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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Changing the Cultural DNA of Your Local Church

Pastors are called not merely to grow a church by developing programs. They are, instead, primarily called to architect a church culture that aligns with the values of Christ. Working in collaboration with God and the leaders of the local church to architect a culture is pain-staking and time-consuming. Usually the fruit of cultural architecture doesn’t bloom through the ground for 3-5 years, the average tenure of pastors in America. If this is true, too many pastors resign from their local church too soon.

I was privileged to be a part of a local church that turned a significant corner toward becoming a vibrant movement. This church which was, for a long time, known as an insular holy huddle became a part of the 1% of churches whose growth came from conversion. In fact, as the church tripled in size more than 50% of its growth came by way of conversion not transfer. Energy once devoted to pot-lucks and hymn-sings was re-assigned toward feeding the hungry, housing the poor and helping the addicted. This church, once known nationally as a racist flock, became one of the most multi-ethnic churches in its community.

Programs didn’t change the cultural DNA of this church. So, how can a pastor partner with God and lay leaders in architecting a kingdom-aligned culture? Glad you asked. Here’s the journey one local church made in the quest to become a culture congruent with Christ:     

-Pray it: When a ship gets off course for many years, it takes a miraculous act of God to redirect it. Significant change in the cultural DNA of a local church will not happen unless the people fast and pray, not just for the healing of Aunt Sally’s bunion, but for the empowering of the Spirit upon the church. Frequent prayer gatherings (concerts of prayer, vigils, 40 days of prayer, retreats) can cultivate the soil of the church for the rain (and reign) of Christ which brings cultural change.

-Communicate it: The local church I reference above focused significant time on preaching and teaching from Luke 4:18-22, where Jesus describes the anointing of the Spirit for the sake of the marginalized. Communicating cultural values through preaching, teaching, testimony, and small group curriculum is imperative. This allows the church to wrestle with the biblical and theological foundations that undergird their cultural transition.

-Embody it: What the leadership team embodies and values, in word and deed, will determine the cultural DNA of a local church. It doesn’t matter what the vision plaque on the wall states, if the elected, appointed, and hired leaders in the church do not embody the values of a culture congruent with the character of Christ, positive cultural change will not happen. For example, if you want to become a church that cares for the poor and addicted but the leaders never spend time sharing life with the poor and addicted, cultural change will be unlikely.

-Budget it: Cultural change in the local church happens when the church puts its money where its mouth is. So, if the church says it values the poor but it quickly decides to upgrade music equipment instead of helping a single mom with four kids pay her electric bill, does it really value the poor? If the church wants to become a culture of global generosity but decides on a new, and unnecessary, projector while postponing the adoption of a village in Africa, the cultural change it longs for will not happen.

-Schedule it: The church calendar says a lot about the culture of a congregation. Lots of churches want a culture of care for the “lost,” (a term they should not use if they want to actually reach the lost), yet their calendar is void of any intentional contact with people who are lost. They reserve space on the church campus for the Christian Business Men’s Association and the Senior Women’s Bible Study, but don’t allow groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous to corrode the church carpets. Make room in the calendar and on the campus for the culture God seeks.

-Recruit it: Take your time hiring, recruiting, electing, equipping, encouraging and empowering the kind of people who value the kind of culture you believe God is calling the church to embody. That culture-transitioning congregation described earlier hired an ex-convict to be one of her pastors. It made complete sense for a church that wanted to foster a culture where “captives were set free.” As you fill positions in your church, avoid the warm body syndrome that simply seeks to find someone, anyone to fill the gap. Instead, take your time and prayerfully select people whose values align with the culture God is calling the church to embrace.

When all of the dots above connect consistently for 3-5 years, culture tends to happen. Connecting these dots demonstrates to God that we are serious about becoming the church he is calling us to be for the sake of the world. And, when we do our part God will show up for “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron.16:9).  

Consider sharing this with your leadership team and discussing the following questions:
-In which areas above are we hitting a homerun?
-In which areas above are we striking out?
-How can we maximize our strengths and address our weaknesses to foster the kind of culture that is congruent with the Christ’s values?


Matt Brady said...

Great post Lenny. I hope that when I get to the place where God puts me in a pastoral role (Wesleyan ministerial student now, starting at Wesley Seminary/IWU in January) I can exercise the kind of godly wisdom and patience you write about.

Lenny Luchetti said...

Thanks Matt. I will look forward to having you as a student some day.Peace

Matt Brady said...

