Culture is the blend of beliefs, customs, values, and vision as demonstrated in behavior and direction. Culture is, quite literally, who your church is.
Most every church leader I know wants to shape a compelling culture that is, among other things, welcoming, accessible, attractive, inviting, engaging. At least, that’s what they say. But, it isn’t easy…if it were easy every church would have an awesome culture…and they don’t.
In churchworld, the first impressions, the first moments really, are particularly crucial and decisive. Before first-comers have even heard the homily or the music they have already experienced the culture, and, they’ve experienced to an extent that you as an insider don’t. If you want a deliberate culture you have to start with your staff (paid and volunteers) and together you have to commit to 3 steps.
Step #1: Be intentional about your culture.
What type of culture do you want and where are you right now? Be honest and define your current reality. What do you value? How do you act? What is the existing culture, good or bad, and what is the aspirational culture you want to create? What is your current way of thinking, how do you behave, how do you work? What has to change? What do you want your volunteers to replicate?
Step #2: Model culture.
If we as leaders do not own the culture we want, nobody will follow us. It has to start with the leaders. Be intentional about living the culture you want. Are you as the leader modelling the way you want your team to behave? Be vulnerable, open and honest. Apologize if you make a mistake. Encourage, equip, inspire. Be the change you want to effect.
Step #3: Devote time, energy and resources to culture.
Changing culture means we’re changing behaviors, and changing human behavior is slow and challenging work. You need to make your team feel confident that they are part of something bigger than themselves and potentially significant in the lives of others. Keep the maintenance of your culture as a staff priority, budget for it, pour your resources into it, staff it.
If your culture is strong, engaging, inspiring, staff members and volunteers will be glad to dedicate themselves to it and invest themselves in it. If not, they will become disillusioned and eventually disengaged.
Pastor Erwin McManus calls himself a “cultural architect.” One of the most important jobs you have as a church leader is shaping the culture.
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Brilliant summary Fr Michael. No truer words spoken about how challenging it is to change parish culture, but we haven’t a ‘snowflakes chance in hell” of achieving the paradigm shifts needed to revitalize our church if the culture is not awesome. One question when you say to ‘budget’ for it, do you mean coaching, assessments and the like? Would you have some reference tools you could suggest I look at? Warm wishes, Berna
P.S. We are about to set up a senior leadership team to help our parish priest as we move towards a more mission led parish. I know we must begin with the culture.