More and more of the churches we work with, like the other organizations we serve, are paying attention to their organizational culture.
Organizational culture is made up of the assumptions, practices, values, and behaviors that define and shape an organization. Sometimes these elements of culture are obvious. Other times they are subtle. Always, they are important.
It’s culture that shapes the experience of an organization’s employees or members and culture which ultimately determines success or failure in terms of accomplishing a shared mission. Our preoccupation at Transforming Church and TAG Consulting is to serve organizations by helping them to craft thriving culture – where every stakeholder is allowed to express their innate desires to belong, contribute, and to make a difference.
Church leaders often fall prey to this misguided belief: “If we get our doctrine and practice right, everything else will fall into place”.
And certainly, doctrine and practice are important.
But the fact is that churches which share nearly identical belief systems and philosophies of ministry experience wildly varying levels of mission success.
In some churches we work with, members and staff say: “I love this place. It’s not perfect, but people are honored and respected here. I get to use my gifts. The way we do ministry day to day is congruent with what we profess to believe.”
But that’s not always the case.
Just last week a client told us this: “This church is buttoned up in terms of its beliefs – very orthodox but also community-focused. It does a lot of good. But I can’t stand working here. There’s always someone out to undermine you or get a leg up – whether it’s for position or budget. I go home exhausted every night, and not in a good way”.
The difference is culture. One is thriving. The other is toxic.
In our work with both church and business clients, we seek to understand an organization’s Legacy Culture, or the culture that was crafted long ago by people no longer around. Legacy Culture is often prominent and revered. It can be found in companies like Ford and G.E. And in every church.
Often a church’s Legacy Culture is enshrined in the memory of a founding or long-tenured pastor. Even though that leader may have passed from the scene years ago, their legacy endures, often in the unspoken assumptions which govern the way the church understands itself and presents itself to its community.
Legacy Culture may well shape how a church spends its money, hires and fires staff, selects volunteer leaders, and determines which ministries to support and which ones to walk away from.
Legacy Culture can keep organizations grounded and on track.
But Legacy Culture can also be the thing that hinders new ideas, innovation and change. In other words, Legacy Culture can be both good and bad. Knowing what it is, how it looks and what is smells like can be a catalyst for change and growth.
It’s really important that you grapple with the Legacy Culture of your church – the good, bad, and neutral.
But it’s also important to understand that Legacy Culture is just one of the three horizons of culture you’ll have to consider as you lead.
There’s your present culture, shaped as it is by your Legacy Culture.
And there’s your aspired culture – the thriving, healthy culture you and your fellow leaders want to craft.
Legacy Culture is inherited from the past and shapes the present.
Present Culture comes from the examined and unexamined assumptions that determine your experience today.
Aspired Culture is where you want to go, and who you want to be. It’s the future you want to craft, the place where everyone belongs, contributes, and makes a difference as you accomplish your mission together.
To get to your Aspired Culture you have to understand your Legacy Culture and how it shapes your Present Culture. And you have to have a clear plan to close the gap between Present and Aspired Culture.
We’ll keep exploring this, but for now we offer these questions for your consideration:
What is your church’s Legacy Culture? Is it hurting? Or helping? Or a little of both?