culture2Every organized group of people has a culture. Families have cultures. Companies have cultures. Cities and countries have cultures. Churches have cultures. These cultures are powerful because culture is what tells people what to do when no one is telling them what to do.

Most often we find ourselves needing to understand and adapt to an existing culture.

You were born into a family.  You take a job with a company.  You move to a city or country.  You become part of an existing church.  Now, your starting a new church and there is no culture and  you have two choices.  You can accept the culture that evolves – don’t be fooled, one will evolve unless you as a leader intentionally create one.

Culture is maintained through language, symbols, stories and habits.  As a church planter, you can use those same tools to create a new culture.

  • Language is powerful, especially when you craft and repeat sticky phrases like, “come as you are but don’t stay that way.”  Those 9 words tell me what will be expected of me as a part of this church – bring my junk, let God change me, accept others as they are.  What kind of sticky language have you crafted to shape the culture of your new church?
  • Symbols are often more powerful than words, but rarely chosen as carefully.  I once spoke at a church that had a banner over the doors welcoming guests.  It included a silhouette of a man, woman, 2 kids and a dog.  Unfortunately, half the people living in this community were single and thus greeted by a symbol telling them they didn’t really belong. What symbols are you using to shape the culture of your new church?
  • Stories are how culture is passed from one generation to the next. Why do you think parents tell their children those “when I was a kid stories?” Stories connect with our hearts and create memories almost as powerful as if we had been their ourselves.  What stories are you telling to pass along the culture of your new church?
  • Habits are the proof that culture is how we live, not just how we talk.  All the language, symbols and stories in the world won’t convince someone your church has a grace-filled culture if what they experience the first time they walk through the doors are looks of judgmental disdain.  Above all, the habits of the founders will become the culture of the congregation.  What habits are you and your core team modeling as the culture of your new church?

If you’re tempted to neglect culture creation as a church planter, just ask the pastor of an established church how hard it is to change an established culture – even a really unhealthy one.