4 Steps to Building an Intentional Culture in your Church in 2016


Building an intentional “culture” at your church is something a lot of people are talking these days but few people are actually doing. Truth is every church already has a culture, but most of them are built on accident.

Culture is that squishy stuff in an organization that’s hard to get your hands around and define. It’s reflected in the language of the organization, the way people who are a part of the organization dress, the filter they use to make decisions and so on. Culture has been defined as the sum total of the attitude, values and behaviors of an organization. And of course Peter Drucker, who is commonly referred to as the “father of modern management,” was famously quoted as saying the following about culture:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

If that’s true, and if culture really is so important then how do you purposefully build culture in your church? Say you want to build a culture of volunteerism, generosity, outreach, or discipleship; what steps would you take? Building a purposeful culture in a church doesn’t have to remain a mystery you can do it by following the following steps. All four steps are equally important, but most pastors usually only think about the first two.

1. Preach = Inspiration & Motivation

This answers the question, “Why should I do it?”

Words build worlds. In other words language matters, it matters a lot. We do this with our kids at home you probably do too. Like most kids my kids fight from time to time and sometimes it gets a little carried away. When this happens I’ll ask my son, “Are you strong?” and he’ll respond by saying, “Yea Daddy, I’m strong!” I’ll then ask him, “Who made you strong?” and he’ll reply, “Jesus made me strong.” Next I ask, “Why did Jesus make you strong?” to which he says, “To take care of people.” Next comes the question of clarity, I’ll ask him if he used his strength to take care of his brother or his sisters (whoever the fight was with). This has become normal language in our home and as a result the culture of our home is teaching him that his gifts are from Jesus and they have been given to him for the purpose of helping others, not simply to be spent on himself.

Example: Do a teaching series on biblical community and groups. Demonstrate and inspire from the Bible why it’s unacceptable to do life alone.

2. Teach = Instruction & Application

This answers the question, “How should I do it?”

Teaching is all about offering and training very specific steps that you want people to take that will move them towards the activities you want them to be involved in and the attitudes and behaviors you want them to demonstrate.

Example: Create a clear step that people can take to get into a Small Group.

3. Model = Illustration & Examples

This answers the question, “Are you buying what you’re selling?”

In other words are you authentic? Do you use your own product? This is a simple issue of leading with moral authority.

Example: All of our Staff are in groups and we’re leading the way, join us and get in a group too.

4. Celebrate = Celebration & Reinforcement

This answers the question, “What do you value?”

What gets celebrated gets repeated. What you cheer on and value in your church builds culture in your church. This may sound elementary, but if you’re a parent you’ll get what I’m about to say. There’s a reason you reward a kid when you’re potty training them with an M&M and cheer them on when they use the toilet. At no other time in your life will people cheer you on when you use the toilet. But when you’re training someone to do something for the first time, what you celebrate gets repeated.

Example: Publicly make “heroes” of and celebrate stories of people who got involved in a group and how their life was impacted and changed through biblical community.

Posted in Leadership


Attitude: The Unspoken Asset of Leadership


One of the greatest moments in the history of the NASA space program began with the statement, “Houston, we have a problem.” An oxygen tank on the spacecraft Apollo 13, piloted by John Swigert, had just exploded. The Director of NASA quipped that this could be the worst disaster in the history of NASA. Gene Kranz, the Flight Director, quickly interrupted the Director by stating, “With all due respect Sir, I think this is going to be our finest hour.” He then clearly, firmly, yet calmly belted out to the staff that was franticly scurrying around, “Work the problem!”

That room was full of very intelligent, very experienced, and very capable people. But what made the difference that day was attitude. When facing a problem, success or failure has more to do with our attitude than our ability.

The greatest moments of any individual or organization always come through our greatest obstacles. And when those obstacles come along, the best leaders always live on the solution side of every issue.

This isn’t just some cute pithy idea that’s been ripped off from the Business World. This is straight out of God’s Word. The book of Proverbs is littered with comments about attitude and the Apostle Paul hits this topic multiple times in the book of Philippians. In Ephesians he writes…

 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”
Ephesians 2:1-10

…in other words…
God made your biggest problem His biggest problem, and then He solved it.

