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Diagnosing and Changing Church Culture

What you need to know about your past to move forward

In some churches the conversations that happen in the parking lot are more powerful than the actual leadership meetings. In other churches, sub-ministries may develop their own system of training leaders or handling finances in an effort to be more effective than the methods of the overall church. Both of these are examples of learned values, and they become part of the organizational culture.

Introduced Values

The third source of organizational culture is the beliefs, values, and assumptions brought in by new members and leaders. For instance, hiring people from other churches requires that the church staff assimilates them into the church culture. This is also true for new attenders. They bring with them assumptions and expectations based on their past experiences. Sometimes this can be helpful. For instance, some churches purposely hire a new staff member to challenge the status quo. Other times, the introduced values can cause unwanted conflict.

Prevent, Diagnose, and Change

Regularly examining the three ways organizational culture emerges can help you put preventative measures in place to avoid the drift toward unhealthy or misaligned culture. For example, it’s important to continually reinforce key values to leaders and the congregation.

If you begin to feel that your church or ministry culture has shifted, the easiest thing to do is look at these three ways organizational culture emerges. For instance, if you notice that several new people have brought in their own values that are in conflict with the existing culture, you may spend considerable time assimilating new members. One way that churches do this is through a new member’s class. In these classes or other “on-ramp” events, leaders talk about the church’s history, desired future, and chosen values, and how newcomers can shape that culture.

When you intentionally want to change your church culture, the best place to start is examining espoused values. Are the stated values actual or merely aspirational? Do they only refer to missional values and ideals, or are there examples of operational or behavioral values? Where is there misalignment between espoused values and artifacts? For example, a church might say it values multigenerational ministry, but its worship space and services are clearly designed for just one age group, whether older or younger.

It’s often helpful to bring in an objective third party, such as a consultant, who can ask questions about what is meant by particular values or represented by artifacts. It’s also helpful to pay attention to the words and actions that trigger the strongest emotional response by those within the church. Because the deepest assumptions are rarely articulated, the best place to find them is at “fault lines” where these assumptions come into conflict with one another and elicit powerful emotional responses from those who hold them. (Does this conjure up any memories of congregational meetings for anyone?)

January14, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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