Let's talk about culture.
In fact, let's talk about church culture.
Culture is one of the most fascinating things. It's been studied a lot, both in the secular and in the Christian world. But before I get into culture, let's talk about branding for a second.
Companies spend billions of dollars on their branding. What's a brand? In my mind, it's a feeling. When I look at Apple and I get a feeling, that’s Apple’s brand. The brand emits something. You can deeply investigate what companies do to create image around their brand. Do I feel cool? Do I feel beautiful? Do I feel [insert feeling]?
That’s a brand.
I know this is a secular way of speaking, but all of that goes into the psychology of people liking something and using something, and in the case of church, attending something.
Culture is very critical in the life of the church. There are some things on the flip side that can become very toxic in church life, and toxic culture is like the reverse of powerful and positive culture. I've got a couple things I wanted to share in the area of culture, what you shouldn't do, and what enables you to create that great culture.
1. Remove church politics
Church politics. It has no place. When there are political issues, these usually stem from a sharp division between the “in-crowd” and the rest of the crowd. If you have a situation in church life where there's this in-crowd that knows all the inside baseball of what's going on, that creates a politically weird culture. Visitors will feel it. You need to be really, really careful about avoiding those kinds of relationships inside the church. Sure, you've got a leadership team. Sure, you're going to hang out with and focus on building that leadership team. But in public meetings, you don't want any of that stuff.
2. Don’t just preach to the front row
A lot of times when pastors, when they're preaching, they're preaching to the front row. They're preaching to the choir. They're preaching to get some kind of affirmation or they're preaching to impress. Don't preach to impress. Preach to reach the visitor that came to church today and is needing Christ in their life. Having that toxicity within relationships in church can be a very, very, very terrible impediment to that.
3. Don’t tolerate gossip
Another thing that will kill the culture in your church is gossip. There's a reason it's listed as a sin in the New Testament, and it's because it's so insidious. As a pastor, you’re often given private information. If you're the kind of person that starts blabbing that around, people will lose the sense of safety that your church is meant to provide.
You've got to be really, really careful that that gossip culture doesn’t take root. There are people in the church that cannot help themselves. That either needs to be addressed if it's really bad and toxic, or you simply need to make sure that those people don't know what's going on around the place because they're going to blab it.
4. Maintain integrity between public and private
Another part of building a healthy culture in church life is making sure what's said in public is the same as what's said in private and vice versa. For me to have personal integrity, I must be that same person in public as I am in private. Churches need to be very, very careful of making sure that what they present in public is what's actually happening in private. People can sense when things aren’t lining up.
5. Practice authenticity
The other thing about culture in the church is the A-word. Authenticity. In our day and age, it's so easy to spot things that are fake. In fact, younger people make fun of things that are not real. They will literally poke fun of things that are fake. We've got a lot of fakeness around our world. We've got a lot of shallow things that are going on in our culture that are not real. People are very into this whole selfie culture, putting on some kind of persona that's not real.
Having the reality that's coming from the top in the pulpit becomes really, really powerful when it comes to setting the culture in your church. Culture will affect the brand of who you are as a senior leader and how you are perceived in the community. You always want your church to be known in the community for being loving, caring, reaching the lost, serving their community, generous, and all the things that Jesus has taught us to be. All the things that the new Testament teaches us to live as Christians—that's how you want your church to be known.
6. Build a strong reputation for being loving
We need to go out of our way as leaders to make sure we're setting that culture from the top and we're preaching and teaching that culture. That way we'll be attractive to the world. The world will see us and it's not something that they're going to look and say, "Why would I go to that place? It's X, Y, Z." But your reputation might pop up in that conversation when someone says: "You know what? I've heard great things about that church. I want to go check that place out."
7. Love your community
Sometimes people don't need Christ until they're in a crisis. Within any square five miles of your church, there are people waking up every day in a crisis. They've got a bad report from the doctor. They've got marriage pressure. They've got financial pressure. They're looking for answers and help. The church that you want to build and the culture that you want to create and the brand you want to create is the place people can go when they are in trouble. You want them running to you because of your reputation. That's the kind of power of culture that we can create in our churches.
What are people's perception of the church? Oftentimes it's that they're not caring, they're not loving, and they're judgmental. There's a perception problem a lot of times with the church. That's why other things flourish outside of church. People run to other things. They run to other religions. They run to false teaching. They run to secularism. They run to humanism. They run to anything that makes them feel good. They run from the truth.
Over to you
The problem is that the church’s brand for too long too long has been: “You need to change and then you can come to us.” Whereas Jesus taught the exact opposite. He says: "You going to fish in the world." And that might prompt us to think: “I'm not a very good fisherman in real life, but I know this.” You better have the bait on the hook that the fish want to eat. For too long, the church has had the wrong bait—the judgmental bait, the looking-down-on-people who don't live like them and don't hold up to standards kind of bait. We know that we're hypocrites, just like everybody else. We don't live to that standard all the time.
The brand of the church becomes critical in the area of how the community perceives the church. I've said this my whole life. Most people don't have any problem with Jesus. They have a problem with the church. We need to represent Jesus in the community, and that way people will tie the brand of the church with who Jesus really is, and we'll win the world for Christ.
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