Your church culture establishes the core values that drive your actions and the pace by which you progress. It is a significant factor in sustaining momentum and becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain as you grow. It is critical to understand culture and design a plan and process to scale it.
What is culture and why is it so important?
Culture is the glue that holds everything together in an organization. It connects and engulfs people, systems, and structures. It is the protective net that catches and corrects any failures or shortcomings of people or systems. It’s where individuals take responsibility for end results, not merely process execution. Process is critical, and it needs to be defined, documented, and taught, but culture is the self-healing ring that encircles systems and processes when they fail us. It’s what keeps people and churches healthy. In other words, culture assures that your values and your behavior are in alignment. It steers the vision God has given you throughout every level of your church.
Culture is what you celebrate and correct. The first thing anyone does when she joins a new church or any organization is to observe others in the culture. Even in subtle scenarios, she looks for signs of what behaviors are celebrated (to be replicated) and what are corrected (to be avoided).
It is essential to celebrate the things that represent and reflect your culture and correct anything that isn’t emblematic of it. For example, celebrate a leader’s practice of developing other leaders, or correct a volunteer leader’s language to reinforce that serving is a “get to,” not a “have to” mentality. Every church or organization has its own style and culture of correction. Some will be subtler, others will be more direct. Celebrating and correcting people’s language and behavior is one way you can continually close the gap between actual behavior and your stated shared values as a church.
- Step 1: Communicate culture
- Step 2: Consistently live culture
- Step 3: Celebrate culture
- Step 4: Correct culture
- Step 5: Repeat steps one to four
In his book, Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge, Dr. Henry Cloud says, “As a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: What you create and What you allow.” I have found this true in my personal leadership journey, specifically when it comes to culture. Whatever exists in your culture is your culture. Therefore, we must scale culture at the same pace that we grow.
What happens if I don’t scale my culture?
Scaling culture, both as you grow and multiply, is critical but can have its challenges. Think of the space between your core culture and the culture at your furthest location as an integrity gap. How much of a gap are you comfortable with in your integrity? The definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” Isn’t that the same for culture? If two locations have different cultures, you create confusion and a lack of trust for those assimilating. Being whole and undivided is the culture God calls us to have as the Church.
You must create a system if you want to sustain and scale your culture. Nothing happens or scales without a system. Nothing. Did I mention nothing? God built everything in systems. Our bodies are a good example of this, and so are our churches. What is your system for scaling culture? Who does it? What’s the process? How do you test and measure it?
Here are a few thoughts about scaling culture centrally and at a campus level in a multi-site church.
- Clearly define your values and the culture that keeps them aligned. Write these values. Step back and think about them. Get your team involved. Determine what your culture is today and what you want it to be. What language do you currently use to articulate your culture? Is it aspirational or behavioral? Is it consistent with your team’s behavior? Is the language you use still relevant to who you are, or does it describe who you used to be?
- Develop an onboarding process for people coming into your culture. How does someone learn your culture? Your process must clearly articulate your values. Determine what level of involvement or relationship you expect people to live by in your culture, considering those who are attending, volunteering, leading, and working. Answering these important questions will determine the approach you take. For example, if you decide that your inflection point for culture is when someone volunteers, then your volunteer assimilation and training process may be the system used to communicate your culture and set expectations. Moreover, it may be asking what degree of culture volunteers are expected to carry at each level of involvement.
- Use culture as content for your leadership pipeline. What better way to develop leaders than to infuse culture within them at a deeper level. It’s a simple process of developing a series of leadership training sessions, each covering a different component or aspect of your culture. Potential leaders will feel invested in and will be exposed at a deeper level to who you are. They will respond to what they are learning, giving you a measure of whether they are a great fit for leadership. It’s a win either way—you are investing in people while driving culture and developing future leaders.
- Start locations with culture carriers. You are, in essence, replicating your culture location by location. It becomes paramount you start with a leader who carries and embodies your culture. The campus/location pastor represents the “lid” of your culture at that location. The culture can never be any greater than it is in that leader. The fundamental responsibilities of campus pastors are to replicate culture, mobilize people, communicate clearly, and develop leaders. Winning in culture is foundational to their ability to win in any of the other areas.
- Implement a consistent development system across all campuses. A campus pastor’s primary focus must be to develop the culture of the immediate leadership team. If he is successful, then his team can focus on the layer below them. It’s a cascade approach that keeps leaders from over reaching and diluting their effectiveness. This is accomplished by both casting the vision for the culture and developing it in teams through group and one-to-one interactions. Leaders can’t infuse culture strictly by broadcasting it in group settings—specific and intentional interactions with individuals are required.
- Identify your culture warriors. These are the volunteer leaders and team members at each campus who embody and are incredibly passionate about the culture. They are vital to the process as both standard bearers and culture keepers. They can help curate the culture by setting an example, thereby encouraging and challenging others to live in the unity of your culture.
There is no better time to start than now
Here is a list of questions that can help you take an inventory of where you are today in the process of building culture:
- Is your culture clearly defined? Do you see it embodied in your team and leaders?
- Is it action-oriented? Does it determine behavior for your volunteers and staff?
- Is it celebrated? Do you reinforce ways it is exemplified?
- Is it corrected? Do you address missed behavior and language?
- Is it replicable? Does it produce comparable results at all locations?
- Is it relational? Is it initiated and overseen through intentional relationships?
- Is it systematic? Do you have a process?
- Is it scalable? Will it handle an influx of people?
No matter where your culture is today, don’t lose heart. It takes time, but with focus and a process, you can close the gap and take your church to the next level!
Phil Klein is the founder of Klein & Associates, which has become a trusted executive leadership coaching and consulting practice. He has over 30 years of experience working with CEOs to scale and grow their organizations and was an executive leader at Elevation Church, responsible for campuses, small groups, family ministry, students, volunteers and leadership development. He also launched focus412, an initiative dedicated to equipping leaders to grow the church with an emphasis on people, culture, systems and strategy.