Creating a healthy church culture is probably one of the hardest things to do as a leader. It's hard for pastors leading their staff and it may be even more difficult for those who lead volunteers. Whether we're intentional about it or not, we are creating a culture week in and week out. Because if we're not creating it, someone or something else is creating it without us noticing.

In this post, I'll share two different types of church cultures, four steps to create a healthy church culture, helpful content from other sources, and examples of language we use at our church to shape culture.

Two Types of Church Cultures

I believe there are at least two types of cultures in a church, the staff culture and the church culture. Ideally, they overlap and a healthy staff culture influences a healthy church culture. Tony Morgan has written about how he actually believes a defined staff team culture may be more important than a set culture for the church. I agree with him, but I would prefer to have both unless a church creates one set of cultural values they feel accurately defines the staff and the church together.

4 Steps to Creating a Healthy Church Culture

Here are 4 steps to creating a healthy church culture based on how I've seen it done in different churches.

#1 Define Your Church Culture

In my opinion, being intentional about creating a specific culture starts with using specific language. You may have heard the phrase “words create worlds” and this is why, because the language we use goes a long way in creating the culture we experience. When it comes to defining your culture, be sure to avoid what Patrick Lencioni calls “permission to play” values in his book The Advantage. Permission to play values are values that are obvious and should be the same in most organizations that are in the same niche. In our case, with churches, permission to play values might include:

  • Prayer
  • The Bible
  • Love
  • Community
  • Discipleship
  • Evangelism

You get the picture. Instead, choose unique values that define YOUR church.

What do you want it to feel like?
How do you want people to do things?
What terms or phrases would a visitor use to describe the church after observing it a few times?

Here are examples of church values I tend to like:

Set aside time, probably multiple meetings with various people, to put specific language to your church culture. Avoid permission to play terms and come up with something unique to your church that will help create the culture you desire.

#2 Over-communicate Your Church Culture

Once you have put language to your culture, probably around a set of values, create a plan to over-communicate them. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Put them on your website
  • Talk about them in an orientation class
  • Introduce them to new staff as part of the onboarding process
  • Talk about them with staff at every all-staff meeting
  • Use them as teaching points in your volunteer huddles and trainings
  • Reference them when thanking staff or volunteers for living them out

#3 Celebrate Your Church Culture

Andy Stanley says “what's rewarded is repeated” and he's right. He talks about that in the context of communicating a clear vision, but the same is true for clarifying culture. How can you find ways to celebrate your culture so it sticks? Here are some ideas:

  • At your all-staff meetings, celebrate staff who model the culture
  • At volunteer trainings and huddles, reward volunteers who lived out the culture
  • Share stories about your church culture on your website and on social media
  • Make the culture part of your staff and volunteer evaluation process and encourage people when they live it out

One way we used to communicate and celebrate our staff culture was by passing around a baseball bat that we would give to someone on staff that we saw living out the culture. They would sign the bat and give it to someone else the next week. Simple, but effective.

#4 Protect Your Church Culture

A healthy church culture is hard enough to create, but that's not it, we have to protect it. Here are some ideas for how to protect your culture.

  • Use your culture as a filter when bringing on new staff or volunteers. Be picky about who gets to lead and have influence.
  • As I said in the previous point, use the culture as part of your evaluation process and be bold enough to remove people who are toxic to your culture.
  • Have hard conversations when you see something happening that goes against your culture.
  • Ask leaders to formally embrace the culture before taking on a role where they will be asked to model it and defend it.

Creating a healthy church culture is not easy, but it's absolutely critical. Peter Drucker is often attributed with the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Whether he said it or not, it's accurate.  I think your mission, vision, and strategy are all more important than your culture because they are the foundation. However, culture is more important in that it outweighs everything else.

Guests experience your culture before they know your mission.
Guests sense your culture before they know the vision of where you want to go.
Guests can describe how your culture feels before they can define where your strategy wants to take them.

Culture cannot be ignored and I hope these 4 steps will help you create the church culture you desire.

Helpful Information on Church Culture

5 Inescapable Truths of Culture – Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley talked about the 5 Inescapable Truths of Culture at Catalyst One Day events last year and on his podcast. Those 5 truths are:

  • Leaders shape organizational culture whether they intend to or not.
  • Time in erodes awareness of.
  • Healthy cultures attract and keep healthy people.
  • The culture of an organization impacts the long-term productivity of an organization.
  • Unhealthy cultures are always slow to adapt to change.

As usual, Andy provides great wisdom and insight and I would encourage you to check that podcast out.

The Advantage – Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni is by far one of my favorite authors. No doubt that has a lot to do with his focus being on leadership and teams. His most recent book is The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The title says it all. Lencioni says an organization is healthy when management, operations and culture are unified. He outlines 4 steps to achieve organizational health:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team.
  2. Create clarity.
  3. Reinforce clarity.
  4. Over-communicate clarity.
Lencioni offers 6 critical questions that must be answered as part of step 2, and one of them is How do we behave? Answering that, and creating specific language around that answer, goes a long way towards creating culture.

Craig Groeschel – Value Driven Culture

On Craig Groeschel's leadership podcast there are two great episodes on culture:

Our Chuch Culture

At our church, we have defined a set of culture statements for our staff as well as for the church. You can see both here.

CCC Staff Culture

  • I will leave it better than I found it
  • I will over communicate
  • I will build trust
  • I will have the conversation
  • I will care for the person that is in front of me
  • I will be a connector
  • I will own it
  • I will be bold
  • I will fight for unity

CCC Chuch Culture

  • We’re a church that speaks your language
    It’s about being helpful to everyone
  • We’re all in for the Church
    It’s about being part of God’s Plan A
  • We’re here for people who aren’t
    It’s about reaching people far from God
  • We fight for unity
    It’s about removing wedges that can divide the church
  • We own our own journey
    It’s about being responsible for my one and only life
  • We keep the bottom rungs on the ladder
    It’s about providing clear next steps for everyone
  • We believe in the next generation
    It’s about helping families thrive
  • We’re contributors, not just consumers
    It’s about unleashing everyone’s full redemptive potential
  • We don’t take ourselves too seriously
    It’s about enjoying the journey
  • We sweat the small stuff
    It’s about being prepared
  • We’re servants
    It’s about taking a posture of humility

There you have it. Creating a healthy church culture is no small endeavor but it is extremely important and I hope this post has given you some help and ideas as you look to create the church culture you desire.