Can Evangelistic Culture Be Created?

By Joel Southerland

By Joel Sutherland 

Culture eats strategy for lunch. Peter Drucker

What’s the worst company in America to work for? Glassdoor ranks the best and worst companies to work for every year. They look at multiple factors, including how the employees rate the company.

At the top of the list you see glowing comments about great work environments. Toward the bottom of the list you begin to see comments that, if true, makes one wonder why anyone would work for certain companies.

If there were such thing as a “Worst Company Award,” according to Glassdoor’s list, it would go to Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit management company in the United States.

According to MSN: Just 28 percent of the current and former Express Scripts employees surveyed said they would recommend working at the pharmacy benefit management company to a friend. Only one other company, Forever 21, had such a poor recommendation rate. 

Vision vs. Culture 

When only one-fourth of the current employees would ask a friend to turn in an application, you have a bad company culture. Imagine going into an Express Scripts and saying to every employee you meet, “Hey, where do I put in an application?’ and hearing a whopping 75 percent of them say, “If I were you, I’d run the other way.” What would you do ifyou heard that over and over? You’d bolt, that’s what. Sooner or later, bad culture begins to repel.

Contrast what you now know about Express Scripts with what Express Scripts says about itselfAt Express Scripts, we provide the resources, rewards, development and recognition that empower employees to maximize their performance, career potential and financial success. 

So the sign on the wall says one thing, but the actual culture says something different. Maybe the leadership at Express Scripts should quit writing statements and take a walk around the office.

Case in point–vision is one thing–culture is another.

Culture always wins 

Vision is what you want to go on inside your organization. Culture is what is actually happening.

Consider how your church culture is affecting your evangelism efforts. If a bad company culture would cause 75 percent of employees to not recommend a friend for a job, what would a bad church culture do to the efforts of your members inviting their friends and neighbors to come to church with them? Invitations to church would be minimal at best, non-existent at worst.

Culture matters in a church. It sets the vibe and the atmosphere. Good culture brings momentum and makes working through challenges easier. Bad culture hinders, distracts and makes even the simplest things difficult.

Good culture is what makes online shoe retailer, Zappos, one of the most desirable companies to work for. Eighty-two percent of its employees say it’s a great place to work. Zappos routinely scores in the 90s percentile by employees in areas related to culture.

Culture doesn’t happen accidentally at Zappos. Tony Hsieh, CEO, says, “At Zappos, we really view culture as our number one priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself” (January 9, 2010, The New York Times). Is it any surprise they’re the number one online shoe retailer?

There are many different culture vibes a church needs. A culture of joy, healing, excitement and friendliness are all important and worthwhile. But, the most important element of a New Testament church culture is evangelism. We could say, a biblical church has a missional culture, namely, a culture that encourages members to be on mission for Christ and to reach into the community and around the world with the gospel.

J.R. Woodward in Creating a Missional Culture says, “Creating a missional culture helps the Church live out her calling to be a sign of the kingdom, pointing people to the reality beyond what we can see, a foretaste of the kingdom where we grow to love one another as Christ loves us, and an instrument in the hands of God to bring more of heaven to earth in concrete ways.

We could say, healthy culture helps your church do healthy things.

Culture trumps programming 

All the programming in the world cannot compensate for bad culture. But good culture will pour rocket fuel into the programming you have. In Baptist churches we spend more time and resources on old programming, researching programming and maintaining programming than we do on our culture.

If you have to choose between one or the other, choose culture. It usually costs less. Our time would be better spent on culture than on the best programming. Now, if your programming somehow helps and encourages a missional culture, then that’s fantastic. Consider that icing on the cake, but not the cake.

Creating good culture 

So how do you create good culture? You can’t. Yes, you read that correctly. You can’t create good culture. Or, at least, creating culture shouldn’t be your focus.

Instead of creating culture, decide to be the culture you want to create. 

Culture isn’t created as much as it’s generated. And it starts with the leader. (As a matter of fact, the culture that exists in your church right now was generated by whoever holds the most leadership collateral, regardless of title.) You generate culture as you live culture.

If you want to have a culture of joy, be joyful from the platform and in the halls. If you want to have a culture ofgenerosity,be generous personally and as a church. If you want to have a culture of unity, be easy to get along with.

And if you want to have a culture of evangelism, then be evangelistic in your everyday life, in your sermons and in your conversations.

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

It’s sowing and reaping at its best.

Becoming a missional church can start with you, the leader, being missional–literally being the culture you want to experience.

Communicate mission and celebrate mission and you’ll be well on your way to establishing the evangelistic culture you desire.

Joel Southerland serve as Executive Director of Evangelism for the North American Mission Board. 

Published May 30, 2018

Joel Southerland

Joel is the Executive Director of Evangelism at the North American Mission Board