eradicate them to make sure they don’t spread through the rest of the organisation. People will know when something is said to be unacceptable, but they are looking for that to be reinforced through action too.
Key question: what are the culture-shaping behaviours you need to eradicate in your organisation? Are there any areas or individuals that consistently demonstrate these, and need to be challenged?
Change Church Culture Through Humility
Leaders don’t have all the answers. We don’t have all the ideas. Most of the time, our ideas aren’t even the best. We can say we’re aware of this, but if our style is to in effect impose rather than consult, we miss out on an incredibly powerful engine of culture change. Inviting feedback and truly responding brings people on board. When people believe their ideas truly carry weight and are taken seriously they buy-in. They help shape the environment, which means they become agents of culture change as well. As leaders, we have a ‘high, long, wide’ view across the board. But we don’t know the intricacies of everyone’s role within the organisation. Asking questions, hearing recommendations and listening to ideas might uncover some gems we can then use our platform and influence to bring into being. When people talking about accessible, approachable leaders, this is what they mean. It’s one thing to have an ‘open door’ policy, but it’s very different to have an ‘open mind’ policy.
Key question: what are the underperforming areas of your organisation? Find out what the people involved with it would do differently if they could.
Change Church Culture Through Message
Messages do mean something. Our words matter, at least at first. If they stop meaning anything, it is because our actions contradict what we say. So consider what you say when speaking about your organisational realities. What we say, and what we don’t say, carries a weight. Always talking about the same thing? That will shape peoples thinking, and therefore the culture. Not talking about something, even when others think it is a problem? That will also impact people. Our communications – verbal, written, public, and electronic – can help or hinder our culture change.
Key question: consider your formal communications. Are the major messages discernable? Is other, less important information, drowning out what is essential to influencing your organisational culture?
As you can see, cultural influence is intentional. Changing church culture requires a strategy. As leaders, if we aren’t proactively shaping our culture, others will be – and possibly in ways we won’t like. So it’s up to us to use our platform and profile well and change the culture to one that we need to see success.
To learn more about how I partner with churches like yours to help them discover, assess and change their culture, click here.