An Important Look Into Your Church’s Culture – Part 1

Someone has wisely observed that “culture eats vision for lunch.” Okay, that sounds a bit odd, but the idea conveyed is that in a place that needs change, you can’t just talk your way into a new future. There may be some significant reasons why your local church is in the shape it’s in–reasons that don’t give up their grasp on your reality too easily.

For example, you can dream of church growth and new people and new ministries and all that wonderful stuff we associate with ministry success, but if your congregation seems to have little interest in meeting new people or making new friends, you have a culture that will devour your best effort to chase those dreams.

Frankly, talk of culture has a way of talking you out of what you can do to move your church forward. That’s certainly not my end game in this blog series. True, you need to know some of the roadblocks that might explain past disappointments, but acknowledging cultural challenges is best done when you’re looking for a way to fix them. So don’t let what you learn about your culture become your excuse for maintaining status quo.

Instead, I want to help you evaluate the strengths in your culture and find the available building blocks toward that new future. And there are really two ways to choose from when getting started. First, you can identify the vision or future you and your leaders dream of and then identify the culture necessary to get there. That approach will then give you a to do list of cultural change to work on.

The second option–the one you choose if you have no particular destiny in mind–would be to identify a few cultural changes you think would help, and then see where it leads. Which should you choose? Well, if you can dream of a better future and you have a few key people to dream with you, then I’d suggest option 1. If your church has been unhealthy for awhile and efforts of change have met with strong resistance, option 2 may be the most realistic. You simply may not be in a place to dream of a better future–at least not with any achievable accuracy.

Now, there are many resources out there for helping you achieve the path of option 1. In fact, I’ve written many blogs on the process of vision, values (culture), and then strategies to get there. If that’s the path available to you, let me encourage you to go for it. And, while I want to focus this series of blogs on option 2, there be plenty of good help for those who can start with vision too.

But for those who are in seemingly perpetually unhealthy congregations, I hope you’ll muster up enough hope to check in each week as we try to deal with your reality honestly, and offer some ways forward.

First, let me describe some of the likely traits that make your local church an ideal candidate for this discussion:

  1. Your church has been plateaued or in decline for awhile now.
  2. Most new ideas are met with skepticism and outright criticism rather than enthusiasm.
  3. You don’t see many new people visit your church and if they do, most don’t return. (If less than 50% of your first-time guests ever become second-time guests, then this is probably you.)
  4. Nearly all of your “core people” have been in leadership for ten years or more.
  5. You have a difficult time getting people to help.
  6. Your church may be doing several “outreach” or ministry efforts, but your congregation hasn’t seen much growth from those efforts.
  7. You doubt things will ever be different and have only read this far out of curiosity 🙂

In our second installment, we’ll begin discussing available steps forward, so check in again next week.

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