How To Create A Transformational Culture


By Aaron Buer

At Ada Bible Church, we have seven core values that define the culture we are striving to create in our student ministry.

  1. Fun
  2. Safe and Accepting Environments
  3. Relational Discipleship
  4. Excellence
  5. Compelling Biblical Teaching
  6. Team Focus
  7. Culture of Empowerment

These are our core values. They are what make us tick. Most likely, you have seen a list like this before. You probably have them on a wall somewhere in your office or in a document that you can’t find. But the truth is, these aren’t your core values and they don’t define your culture.

The reality is, when you look at the impact of your team of staff and volunteers—the energy and feel of your ministry or church—the list on the wall does not reflect the reality of how your team does “being together to accomplish their purpose,” which is the definition of culture.

So, how do you move that list off the wall and into the life of your team? Good question. It starts by defining what the culture of your church or ministry actually is.

WHAT IS OUR CULTURE?

What’s the culture of your church or ministry? This is one of those questions we know is hugely important but is so difficult to answer. We know culture is important and we know a good one when we see it (think of that ministry or church you are secretly jealous of). And yet, if we’re honest we don’t really know how to create a great culture.

The reality is, culture in itself isn’t that difficult to define or create. It’s actually quite simple and organic—because culture is created by people. If you lock a group of people in a house for a few weeks, they will inevitably create a culture—and possibly a reality TV show. Every family has a culture. Every community has a culture. Every church has a culture, simply because they are collections of people functioning together. As we said, the most basic definition of culture is this: The way a group of people does “being together to accomplish their purpose.”

So, if you want to understand the culture of your church or ministry, all you have to do is observe how people are communicating and acting. Be like my two-year-old daughter and repeatedly ask, “Cuz Whhhhhy?” until you get to the last possible answer. There, you will find your actual core values.

If you’ve been immersed in your ministry or church for a long time, it may be difficult for you to see your culture because you’ve become such a part of it. If this is your scenario, the best thing you can do is listen to the observations of outsiders. Ask new volunteers, staff or attenders what it feels like to walk your walls and engage your people. Their answers will help you understand your culture.

HOW DO WE CREATE CULTURE?

It may not seem like it, but I believe that creating culture is almost as simple (simple doesn’t mean easy) as defining it. This is because culture is created by people. All you need to create culture is a community. The question is, will the culture you are creating be the culture you really want?

So, how do we create a transformational culture? I have four ideas:

  1. Leaders define culture. If you are a leader, you must do the hard work of defining and modeling your culture. People always follow what they see more than what they hear. Identifying and multiplying your cultural values is the key role of a leader.
  2. People create culture. You must be intentional about only bringing staff and volunteers into your organization who embody your core values, or at least are hungry to learn and implement your culture. It’s important to remember that people always create culture. When you have people in your church or ministry who don’t believe in your culture, they will create a counter-culture. Needless to say, that leads to trouble.
  3. Culture must be coached. If you are a leader, you cannot expect that your team will instantly and always buy into and implement the culture you want. Culture is created with hard conversations. When you see behavior and attitudes that go against the culture you desire, you must address it. Without careful confrontation, hard conversations, and continual re-visioning, you will not achieve your desired culture.
  4. Culture is cultivated. If you plant a garden this afternoon, you can’t expect to harvest tonight. It’s the same with culture. It takes time. Patience, persistence and hard work are required. But, cultivating a transformational culture is worth it! As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Culture is important. It’s one of the keys to building transformational ministries and churches. As the people of Jesus, we need transformational cultures. So, go. Cultivate and create. Don’t give up. It’s worth the effort.

Hi! My name is Aaron and I’ve been a student pastor for 12 years now. Currently, I’m the student ministries pastor at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. We’re one of those crazy multi-site churches. I absolutely love my job and my team—they are the best people in the world. My favorite things in life are Thai food, beach volleyball, my family and books. I love to talk student ministry strategy and practices. Look me up via blog or Twitter!

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