There’s debate about who really said it, but it’s true…

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Your church needs a clear and effective strategy to accomplish your mission. But no strategy compensates for a poor culture. You can preach with passion, create policies and procedures NASA would admire and raise all the money you want, but if your culture stinks, your church won’t be effective.

Culture is why you can grow tomatoes in a backyard garden but not a desert.  And why a cactus will grow in the desert but not a rain forest.  The culture, or the environment, dictates what you can and cannot do.

If you’ve got a culture problem, that new strategy will quickly fail. If you’ve got a culture problem, you will not be able to attract or empower great leaders. If you’ve got a culture problem, you will have trouble connecting guests, gaining momentum, and feeling fulfilled in ministry.

Too many times, church leaders try to fix the visible problems without addressing the underlying culture problems. Solutions don’t stick because the environment where they are deployed isn’t appropriate.

It’s like trying to grow tomatoes in a desert.

Healthy, growing churches create a culture of leadership – one where a select group of superstars don’t do all of the ministry and where volunteers and leaders are empowered to serve. Whether it’s full-time staff, part-time staff or volunteer leaders, you need a group of people around you who can LEAD, not just DO ministry. And that can only be developed in the right culture.

With this in mind, here are a few things that will kill the leadership culture in your church.

  1. Moving the goal line.

Imagine playing a football game and scoring a touchdown only to have the referred call out the grounds crew and paint a new end zone 10 more yards down the field. That’s what happens in so many churches.

There’s a direction and there’s a goal, but it keeps moving.

People are hired to do one thing and expected to do another. A leader sets a course but comes down from the mountain with a different direction. Let’s increase attendance…now let’s work on giving…now let’s focus on small groups…now let’s be missional.

The result is leadership whiplash.

And it’s a pain in the neck for everyone involved.

If you want to create a healthy leadership culture in your church, you need to define the win and give yourself and your team a lot of time to orient everything toward reaching that goal.

  1. Not involving people in plans.

If you come down the mountain with a new strategy and hand it to people to implement, there’s a good chance it won’t work. Leaders want to be involved in creating solutions, particularly in areas that affect them. The mountain mentality, where the leader is the one who hears from God and comes up with the strategy, is dangerous.

If you don’t involve people in the plans but expect them to execute it, you’re contributing to a top-down culture where the prophet has all of the answers. Leaders won’t thrive in this type of environment.

Lao Tau said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” This flies in the face of a lot of modern leadership, where the senior leader is the genius who hands the plan to the thousand helpers.

If you want to create a culture of leadership in your church, involve people in the planning stages.

  1. Meetings after the meetings.

Meetings aren’t just a necessary evil – they are important to communication and decision making. Healthy, growing churches have focused team meetings. I wrote about keeping your meetings focused here and I wrote about building an effective meeting rhythm here.

But one thing that will kill culture is meetings after meetings – where people directly or indirectly sabotage the plans of the church. I’m not talking about follow up, I’m talking about two or three people who get together in a spirit of compassion after the fact. Side meetings quickly turn into gripe sessions, speculative questions and out-loud worry about the direction of the church.

If you want to have a healthy leadership culture, you’ve got to address everything head-on and cut out all the side meetings.

  1. Ministries that don’t work together.

A church is not a collection of random ministries all trying to accomplish a different thing. A healthy church has one focus, one mission and one vision. Each and every ministry should align itself with that.

The tendency in churches is for ministries to develop their own set of wins, values and strategies.  And the result is what Tony Morgan calls “Ministry Silos“.  He writes:

“One of the common challenges that I see in churches that are stuck is that they are operating as many distinct ministries under one roof. In most cases I’m positive they didn’t set out to create the situation, but they find themselves in a place where there are ministry silos operating independently from each other. Each ministry ends up competing with every other ministry for time, attention, space and other resources. I liken this to an unhealthy marriage where the husband and wife are still living in the same house, but they’ve decided he’ll sleep on the couch. There’s no unity of purpose.”

Alignment isn’t going to happen on it’s own – it will take intentionality and focus on your part.  That’s part of the reason your church needs a comprehensive communications system – so ministries know when to talk about what and so all the people inside and outside the church hear the right message.  This will help with that.

  1. A lack of love for your team.

Bad leaders think their team is there to serve them.

Great leaders understand it’s their job to help the people in their care do their best. Not just for the good of the church, but for the good of their soul.

We can talk about goals, expectations, and management theory all day, but if you don’t love your team, all of those tactics will fall flat. And your team will feel it.

This is never more important than in times of disagreement. Too many times, leaders dish out arguments that can’t stand up to the relationship. That’s because the relational ground work was never laid down.

If you want to create a culture of leadership in your church, treat people like people first and employees and volunteers second. Put the relationship ahead of the result, and not just so you will get results in the end.

  1. Leaders who expect what they do not model.

There’s no quicker way to kill a leadership culture in any organization than to expect what you do not model.

  • If you want your team to work hard, you better work hard.
  • If you want your team to be in a small group, you should be in a small group.
  • If you want your team to create healthy systems, you better create healthy systems.
  • If you want your team to get approval for purchases, you should shut down the “pastor’s discretionary fund.”

And the list could go on and on.

Healthy, growing churches have a leadership culture where expectations are modeled not enforced.

  1. A lack of clarity.

Whether your team consists of volunteers, part-time staff, or full-time leaders, one of the most critical things you can do for people is provide clarity. The senior leader is the chief clarity officer of the church.

People tend to pick up other responsibilities and passions along the way – it’s up to you to create a culture where the “main thing” is continually defined and refined.

You’ve got to help people know what really matters, and what things they do matter most. And they can’t have three most important things – they have to know what is the MOST important.

There is an amazing synergy that comes from a team, made up of people who know their roles, focus on one goal. You’ve got to clarify both roles and goals.

When you do that, you’ll shape a culture of leadership that will yield healthy growth.

So What’s Next?

Feel like your church should be growing, but it’s not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?

We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. As a result we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.

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