Every church has a culture.
Culture is different from theology and beliefs, polity and history, worship style and philosophy of community outreach – even though it is connected to all of them.
Culture is the unspoken set of rules, undeclared set of norms, unannounced set of expectations that every organization lives with.
Culture is complex. It doesn’t just happen and there are very powerful forces at work against thriving culture.
Every organization has a culture. Either it is a purposeful culture or a default culture.
We call default culture the “Shadow Culture”.
Shadow Culture is what exists without intention – it just “is”.
This kind of culture usually shows itself in systems or processes that no longer make sense, but we live them anyway. A shadow culture can be one that prohibits speaking up, pushing back, offering suggestions.
The shadow culture always operates behind the scenes and is very powerful. In some churches it has to do with defaulting to the leadership of the Senior Pastor, no matter what. In others it has to do with the deep seated conviction that the congregation must vote on everything. Sometimes culture has to do with what it takes “to get into leadership around here” or what sorts of organizations in the community are ripe for partnership. Whatever it’s about, it’s always there.
There are three very important ingredients that go into creating a healthy, thriving church culture. We believe that people have three innate desires:
1. The desire to belong
2. The desire to contribute
3. The desire to make a difference
The desire to belong is a very powerful one. God put it there when Adam realized that it wasn’t good to be alone!
We begin to contend with it almost as soon as we are born. It hits a high point around junior high age, but it never really goes away. It continues as we advance professionally, move into new communities, start families, near retirement, wrestle with the reality of aging parents.
We’ve all faced rejection at some point. So, when it comes to creating a thriving organizational church culture the first thing to focus on is belonging. Do your people feel like they fit in. that they have a place of value?
Many churches claim that they are “like a family”, or “one big family of God”.
While on the surface this feels right and good, it can also be quite dangerous. With family, either you are a part or you are not. This can be counterproductive to creating a thriving culture.
Our churches are bound together by spiritual ties. It means something nearly mystical to be the “body of Christ”. We can’t quantify it. But our churches are organizations just like our workplaces and social clubs and families are. That means we have to be intentional about the culture we craft.
Our churches should serve as a place of validation, acceptance, growth, stretching and belonging.
No one in your church should have to live in the shadows.
Church should be a place where every gift is honored, every person is important, no life experience is disqualifying. Fellowship isn’t a synonym for eating snacks or a physical “hall” but rather a descriptor of a life lived together. Imperfectly, but together.
Most churches think their culture is welcoming. Many are not.
Are you willing to take an honest look at yours?
Is your church culture one of belonging?