As a young pastor, the church I was pastoring was growing by leaps and bounds. Our small building was running out of space and so I had a great idea. Let’s move the 15 year Sunday School class out of their room to make more room for our expanding kids’ ministry. I presented it; it went over well, but in the end, the strategy met a roadblock – culture!

I bet you have experienced the same roadblock:

  • The fresh coat of paint that would spruce up the original fellowship hall but it was never to be.
  • The new strategy to meet the community where they are at with the gospel that could never be implemented.
  • The vision casting session that you felt great after but the “board” never bought in.
  • The new staff member you knew you needed but couldn’t get past the finance team.

Peter Drucker has famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is a set of often unforeseen relational rules that govern the decision-making processes of a church. Culture usually felt long before realized. People with not official title are often the ones who defend the culture, even when it harms the church. This is why your church’s culture will eat your revitalization strategy and mission for breakfast!

How do we both build and change culture? After years in both church planting and church revitalization, let me share a few ways to shape and shift culture:

  1. Mission Trumps – in his book Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger gives pastoral leaders a simple phrase, “mission trumps.” Meaning, the why behind the church’s existence matters more than anything. As a leader, if you and I drive every conversation up 30,000ft to the mission, we can often find common ground when moving forward with our initiative.
  2. Core Values – in building culture and changing culture, one of the most difficult tasks for a leader is to replace unseen values with visible core values. Reshaping core values and allowing them to take presence over the old invisible norms, will help reshape culture and cement the “how” behind the why and the what.
  3. Seek Permission – the old adage, you have to get buy-in is an old way of thinking. In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers states that over 15% of the population are laggards. Meaning, they will never change. Therefore, work with a small influential group to get permission to begin the change process and allow those few help you eventually get permission from many.

Pastor and author Craig Groeschel once said, “Culture is a combination of what you build and what you allow.”

In leading change and in building a new culture, the responsibility of defending what you are building falls on you, the point leader.

Therefore, know, your strategy may be sound, your catchphrases may be catchy, and the reasoning behind your new vision may be statistically supported, however, without a strong culture to support the future church, you will run into the same thing we have all ran into, the roadblock of culture!