What culture are you creating in your church? In this post, Exponential Director Todd Wilson unpacks the three elements of culture creation and the most critical factor for leaders.
“Your sending capacity might be your church’s best asset, and your sending results could ultimately be your primary legacy as a leader.”
Whether or not you realize it, your church is creating a culture. From Apple to Starbucks to your favorite local restaurant, every organization has a culture. It’s what you become known for, and it powerfully shapes the way you see the world and the decisions you make.
Culture strategist Brian Zehr says it plainly: “What makes your church work or not work is the culture you have. So we need to pay attention to and define the culture we’re creating for our church.”
In growth terms, are you developing a survival culture characterized by, “We will [fill in blank] after we grow or can afford it?” Or maybe an addition-growth culture characterized by an insatiable drive for conquering the next hill and breaking the next growth barrier—“Where is the next one?” Or are you creating a multiplication culture best characterized by release versus consumption and movement versus accumulation?
As a leader, your role in stewarding and cultivating culture may be the most important one you play. Value survival, and you’ll establish a scarcity (subtraction) culture. Value addition growth, and you’ll establish an addition culture. Value multiplication, and you’ll establish a sending culture.
The Big 3 Elements of Culture
So how do we get to this tipping point where we begin to see our churches shift from working hard to multiply to a place where reproduction is just a natural part of their DNA?
Every culture shares these common elements:
- a unique and distinctive set of core values;
- a distinct dialogue (an intentional narrative) that celebrates and communicates those values;
- behaviors and practices that bring those values to life in tangible ways for people.
The most effective cultures powerfully align their core values, narrative and expected behaviors or practices in ways that build trust and devoted followers, and make it simple for people to participate personally. Alignment of the pieces helps people know what you’re about and that you’re serious enough about it that your words translate to action and impact. Let’s look at each piece:
Your church’s core values: Your values are deeply embedded and shape how your church does everything you do. You see it, you hear it, and you feel it. Values are like a magnetic force field surrounding the people and operations of the church, proactively shaping the things to come and correcting the things that go off track. Multiplying leaders value multiplication, trusting numerical growth will happen as a byproduct.
Values are like a magnetic force field surrounding the people and operations of the church.
The questions outsiders ask based on what they see, hear, and experience give you the best insights into what your actual values are—not what you want them to be. What are the questions that outsiders would most likely ask about your church? Be honest. What core values are bleeding through to the language and practices or behaviors that people see, feel and hear? Would they ask, “What is the secret to your multiplication?”
Zehr says we can identify and begin to change our values by asking telling questions:
- What is the most important thing we need to be doing or that we’re about right now? In other words, what is God saying to us in this season of our church?
- What is important enough to us that it transcends all we do and shapes how we do what we do? What priorities should we pursue if we want to multiply leaders and our congregation?
Your narratives: Your core values shape and define your language and your narratives—how you talk about what matters most to you. This is why “outsiders” or visitors can discern so much about your true values in one visit to your church.
For example, if your church says one of your core values is caring about the surrounding community, then the language you’re using to naturally describe that care should indicate your convictions. Do the people in your church talk about inclusiveness and building relationships in the community? Or is the conversation more about simply giving money to various community efforts? Do you integrate regular stories of community engagement and impact in your sermons, newsletters, and printed materials, etc.?
I remember reading an interview with Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly who talked about the importance of storytelling to effectively reinforce the company’s values. Kelly said, “Storytelling is the single most effective way to remind employees of the company’s purpose and to reinforce the purpose in their day-to-day interactions with customers.” To tell their story, every week Kelly gives a “shout out”—public praise—to employees who have gone above and beyond to show great customer service. And each month Southwest’s Spirit magazine features the story of a deserving employee.
What core values do your church’s stories reflect? Are there specific themes or patterns? Do you have core values you publicly cite but if you’re honest don’t have the stories to bring them to life?
There is real danger in forcing language and storytelling that doesn’t line up with your real core values. In our zeal to be or project something that we’re not, we risk being perceived as disingenuous or shallow. People will see through and pick up on our integrity by looking at our words and actions. Does what we say (or don’t say) line up with what we do (or don’t do)? Your language and narrative are key components in helping move people from knowing your core values (the first element) to actively participating in what you do (the third element below).
People will see through and pick up on our integrity by looking at our words and actions.
Our behaviors or practices: This is where the proverbial, “rubber really meets the road.” You can have perfect values and a great narrative, but if your behaviors and practices are inconsistent with the story you tell, you’ll struggle. Your behaviors and practices will always be self-correcting and align to your real values and story.
At my friend Dan Smith’s Momentum Christian Church, people continually hear about the scorecard of sending and naturally begin to ask themselves what it will look like for them to be sent. The language and practices naturally help people to transition from “if” to “when” as they take ownership for the cause.
I encourage you to deliberately and frequently pause to assess whether or not the things you’re doing are congruent with the values you espouse and the narrative you tell. Then proactively look for and find stories, metaphors and language that reinforce whom you want to be.
For example, if you value personal evangelism, be careful about how you celebrate the results of direct mail marketing campaigns. Rather than celebrating the impersonal activity or action of direct mail and the resulting new people showing up at church, find and celebrate stories of church members who used the direct mail card to invite their neighbor to church. Same action, but different narrative. Consider creating a similar matrix/schedule of powerful stories that bring to life how your core values are translating into action.
Language and narratives help the “outsider” who experiences your church become an “insider,” easily taking ownership of the process and then bringing along other outsiders on the journey. The cycle easily repeats when the language and the practices are tightly integrated.
Once we align our values, narrative and behaviors with God’s call to multiply, the culture of our church shifts. Your sending capacity might be your best asset, and your sending results could ultimately be your primary legacy as a leader.
Level 5 Culture Starts With Level 5 Leaders
Culture change starts with you, the leader. Level 5 multiplication must be led by Level 5 leaders who are passionate about creating and maintaining a biblical culture of multiplication. We desperately need Level 5 leaders to emerge who can catalyze movements of Level 5 multiplying churches.
We’re calling these leaders, “hero makers.” When you shift from being simply the hero of your church to helping others become the heroes, you provide the future mentors your church will need on the journey toward starting and sustaining a Level 5 multiplying culture. In fact, my friend and Level 5 multiplier Ralph Moore is the first to say that multiplication lives and dies on leaders who are willing to pass the baton and empower others to lead.
The personal scorecards of hero makers are measured not by what they do, but rather by how they release the potential in others. When our conviction to be leaders who multiply others so perfectly lines up with our values, narrative and practices, God’s response is multiplication. It becomes the inevitable outcome. How can you move from being the addition hero of your story to a multiplication hero maker in God’s story?
Todd Wilson is co-founder and director of Exponential. Learn more about leading a Level 5 multiplication culture in Exponential’s new FREE eBook, Multipliers: Leading Beyond Addition and at the upcoming Exponential 2018 conference in Orlando (Feb. 26-March 1).
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Outreach Magazine. Used with permission.