I only came to realise after more more than 25 years in the pastoral ministry (I’m a slow learner) that one of the most important ingredients differentiating poor, good and great churches is church culture. Does a church have the right kind of culture for it to be a good or great church?
I believe that culture is even more important than vision. For example, the church may have a great vision: To win the city for Jesus, or to disciple the marketplace for Christ. But if the church does not have the right culture to support that vision, the vision simply remains a pipe dream.
Culture, in any setting, whether of an ethnic group or an organization, develops over time. The primary factor that shapes a group’s culture is, of course, their set of beliefs. Influential people (usually founders and leaders) and significant events also help shape, or may even change, the group’s culture (by changing the group’s beliefs). The leaders of some organizations are acutely aware of this, and they consciously shape their culture. Most, however, are not—and so, do not. If an organization’s culture is simply allowed to evolve, rather than deliberately shaped, what usually results is bad culture. The same may be said of the church.
For example, punctuality is not really part of Malaysian culture, and this is evident in most Malaysian churches. Many Malaysian Christians are late for church meetings, including the worship service. To cater for this most worship services in Malaysian churches don’t start on time. If a church wants to correct this it will have to consciously and deliberately develop a culture of punctuality.
This is equally true for things like prayer and evangelism. No Christian will deny that these two disciplines are supposed to be hallmarks of the church. We may say we believe in them or even put up slogans to tell people what we believe about them. But if the members don’t attend the church prayer meeting or ministry workers don’t really pray over their ministry, we are merely giving prayer lip service. Similarly with evangelism. Despite what we may say about what we believe vis-à-vis the Great Commission, if the people in the church are not witnessing for the Lord, evangelism is not part of the culture of the church. When the behaviour of the people don’t validate what is supposed to be their belief it is not an actual value of the church. At best it is an aspirational value and at worst it is simply wishful thinking.
If you are a pastor or a church leader and you have not thought much about your church culture, I want to encourage you to start thinking and praying about it with your fellow-leaders. Whether your church remains where it is or forges ahead more strongly and purposefully depends a great deal on the kind of culture you have in your church.
Begin with your beliefs. For example, what do you believe is the purpose of teaching the Word of God? If you believe that it is for life change (Rom 12:2) you will not teach to simply pass information, but aim for transformation. What do you believe are the roles of the pastor and the church members? If you believe what Ephesians 4:11-13 says, then the pastor must not be expected to do everything from preaching to printing the church bulletin while the members sit snugly in their pews waiting to be served. Instead, the pastor must be set apart to lead and equip the members of the church so that they can be empowered to do effective ministry. When that happens, it would be a very powerful culture indeed.
If there’s anything that the modern day church needs to get right urgently it is their church culture. The health and effectiveness of your church depends on it.