Health and Growth

Why Church Culture is the Key to Church Growth

Thinking about your church culture? We'll explain what culture means, what it looks like for outside visitors & how you can improve your culture. Read here!

Why Church Culture is the Key to Church Growth

Dean Sweetman

Today I'm going to talk about culture and how culture shapes a lot of the decisions we make as consumers.

Really, the rise in the last 20 years from a marketing perspective has been that companies, and I'm talking outside the church world here, but it's going to relate, so get ready.

Companies have spent billions of dollars on their brand and they built that brand that sells a product or a service, and alongside that brand is a culture.

What's a culture?

Well, a culture is a set group of things that you do, that you say, the way you act, maybe the way you look, maybe not just the message, but how you talk about the message. Culture in a lot of ways is unseen and it's not overt. It's not straight in your face, "Here's what we are." Culture, especially for millennials, is about what we do and how we interact with people and how we trust people, and how we demonstrate, not just with our words but with our actions.

Culture and brands have been very intertwined over the last 20 years. Look at a company like Apple where they built a brand, but you'd go to the Apple store and you'd get a sense and feel of a culture. The lines are clean. It's like trying not to be chaotic unless they release a new iPhone and there's lines out the door, in which case they use that as part of their brand and their culture, the excitement. I've been at a few iPhone openings at Apple stores. I remember being in New York many years ago, lined up around the block and they've got employees and their T-shirts, and they're all clapping and cheering. That was incredible culture building and brand building.

Okay, then, how does this relate to church? Well, whether you like it or not, your church has a culture. And one of the things that we have to fight against as churches who are constantly looking for visitors. We want new people to come. No new people, no growing. So we want our churches to grow, which means we want to attract new people. Sometimes we spend a lot of money, like marketing and doing Facebook ads and putting up signs and banners or building new buildings. I mean we're trying to get people.

We run an evangelist campaign where we say, "Hey everyone, invite a friend to church on Sunday," and you can do all that. But if you don't have a church culture of friendliness... And let me just tell you, people feel, outsiders instantly feel. If there's not this embracing culture of the outsider, they instantly feel it and they can go through a whole 90-minute church experience and still feel like an outsider.

When we start talking about church culture, the number one thing to think about when creating culture in church is that your church embraces and accepts and has this open-armed sense of, "We are so excited you came to visit us. You could've gone anywhere but you decided to spend your time with us today. And so, we're going to make you feel over the top welcome."

And this digs down a little bit into some struggles that sometimes we have as church people, where we cast judgments on people, either by the way they look or the way they dress or where they come from. Maybe we're taking judgments on their socioeconomic background, and we're having all these preconceptions about who a person is. Guess what? They're feeling that. Yeah, they totally do. And so, when we talk about culture and the healthy culture that we need to first build in the church, it's acceptance and love, and, "You're welcome here. I know this may be a bit awkward for you, but come on in and I'm going to sit with you and I'm going to make this as un-awkward as possible. You're going to have a good time here today."

We all have these beautiful people that greet visitors. That's a really important person in your team. And there's some people like, "I want to be the door greeter," but you know they shouldn't be the door greeter. And that's a tough conversation to have with those people. You know what? There's five other good jobs for them to do. You want to get bubbly, sanguine, up, positive, fun, awesome people that smile, that are excited, that love shaking hands, that love giving hugs.

That's the first impression that you want as visitors come through the door. And that is a culture setter. You're like, "Does it really matter who's on the front door?" Absolutely it matters who's on the front, because that's often the first experience someone may have and it may cause their vision to change on the church. Maybe we got parking lot attendees. Those guys need to be happy too. Anyone, again from a business side, customer facing who isn't that kind of person is going to set the culture and values for your company or your church.

Those first impressions have to be the impression of, "You're welcome here. You're brand new. I can see that you're brand new, because I'm really smart at reading people and I look at you and you've got that little deer in headlights look, like, Oh this is brand new and I don't know where to go, any others, or where to take the kids." Oh my gosh, there are so many opportunities in the first minute to set the healthy culture of friendly, welcoming, "We want you to be here. This is a family. You are welcome to join it."

That's the first culture that we need to set as a church. I think other parts about church culture deal with things that get ingrained as Christians. The longer you become a follower of Christ, the more you forget about those first days, months, years of becoming a Christian. I wasn't raised in a Christian family. I started attending church late teenage years. It was very unfamiliar to me and every day was exciting. I mean every week I went to church was such a discovery process.

Eventually I got to work out a lot of things and I grew in my faith. Here's a part of church culture that I think we need to remember, especially as church leaders or as pastors. Remember the wonder of the brand new Christian starting on the journey and what we take for granted as mundane and something we've gone through the motions maybe for years, remember the excitement. The Bible says apostle John said, "Remember your first love." Remember what it was like, the first embrace and find Christ.

That's a beautiful thread to weave into the culture of our church, because that keeps us connected to the people that matter that are going to help our church grow. And so, it's having that love of people, having that kind of sense of, "I'm going to go out of my way to really model, show, do everything I can to help this person on their journey and I'm going to get right down at their level, eye to eye, face to face, and I'm going to be excited about their Christian journey and value what they're going through right now." I think people 100% feel that.

The generosity culture which we talk a lot about here. I've talked to a lot of pastors that say, "Dean, I just don't have a giving church." I go, "There's a reason for that. You haven't taught giving. You haven't modeled it. You haven't challenged people to be generous to others. And so you don't have a giving culture. You're right."

You can't preach a message on tithing for one Sunday and expect to have a culture that is automatically giving to others. It's constant. I think you can build generosity as a culture through a lot of the things that we talk about here at [inaudible 00:08:36]. I think that's something that you should strive to build into the life of your church, its leadership, and values.

We get caught up in the tasks and whether you're teaching, whether you're organizing meetings, whether you're administrating staff, it's all this stuff goes on behind. Most people don't know all the things that go on behind the scenes of a church to make it all function. The worship, the practice, the lighting, the audio, everything, there are so many moving parts.

But do you know what? If all that went away and all it was, was 30, 50 hundred people in a room and it was just about them... Sure, we love the bells and whistles. We love the technology. We love all that stuff. But I think the number one key for developing a great healthy culture in our churches is that we love people and we love the ones who are in the church and we absolutely adore and love the ones that come into our church from the outside.

And that shows this trickle down into all the different areas of a healthy church life if we are passionate about people. We know that God loves everyone. I get asked all the time. I live straddle into the business world and I get asked about my faith and I get asked about all these crazy things. I said Christianity boils down to some really simple things. Jesus loves everyone. The only people who got angry were the religious people that were representing God incorrectly. He accepted everybody. There wasn't anyone who couldn't come up and have a conversation with Jesus.

I think the sense of the church having this culture of people first loving people, I think, goes a long way in creating that environment. That atmosphere will create a healthy church that continues to grow. I think that's why culture is such a critical part of church life.

Show Notes:

Read the full blog of this episode here:

Today on Modern Church Leader, CEO Dean Sweetman explains how to shape your church culture to set it up for long-term, sustainable growth.

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Editor’s Note: This post was updated on May 5, 2020 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


Why Church Culture is the Key to Church Growth