By Jimmy Scroggins
Culture can be a nebulous term and is not easily defined in the context of any organization, including the church.
Culture is what it feels like to be a part of your church. It’s more caught than taught, and it’s always mediated through leadership over time.
Leaders must think carefully about how we want our churches to feel. Here are five ways that you can be more intentional about shaping the culture of your church.
1. Culture responds to the leader’s vision.
This is why it’s important to envision the kind of culture you want to create. As a person God has appointed to lead your church, I say you should build the kind of church you want to attend—the kind of church your family wants to attend.
I have a big family. We have a giant table. We have a giant van. We decided to call our church Family Church. This idea of family bleeds all over our church organization.
We want our staff meetings to feel like family. We have a lot of fun. We express a lot of love. This is the culture our leadership team envisioned, and it’s happening over time.
We want our worship services to feel like family dinners. We want everyone to feel welcome. There are visitors at our table at almost every meal, but even in the presence of visitors we will continue to do what our family always does.
We’ll pray before the meal. We’ll have a family devotion from the Bible. We’ll celebrate and recognize significant milestones. It is all in the context of our family.
We, however, will be careful to explain what we’re doing—and why—because we want our guests to feel comfortable and invited to participate.
Are you building the kind of church that you and your family want to attend? Does your church feel the way you want it to feel?
2. Culture reflects the leader’s personality.
For the good or the bad, this is true.
Early in my career I worked at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where president Al Mohler wears a suit every day. We all wore suits every day.
Those who work there today still wear suits much of the time. We’re a little more casual here in South Florida, where almost no one wears a suit—ever.
The point is what we wear contributes to the atmosphere that reflects the leader’s personality. Our church culture is going to reflect the characteristics that we value.
Again, for us, it’s treating one another like family. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. We love each other for who we are and not just what we do.
We respect authority by putting the Bible first and emphasizing areas to which the Bible speaks directly.
We always have one another’s backs. We place a high value on trust and integrity. We remind one another to be the best repenters we know. We strive to keep short accounts.
Knowing and articulating all of this holds me accountable to be the kind of leader God has called me to be.
What values embody the kind of leader has God called you to be? What aspects of your personality are reflected in your church culture?
3. Culture produces what the leader values.
The good news is that the Bible gives us a lot of input on what’s most important.
Jesus was always going after lost people. He gave us the Great Commission, telling us He wants us to keep going after people who are far from God. The Holy Spirit is empowering us to do what Jesus left us here to do.
This is why Family Church wants to have more neighborhood churches in neighborhood buildings with neighborhood pastors who speak the neighborhood language. This is how we can find and go after the lost sheep.
When you read the gospels, you see that Jesus doesn’t push hurting people down and He doesn’t push them out. He pulls them in and lifts them up. We believe this is the kind of church culture God wants us to build.
It is deeply important to me and deeply important to our church. Do the people you lead know what you value most? In what ways does your church culture reflect those values?
4. Culture depends on the leader’s resolve.
As a leader, the culture you’re trying to create flows from the vision God has given you. It’s a vision that actually becomes a burden on your heart.
Once you are firmly convinced of what God wants your church to do, you can convince others to do it.
Too many leaders get paralyzed when it comes to making culture-shaping decisions. They let opposition dissuade them.
When trying to change the culture of a church, it’s important to remember you don’t need everyone to support your vision; you just need permission to go for it.
You’ll get buy-in later if the changes you make yield positive results. Nothing succeeds like success.
If you want to go multisite, you don’t need buy-in; you need permission. If it works, you’ll get buy-in. The same is true for things like changing your church name, your music, and your logo.
What’s holding you back from pursuing the vision God has placed in your heart? Are there areas that you should change right now using permission instead of waiting for buy-in?
5. Culture requires the leader to push through opposition.
A vision that turns into a burden requires patience with a sense of urgency; it’s not an easy balance to maintain. Culture takes time to develop. Culture is dynamic, not static so we need to be patient.
On the other hand, none of us is getting any younger. Our churches aren’t getting any younger. Lost people are going to hell every day. We have a limited amount of time.
Church leaders must maintain a sense of urgency about changing, creating, and developing our church culture—and there will be opposition from those inside the church as well as those outside the church.
My favorite line in response to opposition comes from Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a vision that became a burden to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
When his opponents tried to distract him and discourage him from staying up on the wall, he said, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down…” (Nehemiah 6:3).
Do you believe you’re doing a great work? Are you willing to fight for the vision?
Remember: Culture is always mediated through leadership over time. Your ability to cultivate a healthy church culture is directly related to your ability to define and articulate who you are and what you value.
Your ability to maintain that healthy church culture requires patience with a sense of urgency and a commitment to push through opposition when it arises.
None of this is possible without absolute dependence on the power of God. You belong to God, your church belongs to God, and the vision to belongs to God.
He’s the only one able to turn vision into reality. But God always uses His leaders to do it.
Jimmy is lead pastor at Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is a co-author of Turning Everyday Conversations Into Gospel Conversations.