I look forward to sitting under your teaching. Of all the areas covered in the MDiv program and Wesleyan licensing / ordination, preaching has me the most unsure of myself, since I have no real experience at it. Any preparatory advice for getting my feet wet?

Lenny Luchetti said...

You know my heart for preaching and preachers, Matt. My advice to you would be say yes to as many opportunities as you get to preach. And, when you do, work your tail off to say something that is biblically substantive and contextually relevant. Peace,

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your topic which was central to my dissertation work as a Beeson Pastor and continues to inform my work at a faculty member at the University of Georgia. I find some agreement and some disagreement with your remarks. While I understand that Blogs do not usually fall under the rigors of peer-review, I would like to offer a few remarks. First, cultural change is very difficult to instigate and impossible to pin directly to any 5 or 6 points. The real danger for students is that they try to program change which you stated that you are against. Unfortunately, pastoral leaders likely will turn your points into a program to follow. In the end, they will say that I did what Lenny suggested and nothing happened.

That being said, pastoral leaders do need to prayfully consider leading change in their churches. While leading change is difficult at best and too complex to explain in a short response to your blog, I would add to your first point about prayer that pastors and laity must discover a holy-discontent together and figure out how to fix it together. If the pastor and congregation are not on the same page with what needs to change, then the pastor will not have the opportunity to serve long enough to observe what God wants to do.

Another framework to discuss cultural change which would fall under your disciple of preaching is to think about Eugene Lowery's Narrative Preaching Loop as a cultural change model. Lowery suggest sermons should follow certain steps:
1. Upset things (the equilibrium)
2. Complicate the tension (discrepancy) through analysis
3. Give a clue to resolution (the gospel)
4. Unfold the implications of the gospel
Too often, pastoral leaders use deductive leadership while narrative leadership is much more in line with leading cultural change.

I wish you the best in your position at Wesley and tell Bob Whitesel hello for me.

Derrick Lemons

Lenny Luchetti said...

Thank you for your helpful thoughts, Derrick.It is a joy to interact with one of my fellow Beeson pastors. I am intrigued by and appreciative of your connection between cultural change and Lowry's narrative loop. I teach narrative preaching and have led turnaround church workshops but never thought of putting the two together. I look forward to connecting the two in my future work.

I also welcome your feedback in the form of push-back. There are no silver bullets for changing a community culture. There is no formulaic approach to something more akin to spiritual art than methodological technique. I am with you there, but pastors need a good starting put that connects the dots between vision and strategy, prayer and action, being and doing. There are, in my estimation, too many churches who have a dream or vision from God that is never realized because they do not align people, calendar, budge, etc. with the God-given dream or vision. I am simply trying to bring to the surface the need to connect visionary dreaming with strategic action, all of which, I hope, is initiated and sustained by Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Unknown said...

Greetings from the mountains of NC. I was a flame student in Sophia NC and I told you a little about the "changes" I am facing as a pastor here. I feel God is shifting our focus. We are a pre-programed church. The church I pastor is over 100 years old and has been programed the same for most of those 100 plus years. This shift in focus is definitely a move away from the pre-programing of our past to a preparation for the future.
Over the last year we have seen our youth and children's efforts almost double to the point that people under 18 make up over 1/3 of the congregation.
I am convinced that God is leading us to focus our ministry efforts on this demographic, and I THINK I have the support of the adults. However I am scared to death. There seems to be a kinetic tension hanging over us as we are preparing for the coming changes. It feels like something great is about to be born but I fear the labor pangs that are coming. This hasn't cost anyone anything yet, but me. I have been carrying the hot water and clean towels while others watch with anticipation.
I'm afraid that once sacrifice is asked of others they may not be as receptive to these changes. I am expecting big numbers as there has been great interest from the community as well as other churches, and once the baby is born you can't put it back. But one thing is for sure. the launch sequence has begun. Our first Saturday night service is in one week. The Band is booked and my first sermon is in the works.
I know that I am being obedient to God. I know God will not disappoint me, but i don't know that i have the support of my people. Maybe i'm just having doubts. Maybe it's satanic attacks. I just know this is scary.
Any advice?

P.S. I told cousin Larry you said hi.
David Johnson

Lenny Luchetti said...

Matt, I look forward to having you in class as we learn together how to love Christ more and serve him better.

Dave, it was great to meet you and I am excited by what God is "up to" in your church. Go for it! Love the people already in the church as well as the people who are not yet in the church. Don't neglect either.