You Can’t Fake Culture

Organizational culture is a buzz phrase these days. Before writing this article I did a Google Search and got over 1 billion responses. You read that correctly. That’s billion with a “b.” Topics include “How to Improve Company Culture,” “12 Signs Your Company Has an Enviable Workplace Culture,” “The Importance of Finding the Right Workplace Culture,” and about 997 million others! Organizational culture is a big deal. It’s a big deal in the business world. And it’s a big deal in the church world. At least it should be!

Creating a healthy church culture should be a leadership priority. If you want to know what your church culture is, complete this statement: “Our church is known for…” The answer will reveal the prevailing culture of your church.

Unfortunately, many churches are known for an unhealthy church culture. These may include, “Harmony Church is known as a chronically conflicted church.” They have a culture of conflict. Or, “Outreach Fellowship is known as a country club church.” The church has a closed culture.

I once knew a pastor who served Pleasant Valley Church. One Sunday after a heated discussion with his deacons, he turned to walk away. As he turned, one of his deacons cold-cocked him in the side of the face. Years later, he told me, “I knew something wasn’t right about that church the first time I saw it. The name was Pleasant Valley, but it sat on top of the highest hill in that part of the state.” Shaking his head he concluded, “I should have known that if they would lie about one part of their name, they’d lie about the other part, too.”

You can’t fake culture. There is a difference between “doing” and “being.” Many of our churches are unhealthy. Some of them are dying. Turning things around will require creating a healthy church culture. Here are four areas of church culture to consider…

We are known as a welcoming church.

In churches with a welcoming culture, showing hospitality is not just something that church members do, it describes who they are. They are welcoming. Inviting. Hospitable. I visit a lot of churches. Most of them at least make an effort to welcome guests. They have greeters. The pastor encourages members to speak to visitors during a welcome time. They are “doing” the things I wrote about in this article on being a welcoming church. But there is a difference between “doing” and “being.”

Years ago Melanie and I visited a church as first time guests. We decided to go on a Sunday night. As I recall, we slipped in just before the service started. The older couple sitting in front of us immediately turned to see who was sitting behind them. When they recognized we were guests, they welcomed us. They did not wait for a formal greeting time. I don’t even remember if there was a formal greeting time. I do remember that when the service was over, they introduced themselves and asked what brought us to the church. We felt like they wanted us to be there. We ended up joining that church.

I have also visited churches where I arrived early and took a seat before the service started. No one spoke. No one seemed to notice my presence. Even as people filled in the seats around me, it was as if I did not exist. Until the formal welcome time. That’s when everyone around me became friendly. I started to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were not unfriendly after all. Then the service ended. Everyone left without saying a single word to me. You can’t fake culture.

We are known as a worshiping church.

It’s easy to tell when a church is a worshiping church. Members are engaged. They are not just singing words from a hymnal or on a screen. It’s obvious that the words are an expression of praise, or thanksgiving, or adoration flowing from the heart. Or maybe they are a cry for help or an expression of confession. Whatever the meaning of the words, the words have meaning to the one who is singing them. And they are singing as if they were on a stage singing to an audience of One.

As I write this I am reminded of Bobbie Harrell. She was a senior adult lady in my home church when I was growing up. Today she is singing in the heavenly choir, but I remember her in the congregation of FBC Enterprise, Alabama singing the hymns with such passion. Her rich alto voice carried above everyone else in the church. But what I remember most was the expression of her face – pure joy. She loved Jesus, and it showed!

I have been to churches where the majority of the people were like Bobbie Harrell, and I have been to churches where someone like Bobbie would be out of place. One set of churches has a worshiping culture. The other does not. You can’t fake culture.

We are known as a disciple-making church.

Last week I wrote about The Evangelism Crisis in Today’s Church. The evangelism crisis is really a disciple-making crisis. In too many of our churches discipleship is merely something that we do. It’s a class that we attend on Sunday evenings. It’s a Bible study that we complete with a group of friends. It is something that we “do” rather than the development of who we “are.” Make no mistake. You are a disciple. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a disciple. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). In a disciple-making church, disciples are making disciples who are making more disciples.

Joey Hanner is the pastor of Union No. 3 Baptist Church in Etowah County, Alabama. Joey says that his church is “fifteen miles from everywhere,” but over the past six years, Union No. 3 has baptized over 900 people and has seen its average weekly attendance climb from 130 to 700 by making disciples who are making disciples who are making disciples. They have established a disciple-making culture. They don’t just “do” discipleship. It’s part of their DNA. You can’t fake culture.

We are known as a sending church.

In order for disciples to make more disciples, they must be sent. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “How can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out?” (Romans 10:14-15 GNB). As I shared in a previous article, every church should be known as a sending church. Sending disciples to make more disciples. Sending members to be missionaries (short-term and long-term). Planting churches. Meeting needs. Sharing the gospel in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Some churches talk about missions. Some churches “do” missions. Sending churches are filled with members who are on mission. You can’t fake culture.

Do you have a healthy church culture? Complete this statement, “We are known as a __________ church.”

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