I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on a number of ‘round table’ conversations with church leaders this year where conversation has been dominated by the topic of ‘culture’. For growing churches especially, this topic becomes front and center all the time and it can’t be ignored. Underestimating the importance of culture can bring an organization to its knees or, worse yet, decimate it.
We are incredibly passionate about our culture at Church Community Builder. As we have grown from eleven associates to ninety over the last seven years, we've had to make it a major priority and protect it with great intentionality. I personally believe it is one of the biggest reasons we continue to grow, thrive, and innovate in the midst of a market full of companies that come, go, merge, or get acquired.
The culture of any organization begins with the its leadership team. There is NO way you can expect to have a healthy culture if those who lead the organization don’t define it and live it out ... every day! So, where do you begin? How do you implement good culture? How do you sustain it? Here is what we’ve learned at Church Community Builder.
Six steps to a healthy staff culture
- Define your ‘why’. It all begins here. People need to understand why you do what you do a whole lot more than what you do. Your why is what helps people move from just having a job to having a responsibility. This is not a mission statement or a slogan. It is a sentence or short paragraph that describes your purpose for existence. It must be clear, compelling, and unique to you. Our good friends at Auxano helped us find great clarity about our why. It was huge!
- Define your target. Who is it that you are trying to reach ... really? You absolutely must have a single target audience or customer. This helps you and your people focus on finding the right people and serving them with excellence. That, in turn, becomes very attractive to other people who might be on the edge of the target but really want to be in the center of it. In a church context, think of ‘Saddleback Sam’. In a business context, think of Apple. But here’s a really important thing to remember: You need to be OK with saying “we’ll miss you” to people who don’t fit the definition. This sends a very powerful cultural message to your staff.
- Identify your behavioral values. Once you know your ‘why’, you must then define the core behavioral values that are non-negotiable for your organization. These values will help you hire only the right people and fire the wrong ones — quickly — when you make a hiring mistake! Our most important one at Church Community Builder is teachable spirit. If someone isn't humble enough to learn from others or from their own mistakes, they don’t belong on our team.
- Lead by example. This is a no brainer, but it amazes me how many times it’s ignored. If the leadership team isn’t willing to live by the values you define, you might as well throw them away. For example, is your Senior Pastor teachable when he makes a mistake, or does he leave no room for feedback and constructive criticism? If it’s the latter, you’d better forget making teachable spirit a behavioral value.
- Create a safe environment. You can get results out of people through positional authority or through an attitude of servant leadership. The first approach creates a culture of toxicity and mistrust. The latter creates a culture of safety where people genuinely serve and love one another ... and achieve results you never dreamed were possible!
- Regularly provide (and ask for) feedback. Most organizations do performance reviews, but I’ve seen very few that do ‘cultural’ reviews. At Church Community Builder, we do two reviews with each of our associates every year. One of those reviews is all about how they are living up to the behavioral values I spoke of in point #3. In that conversation, every person is given the opportunity to give me feedback as well. While it is important to correct issues in the moment rather than waiting for review, these intentional conversations always surface gold for me. If you’re unsure about this principle, remember this line: “People respect what they suspect you will inspect.”
Establishing and protecting staff culture might be the single most important thing you can do to ensure the long-term success of your organization. Like most things in life, it begins with good leadership and clarity of expectations. The more clarity you provide in terms of what you expect and why it matters, the more people rise to the occasion. In the end, everyone wins, and your ministry grows in a very healthy way.
What are some practical ways you’ve seen staff culture impact your ministry?