4 Questions to Check Your Church Culture

There’s only so much you can learn about a church from their website.

Sure, you can check the church’s doctrinal statement to find out what the people believe. You can see from the church calendar what programs run and how active people are in church activities. But the calendar and confession don’t necessarily tell you about the church’s culture.

Culture is the heart of your church, the atmosphere your church creates – whatever makes your church unique.

Unfortunately, the culture of a church doesn’t always match the confession. And when the culture isn’t aligned with the confession or the calendar, the culture typically wins. Which means, as church leaders, we shouldn’t spend all our time stocking the calendar or tweaking the confession. Instead, we need to take a step back and ask some questions about our culture.

In Creature of the Word, Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger write:

“A church culture is healthy when there is congruence and consistency between what the church says is important to her and what others know really is important to her.”

So how do you know what your church culture is like? Here are a few questions:

1. What are you funding?

If your website says “missions” is a core value, and yet the music ministry budget is four times as big as your missions ministry, your church culture doesn’t line up with your stated values.

Follow the money. What are you funding? It’s likely that the more inward-focused your budget is, the more inward-focused your church is.

2. What are your people talking about? 

I recently spent some time on a college campus, and went to dinner with a couple guys. For two hours, all I heard about was the people these guys were discipling. Drug addicts. Homeless people. People far from God. It was clear from casual conversations that the culture of the school was mission-focused.

Spend time in casual conversations with the people in your congregation. You’ll discover what people are excited about. Talk to them long enough and you’ll discover the motivation behind the excitement. Are volunteers excited about VBS because of their love for kids, or because they hope to outshine the other churches across town? Are people always talking about personal preferences or how to be better effective in mission?

3. Who or what is the focus of attention?

What is the church focused on? Certain programs that give the church a good reputation? A ministry that gets good press? Powerful worship? Preaching? All these are good things can eventually supplant the worship of Christ.

Pity the pastor whose message is all about Jesus but whose ministry is all about himself! It’s possible to say Jesus is the hero from the platform and yet live as if you’re the hero of the church.

4. What are signs that back up your talk?

In Creature of the Word, a gospel-centered framework is described as a house.

  • Theology is the foundation – what your church believes.
  • Ministry philosophy is the structure and the design of the house, the commitments that undergird all your church does.
  • Practice is the furniture of the house, what your church actually does.

Look at what your church is doing, the activities your church is involved in. And ask yourself where your practice aligns with your philosophy and theology. What are the signs that your people actually believe the confessional statement about evangelism? Or the core value of hospitality?

Look for the signs that back up your church’s talk, and then publicly celebrate those signs constantly. You become what you celebrate.

Conclusion

It’s possible to talk about grace and still be a legalist. It’s possible to talk about Jesus and still be self-centered. It’s possible to talk about guests and still be unwelcoming.

So check the culture of your church. Listen to those who visit. Ask friends to give you feedback. Don’t give up until the Jesus you worship and proclaim from the platform is the center of everything your church does.

Read more from Trevin here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Adamson — 10/22/14 8:18 am

I M Very much blessed and helped.

Beau — 06/27/14 3:41 pm

Great insights. Id add one more - is it reproducing and do they have a reproducing plan?

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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