THE CONGREGATIONAL-CULTURE STRATEGY
The quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” has been attributed to management guru Peter Drucker.1 The statement implies that the culture of an organisation determines its success regardless of how effective its strategy may be.2 Hence, nurturing a healthy corporate culture that everyone buys into is critical to the success of the organisation. In view of the foregoing statements it may appear that the term “congregational-culture strategy” is self-contradictory. I am referring to the need for a church to attend to its congregational culture as a strategic means for its health.
Aubrey Malphurs, in his book Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture, defines a church’s congregational culture as “its unique expression of its shared values and beliefs.”3 That means, one, a church’s congregational culture is made up of three components: its beliefs, values and behaviour.4 Two, these beliefs and values are held in common by the majority in the church.5 Three, these shared beliefs and values are seen in the expressions or behaviour of the people in the church which gives the church its unique identity6 vis-à-vis another church that, for the same reason, has its own distinct congregational culture.
Malphurs use of the term “beliefs” is not about a church’s doctrinal position but as it concerns the fundamental aspects of the church’s congregational life.7 These beliefs are convictions that the people in the church assume to be true and they are not subject to rational proof.8 It is from the root of its beliefs that a church’s values are formed.9 The values tell us why a church does what it does.10 However, they only become actual values when they are acted on. Those values that are not acted on remain merely as aspirational values.11 When the values are acted on they are seen in the behaviour of the people in the church, which becomes the outward or visible evidence of its congregational culture.
If the culture of a church is vital to the success of the church, it is inevitable then, that conscious effort is taken to shape the church’s culture so that it produces a healthy church. Malphurs states that the person that has the greatest responsibility to shape a church’s culture is the pastor.12 It is by no means an easy task, because shaping congregational culture requires change. Malphurs explains the preparation, personnel and process required to shape the culture of a church.13 Preparation includes praying for change, doing a church analysis, reading the church’s culture, and managing change.14 Process includes reading the church’s current culture, thawing out the current culture, transitioning the culture to a new level, and re-forming the new culture at the new level.15 Personnel is about the kind of person the pastor ought to be if he is to successfully steer the church to a culture change.
Malphurs other book Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders16 is a useful companion to Look Before Your Lead. Although the former was written before the latter, the right order to read the books would be the latter before the former. Look Before You Lead provides the big picture about the necessity to shape congregational culture for church health and the steps that a pastor or church leaders may take to bring about the needed change. Advanced Strategic Planning goes into the nuts and bolts about developing a church’s core values, mission and vision statements, and ministry strategy.
The importance of shaping congregational culture as a strategic means for developing healthy churches is found in Malphurs’ statement, “we’ve discovered that it’s a waste of time and money to attempt to lead a culturally toxic church that clings to the traditions of men rather than the clear teaching of Scripture through the strategic-envisioning process.”17 In light of this statement, shaping congregational culture is an indispensable requirement to develop healthy churches. One of the research questions in Matthew C. McCraw’s dissertation made this inquiry, “Of the local churches that possesses a healthy organizational culture what steps were taken to intentionally create culture?”18 His research conclusion from the case studies “revealed the steps that each (church) took to create a healthy culture in their congregations.”19 In other words, shaping congregational culture has to be intentional and definite steps must be taken towards accomplishing that intentionality.
As I stated in the introduction, the three categories of strategic planning towards church health, namely Characteristic-Development, Process-Driven and Congregational-Culture are not mutually exclusive. For example, the use of NCD principles or PDC model is not simply about establishing church health via the development of the critical characteristics of a healthy church or moving people through a process of discipleship respectively. For the ethos of NCD or PDC to work effectively the churches that use these strategies need to have a congregational culture that upholds these philosophies of ministry respectively. Hence, determining what ought to be the desired congregational culture and shaping it to become that which is desired must be the starting point for any strategic plan to develop a healthy church.
All three strategies are useful. They are to be used at different phases of change and improvement of a church’s health because they are targeted at different levels of a church’s corporate life. The congregational-culture strategy helps set the foundation for what the pastor and church leaders believe should be the overarching ethos of the church. The process-driven strategy helps to establish a church-wide process that the church leadership believe will move its people, to use Rick Warren’s term, from community to core.20 Finally, the characteristic-development strategy helps church leaders to target attention on specific areas of church life and ministry. When all three strategies are used in concert with one another it will serve to significantly improve the health of the church.
by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches