Leaders are culture creators, writes Ryan Stigile. Their words, actions, and decisions reinforce community values. When the culture of an organization conforms to its values, others can be empowered to lead with assurance that everyone is moving forward together in the same direction.
I’m becoming more and more convinced that the greatest responsibility of a senior leader is to develop the culture of the organization.
You can try your best to control results and dictate responsibilities, but that will only end in confusion and disappointment. Staff members and volunteers will ask you more questions than you have time to answer. High capacity leaders will leave for a place where they can actually use their gifts. And your church will be doing everything you want without actually achieving the results you desire. Maybe you are experiencing that right now.
If you want to build a church capable of growing beyond you to reach its community, you are going to have to trust others to lead. By creating a culture that shares the right values, you will be able to do just that.
A better approach is to create a culture in which everyone deeply understands the desired wins and values. When that level of culture is established, you can heavily empower leaders to make decisions and still trust that everyone is moving forward together in the right direction.
But how can a leader actually create a culture? While it is the most intangible aspect of an organization, it is created by several tangible components. Take a moment to consider the five below. Your church’s culture is created by:
What You Say
Language is a powerful tool. Your stated values, when used correctly, define what is important for leaders to consider in every decision. Too often, churches write cliché values that go no further than the boardroom wall. Take time to craft the statements that truly define what your leaders should care about most. Do you have a set of unique values that leaders use to make decisions?
What You Celebrate
It is not enough to just celebrate wins. To craft a clear culture, you must celebrate the right wins. I’ve seen leaders cut themselves off at the knees by praising results in an area on which they do not actually want people focused. Once you’ve developed the right values, be sure to celebrate the stories that align with those values. Do the stories you tell reflect what you truly desire?
What You Spend
My father-in-law is a successful business leader who has also served as a lay leader. He once told me, “I should be able to know your church’s vision just by looking at its budget.” If you say that young families are your focus, your budget should favor your children’s ministry. If you say volunteers are your greatest resource, your budget should reflect your support and care for them. Every time you release an annual budget, you communicate what you deem most important. This is even truer in seasons when you are making budget cuts. Does your budget fully reflect your vision and values?
What You Systematize
A system provides a repeatable process for predictable results. When a system is established for a ministry function, it says to everyone, “This is important enough to get right every time.” On the other hand, when systems are ignored, the opposite is inferred. For example, if you say you want excellent weekend services but do not establish a system for planning them, you are saying it is not all that important. Which aspects of your ministry deserve a repeatable process?
What You Address
It is natural for leaders to resist addressing a problem. What we fail to recognize is that our lack of response is sending a message to everyone else. When you leave negative behavior unaddressed, it leads others to believe that it is acceptable. Many will even begin to believe that it is the only way to get things done. What problems have you been ignoring?
Refining these five contributors to culture is certainly not a simple task. It is much easier to lead heavy-handedly and dictate tasks. But if you want to build a church capable of growing beyond you to reach its community, you are going to have to trust others to lead. By creating a culture that shares the right values, you will be able to do just that
- Continuity and Change: Two Tunes All Leaders Must Know by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- How to Communicate Change by Karen Shay-Kubiak
- Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture, Integrity by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.