4 Ways Church Leaders Approach Problems

1. Victims: Avoid Problems

These leaders focus on the problem not the solution. Instead of dealing with the problem they ignore it hoping it will magically go away. You’ll often find them complaining and venting. They’re pretty sure that the problem they find themselves in is something that happened to them and they can’t do anything about it.

Move from a Victim to an Owner by taking Personal Responsibility

2. Owners: Own the Problem

These leaders not only identify the problem and what’s not working, but they begin to diagnose why it’s not working even taking ownership for what they’ve done to contribute to the problem by intention or neglect. They’re still not coming up with solutions but they understand the problem. By the way if you’ve been in a ministry for more than 3 years and don’t like what you’ve got then look in the mirror. If you’ve been there less than 3 years, go ahead and blame your predecessor.

Move from an Owner to a Solver by Working the Problem

3. Solvers: Solve the Problem

These leaders not only accurately diagnose problems but they come up with great solutions. They’re not afraid to involve others in the process because they believe the team outperforms the individual.

Move from a Solver to a Creative by Viewing Problems as Opportunities.

4. Creatives: Leverage the Problem

These leaders actually leverage problems because they understand that every problem is an opportunity to build and reinforce the culture that they’re trying to build. They know that big problems breed innovation, resourcefulness, and tenacity in a team. The best leaders actually intentionally create crisis (problems) if things are going too well to keep the organization from drifting towards complacency.

Your attitude matters because it catches. Is your attitude worth catching?

Posted in Leadership


The Difference between a Visionary and a Dreamer


Churches are notorious for talking about vision at the start of the New Year. In fact, many churches actually come up with a new “Vision Theme” every year that they role out to the church in January. There’s getting ready to be a lot of “vision talk” in churches across America in the next couple of weeks. The problem is there is a lot of confusion in the church about what vision and being a visionary actually is.

Often churches confuse being a good communicator with being a visionary. Just because you can get people to buy into you or your idea doesn’t make you’re a visionary. Other times vision comes packaged as a compelling idea. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you’re a visionary.

What I’ve discovered is that most churches are chasing a dream, not following a vision. Here’s the difference:


Dreamer: Dreams are fun, fantastical, and free. It doesn’t cost anything to dream dreams.
Visionary: Visionaries are willing to pay the price to see their vision become reality.


Dreamer: Dreamers are full of ideas, bouncing from one dream to the next.
Visionary: Visionaries have a determined laser focus on the vision.


Dreamer: “Someday” and “eventually” are common language for the dreamer.
Visionary: Visionaries build action plans with real deadlines that get them to the vision.


Dreamer: A combination of chasing ideas with a short attention span rarely leads to a great impact.
Visionary: Focused attention that moves you towards a specific vision coupled with a willingness to pay the price can lead to tremendous impact.

What are some other differences between dreamers and visionaries that you’ve observed? I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment!

Posted in Leadership


Top Posts of 2015 #1: “How Many People should your Church have on Staff?”

I’ve been counting down the top 10 posts from 2015 this past week and you made this the most popular post here at Helping Churches Make Vision Real in 2015!

Before you buy into the idea that you need another staff person at your church, think again. That just may be the worst decision you make at your church this year.

It’s not uncommon in churches that I work with to hear them say, “We need to add more staff.” After all if there are problems or areas where the church is stuck then throwing staff at that problem will surely fix it…right? Well, not always. In fact the opposite may be true. In fact the most effective churches that I see have a tendency to hire fewer staff not more staff. They hire more competent team members who have the ability to turn attenders into volunteers, volunteers into leaders, and build teams. Instead of paying people to do ministry they pay people to lead others to do ministry.

At the Unstuck Group we encourage churches to staff to a ratio of 100:1. As you can see in the chart above the average ratio of attendance to staff in most churches is 86:1. In other words for every 86 people in attendance at the church (including adults and kids), there’s typically one full-time staff person.

