Your culture needs to change

By Joel Southerland

Culture is often talked about but rarely understood. It’s the glue that holds all businesses together. — Mike Myatt

There is probably nothing inside or outside your church that’s affecting its growth—or lack thereof—more than its culture.

When a church has a healthy evangelistic culture, it almost seems as if every activity and event brings people to Christ.

When it has a poor evangelistic culture, it seems that any activity or event will rarely yield any evangelistic results at all.

As a pastor, you can tell when your culture is counterproductive to evangelism.

  • People would rather complain than share the gospel.
  • They gossip more than they witness.
  • They like to vote more than baptize.
  • Volunteers are hard to find for ministries.

When the culture is healthy you have the opposite effect.

  • Members tell you about witnessing experiences they had during the week.
  • They give and serve more around evangelistic causes.
  • They are regularly inviting people to church.
  • They have a genuine interest in improving their personal evangelism skills.

In order to recover evangelistic fervor, most churches will need a fundamental change of culture.

How big of an impact would a culture change make?

Consider this: When the culture is right, and the people are engaged, the results are undebatably impressive.

According to an 11-year study from John Kotter and James Hopkins at Harvard School of Business, companies with a strong, positive culture have 682% revenue growth and 901% stock appreciation over those with weak, negative cultures. It’s almost embarrassing to publish those numbers because they’re so startling. —Adrian Gostick in Pinpoints

While those numbers are drawn from the business world, you can intuitively see how organizational culture principles translate for a church.

A positive culture can make all the difference. We just know this.

Here are three simple ways to begin the process of creating an evangelistic culture.

1. Paint a picture.

John Maxwell says, “Vision is a picture of a desired future; a picture of something that I don’t possess right now, but it is something I want to see and experience and something I want the people I am leading to experience. When the pastor and his church have a vision, they will put their energy, time, money, and personnel into achieving it.”

How do you make this show up?

Use the power of the pen, video, pulpit and social media to paint a picture of what the culture at your church should be.

Most people have never been a member of a growing, evangelistic church, so they’ve never seen the culture you’d like to have. They don’t know what they don’t know. So tell them.

Paint the picture in many ways through a multitude of channels so they know what you are leading toward.

2. Keep it positive.

A lot of pastors are prophetic in regards to their preaching. They open the Word and declare, “thus saith the Lord!” The Scripture is the standard (a good thing, of course) but sometimes pastors can have a tendency to upbraid their church when they are diverging from a clear standard in the Word.

In other words, it’s easy to just “let them have it.”

The trouble is, leading from the negative can discourage your church. Especially if a poor job has been done painting the picture, because they may not be clear on what they’re supposed to be doing really looks like.

So, keep it positive. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Let them know the possibilities not merely their shortcomings.

3. Lead the way.

The fastest way to change the culture is for the leader to model the desired culture. The two leading disciplers, Jesus and Paul, taught us that culture is incarnational. It begins by showing up “zipped up in skin.” A “manner of life” that is to be replicated. It’s how every major spiritual discipline is communicated and transferred successfully.

Bottom line: You can’t expect the church to do what the pastor is not doing… or won’t do.

If you want your church members to invite people to church, you invite people to church.

If you want your church members to regularly share the gospel, you regularly share the gospel.

If you want your church members to share their stories, you share your own story more.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to vice, what pastors do in moderation, their church members will do in excess. When it comes to virtue, however, what we do in excess, they’ll do in moderation.

That’s why when it comes to evangelism, we must personally keep in overdrive just to get them to biblical par.

So they culture will change as you lead it toward change. That’s the good news.

The less-than-good news is, it won’t happen overnight. Be patience while you’re being persistent.

Eventually, culture change will reach a tipping point. It’s then you’ll begin to reap the reward of evangelism momentum… with no regrets for the hard work—now, nor in eternity.

Published May 30, 2018

Joel Southerland

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