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“Culture Creation—Part Two”
by Tom Goodman
September 15, 2005

Wow!  Thanks for the great response to last week’s “assignment!”  I challenged you to define the culture or ethos of Hillcrest and many of you did.  If you missed the article, go to www.hillcrestaustin.info/leaderlines and click on “Culture Creation.”

This “homework assignment” was in response to a thought-provoking article by Angie Ward, and I’m going to continue her words this week.  Let me add that, when I quote from an article, that doesn’t mean I agree with every part of it.  After last week’s LeaderLines, a couple of you expressed concern that the definitions of church culture listed as samples might be too cynical and discouraging.  Just remember that those sample definitions were part of Angie’s article and were not my comments.  When I copy a lengthy quote from an article, I know it’s sometimes hard to tell when the article ends and my comments begin.  In this week’s LeaderLines I will try to make it clear which words are mine and which ones are from Angie’s article.

It’s not too late to write me back with your one-sentence or one-paragraph definition of our church’s culture.  I’ll be collecting these together to share at our upcoming Leadership Summit.  Plan to attend this annual event!  It will be held in the MPC from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. next Saturday, September 24.  Your Ministry Staff will serve breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and then we’ll go over some important material to get you ready for the 2005-06 Service Year.

To help you think about your definition of our church’s “culture,” here’s Angie’s second article on Culture Creation—

“Nine Clues to Secret Core Values”
by Angie Ward

All churches have their own internal culture, a set of shared attitudes, values, and beliefs that define church and shape its practices.  This deeply entrenched culture can be summarized into an “ethos statement” which is almost never officially articulated, but is nonetheless extremely powerful.  Here are some (more) examples:

       Let's just have church and go home.

       We're better than you.

       Don't ask questions.

       Bigger is better.

       Christians don't have problems.

Aligning a church's actual values with its stated values is crucial to ministry effectiveness.  The most effective churches will have a mission that reflects biblical values, and an internal culture that reflects the mission.  When a church's ethos matches its mission, it becomes a unified whole with a unified goal.  But when there's a disconnect between these two areas, the church will resemble a rowboat full of people pulling in opposite directions.

The culture is so deeply entrenched that it's difficult to identify, which also what makes it so hard to change.  How do you discern your church's hidden values?  Here are some questions to stimulate the discovery process.

1.  Mission: Improbable?  Start by looking at your church's current mission statement.  Do you have one?  Is it biblical, and is it reflected in the church as a whole?  Are you fulfilling your mission?  If not, where's the tension?  In our case, one tension was in the area of evangelism.  The answers should give you some initial clues for discovering your church's actual values.  Our church said it was evangelistic, but the budget, attendance, and conversion rate showed otherwise.

2.  Who's the boss?  Take a look at your leadership structure, both formal and informal.  Who's allowed to call the shots, and what are their values?  Do staff members buy in to the church's mission?  Do they practice it?  What about the other "power brokers" in your church?  (You know who they are!)

3.  He said, she heard.  Are key elements of your stated mission, vision, or values in conflict with each other or with other things that have been communicated to the congregation?  For example, a church may describe its Sunday worship as a "gathering of believers" while also expressing the desire to be "seeker-focused."  This tension is also seen in sub-ministries whose leaders have been allowed to build their own "empires" separate from the church's overall mission.

4.  Who are the people in your neighborhood?  Look at your surrounding community.  Is there a mindset that is carried into your church by the people?  If a community's culture is very unfriendly to newcomers, for example, that attitude will also shape the culture of the local church.  I used to live in the Twin Cities, where people were known for being "Minnesota nice," which meant generally pleasant on the surface, but not apt to quickly share their real feelings.  That cultural mindset fed (nicely, of course) our church's ethos of "don't rock the boat."

5.  History 101.  Look closely at the history of your church.  How did it start?  Did it have healthy beginnings, or did it split from another congregation?  Was there a significant event in its history that has shaped the current values of the church?  Often, well-meaning actions have unintended long-term consequences, such as a church that undertakes a successful building project but then becomes more focused on preserving the facility than using it for ministry.

6.  Spearing the elephant in the room.  What's the thing that everyone knows, but is scared to talk about?  What topics or issues are taboo in conversations?  Sometimes a church's actual values are reflected in what is not discussed as much as in what is discussed.

7.  Show me the money trail.  While it's possible to "buy" ministries without ministry "buy in," a church's spending is still a good indicator of its real values.  A church that claims to value world missions logically should devote significant financial resources to that area.  What does your budget say about your priorities?

8.  Mirror, mirror, on the wall.  What is your personal ethos as a leader?  Do you talk about the importance of outreach, yet have not talked to a non-Christian in years?  If you don't live your church's mission, why should others?

9.  Ask and you shall receive the truth.  Sometimes the best way to determine your church's ethos is to simply ask others!  Ask people in leadership, and ask regular attenders.  Ask people who don't go to your church.  What is the outside perception of your congregation?  At my church several years ago, another local pastor astutely pointed out that our church really wasn't practicing what it preached about evangelism.  Of course, you should also ask God, in prayers for wisdom and discernment.

Once you begin to get an idea of your church's underlying culture, see if you can summarize it into a one-sentence statement, such as the examples above.  Whether your ethos supports or subverts your stated values, identifying the underlying culture is the first step toward harnessing its power.

Angie Ward’s full article can be found at www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2005/cln50228.html.

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