This number includes all paid staff at the church. That means administrative staff, support staff, ministry staff and pastors. This number also includes both full-time and part-time staff. We calculate the full-time equivalent (FTE) number by adding the total average number of hours part-time staff work and then dividing by 40. That number is added to the number of full-time staff to get the FTEs. For example, if there are 5 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees working a combined average of 200 hours per week, that makes for a total of 10 FTE’s.

Over staffing is a big deal in churches because it’s usually an indicator that:

1. The church has become Insider Focused

Typically an overstaffed church is paying people to do ministry and run programs to keep long-time people in the church happy.

2. The church has a Poor Culture of Volunteerism

There is a direct connection between staffing and volunteerism at churches. Generally the more a church spends on staffing the less likely attenders are to serve.

3. The church has Stopped Growing

There is also a direct connection between staffing and church growth. What we’ve discovered in our research at the Unstuck Group is that the more a church spends on staff the more the rate of attendance growth slows.

In other words the more staff your church has the more likely your church is to become insider focused, have a low level of buy-in and volunteerism by attenders, and to be plateaued or in decline.

Interested in learning more? Download the ebook “Vital Signs: Meaningful Metrics That Keep a Pulse on Your Church’s Health” or consider engaging the Unstuck Group to do a Ministry Health Assessment with your church.

Posted in Leadership, Staffing


Top Posts for 2015 #2: “5 Core Behaviors of Churches that get Unstuck”


Five years ago when I started writing this blog the primary driver was to help churches make vision real. To help churches bridge the gap between ideas and reality. This post will help your church avoid getting stuck and get on the path to making vision real!

Churches all across America are stuck. Large churches, small churches, old churches, new churches, Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Nazarene churches, Presbyterian church and even non-denominational churches are stuck. Stuckness is no respecter of the “brand” or “flavor” of the church. It happens to all kinds of churches. Lead long enough in a church and it will happen to you.  In fact Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources has stated in his research that:

“Eight out of ten of the approximately 400,000 churches in the United States are declining or have plateaued.”

Churches get stuck for all kinds of reasons but there are a handful of core behaviors that I see over and over again in churches get unstuck.

1. They’re Outsider Focused

They’re consumed with the idea that the need for the Gospel in their community is greater than their capacity to meet it. And so they’re willing to go to extraordinary measures to bring people far from Jesus close to Him. So much so that their posture is towards those outside of the faith rather than those inside of the faith. They consistently make choices based on who they’re going to reach rather than who they’re going to keep.

2. They have a Strong Organizational Culture

They are clear about their vision, they know where they’re going. But it’s not just that they have some aspirational idea about where they think God wants them to be one day they actually have a clear plan to get where they’re going and they methodically work the plan. They’ve done the hard work of defining their leadership culture, and values, and aligning every ministry of the church to move in one singular direction.

3. They Develop People

They don’t pay everyone in the church to do ministry, instead they typically have a pretty lean staff (a ratio of 1:100+) and pay those staff to invest in and develop volunteers. They identify young leaders and give them real responsibility to make real decisions and own the ministry. Actually be the church instead of just come to church.

4. They view Spiritual Maturity Differently than most

They don’t view spiritual maturity as something that happens in a classroom. It’s not about content but rather your behavior. In other words it’s not so much what you know, it’s what you do with what you know. Ironically enough, that’s the same way Jesus defined it. They’ve also mapped out a clear pathway for people to run on. The moment they say yes to following Jesus there is a series of clear next steps for them to take to move forward with Jesus.

5. They’re Courageously Humble

The posture of their leadership is a humble confidence. They’re life long learners and incessant tinkerers. Willing to learn from anyone from any industry and any size organization. They’re not afraid to ask for help, even outsiders. They lead in their area of brilliance and submit in areas of weakness. They’re willing to confront the brutal facts and listen to the truth, even when it’s not pretty.

Does your church need help getting unstuck in 2015?  The Unstuck Group can help, follow this link to learn how.

Photo Credit: Lachlan Hardy via Compfight cc

Posted in Leadership