~Change the culture and Become Missional as a Church~

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Chances are you have a very well thought-through mission and vision.

And that’s fantastic.

But have you ever thoroughly thought through the culture of your organization?

Here’s why that matters:

Your mission and vision determine the what and the why of what you do.

Your culture determines how your organization feels and behaves.

And, in most cases, your culture trumps your mission and vision. Often without anyone saying a word or even realizing it, you can undo a great mission by having a terrible culture.

If you’ve ever struggled with why a compelling mission and vision haven’t taken you further, maybe it’s time to look at your culture.

The truth is simple: A bad organizational culture will kill a great organizational mission.

Yes, You’ve Left Great Missions Behind Because of a Bad Culture

You’ve already left great missions behind because of bad organizational cultures.

You went to a home design store that had the exact product you needed, but you left because the staff didn’t care or because the owner treated you poorly.

You avoid a certain location in a restaurant chain you otherwise love because the staff always get your order wrong and the restrooms are rarely clean.

You didn’t stay long at the company you first worked for after graduating, not because it wasn’t in your field (it was), but because you really didn’t like the people you worked with.

None of these problems are really mission or vision problems. At their heart, they’re cultural problems.

And if you think about it, you probably have a few places you visit regularly not because you even like the mission or vision, but because you like the culture?

Ever go to a coffee shop or favourite restaurant when you weren’t all that hungry, just to hang out? Miss your college days because you loved the people you were with? I sometimes go to my favourite bike store even when I’m not buying anything because I love the vibe and conversation (and even the smell). That’s culture.

Your problem often isn’t what you believe as an organization, it’s how you behave.

 Many churches that have a culture problem exhibit similar signs. Here are some I’ve observed.

(By the way…because culture problems are often people problems and sin problems, the phenomenon is wider than just church. So even if you don’t work in church, some of these signs might seem uncomfortably familiar.)

Here are 5 signs your culture needs to change:

1. You judge the culture around you, rather than love the people in it

For some strange reason, most of us in the church today are known for our judgment more than our love. This is almost criminal, as Jesus said that the defining hallmark of his followers should be love.

It is impossible to judge someone and love someone at the same time. Certainly, you can discern that there are issues. But to judge is to put yourself above someone. (I would cite scripture here, but I think we all know the Bible couldn’t be clearer about not judging outsiders).

Somehow we’ve flipped it. We let people on the inside off the hook and judge people outside. And then we wonder why our church isn’t growing and why our church is serially unhealthy.

Many churches aren’t growing because people judge more than they love. It’s human nature to gravitate to people who accept us (this explains everything from gangs to clubs to friendships), and I believe the point of the cross is not judgment but salvation through Christ.

If you lead a Christian church, your mission is to reach people, not judge people.

2. You don’t talk the way you talk outside of church when you’re in church

Even if you love people, someones Christians have this weird habit of behaving in ways that are just…strange.

When there is a significant gap between how you talk to people in the grocery store and how you talk to people in church, it’s a sign you might have a cultural barrier that new people will find hard to surmount.

I realize people have traditions, but sometimes these traditions get in the way of the mission. If nobody can understand what you’re saying because you speak in Christianese or some kind of insider code, well, how do you expect people to feel a sense of belonging before they read your book of code (which by the way, nobody bothered to publish).

I don’t want to have to convert people to my culture. I’d rather see them converted to Jesus.

When you need to convert people to your culture before they convert to Christianity, your mission is at risk.

3. What you think is contemporary, isn’t

Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most subtle and deadly. Far too many churches make a lot of changes to how they behave and declare themselves ‘contemporary’, when the truth is they just sound traditional in a slightly different way to outsiders.

If you’re trying to be a contemporary church (and I realize not everyone is), get some outside feedback as to whether people who don’t go to church really connect with your culture and style. The fact that your ‘people’ like it simply creates a self-perpetuating community.

4. You handle conflict poorly and indirectly

Conflicted churches rarely grow. And, unresolved, sustained conflict will kill almost every organization’s mission in the long run.

Ironically, churches should be the best at resolving conflict. Often, we are the worst, despite some incredible biblical instruction on how to do it.

If your church has years (or decades) of continual infighting and never resolves conflict directly, just one question: why would anyone join you?

5. You have a justification for every bit of criticism you receive.

Sometimes people love their not-very-effective culture.

Churches that are great at never changing their defective culture often have a handy justification for every suggestion for improvement that comes their way.

In fact, often that justification comes with a bit of arrogance toward the dummies who ‘just don’t get us’.

Sadly, a closed and mildly arrogant attitude will often shrink a group until it becomes a closed minded ‘us against the world’ kind of attitude. That’s too bad. Because Jesus died for the world too many church leader resist.

Caution Against Bad Advice

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