Culture and Maturity

by New Church Starts

by Jim Ozier, Director of New Church Development and Congregational Transformation for the North Texas Conference (and Path 1 Associate)

“You create culture then culture creates you.” 

This is one of the principles my teaching partner, Fiona McCleod and I help churches implement in our culture seminars. Many of you met Fiona at the recent School of Congregational Development last week. Fiona and I started working together doing seminars at Southwest Airlines, where she was the Director of Talent. Her position was to embed the Southwest culture into all new and existing employees. Our seminars draw from the Southwest culture and teach how to create and implement an intentional culture into the life of a church.

You may think it strange to talk about “intentional culture creation,” but our experience is that many pastors have come to believe that culture is the sum total of the things the church does or that culture just kind of happens randomly. As a matter of fact though, this understanding really misses the mark and leads to a weak or loose organizational culture within the church. The result is people are never really clear about what you are about, and if they are not clear about it, they seldom buy into it in a life-transforming way.

Culture is not the sum total of the things you do. Rather it is the Launchpad that determines what and how you do the "things" you do in your church.  In other words:  “Culture first, then things.”

This is why Southwest is so successful along with countless other outstanding organizations and churches around the country.

Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of one of the largest and most well-known churches in America (New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii) and author of Culture Shift says it simply: “We make it our first priority to protect, cultivate, and enrich the culture of the church.”

Too many pastors (and too many new church starts) focus more time on doing "things" to grow their church, (good things like worship, bible studies, small groups, mission, etc), but spend too little time creating the organizational culture that truly leads to a thriving church.  Then they wonder why all the “good things” they work on fail to deliver the results they’ve been promised at seminars, conferences, etc.  It’s because “good things” on a bad culture seldom take hold.

This idea is important as a new church begins to mature and gets its traction for the long haul. Pastors, focus on creating the culture you want first, on communicating it, and on protecting it.

It’s true that “you create culture then culture creates you.” When you cast a clear culture vision and the culture becomes truly embedded into the behaviors, spirit, and nature of your church, THEN the church begins to attract people who resonate with that culture. They will follow, they will lead, and they will live out the strong culture you create. They also will attract others with affinity for that culture. In turn the newer folks will attract other folks, and on and on it goes into the future. The culture will change over time as the church comes into alignment with contextual changes and that’s ok.

But the church will mature, not just get older! What will your church's launchpad be? Share your thoughts here.