Because I have an interest in organizations, I often have an eye out for signs of excellence, or lack thereof, in my everyday dealings. It becomes apparent when there is an obvious emphasis by an organization on setting forth a culture of value, quality, or customer service. The opposite is also quite true. The salesman at the office supply store who called me “young man” and the clerk at the fishing gear counter who called me “Bud” both sent cultural messages, whether intentional or not. I can clearly recall a positive and negative example of organizational culture in dealing with two different companies.

After using a chainsaw on some tree limbs in my front yard (the fun part except for the stitches), it was time to clean up the limbs and branches (the not-so-fun part, but no stitches). I went down to a national chain hardware store to rent a wood chipper in order to make the scraps into mulch. From my dealings with an unresponsive clerk, to my getting help loading the chipper while workers exchanged off-color barbs, to my being told that I’d have to figure out how to fasten it down because they didn’t want the liability for damage, an organizational culture came through—very clearly.

Example B is quite the opposite. My wife and I had a date night at a moderately priced local restaurant. It was our first time there and I quickly noticed that they had broken the mold in the waiter/waitress department.

The standard approach is to have one individual who is your attendant. Their introduction will be something to the effect of “Hello, I’m Amber and I’ll be your waitress.” The “your waitress” part is the key. You have one person who will bring your beverages, take your order, bring your food, ask the obligatory “Is everything okay?” and finally deliver a bill with the handwritten, kind words “Thank You! Amber.” The difficulty comes when you can’t find Amber and either have to find Amber on break, ask Ashley to get Amber for you, ask Ashley to skip Amber and actually deliver the clean fork for you, or get the fork yourself.

The difference at our date night restaurant was that Amber was our waitress, but so was Ashley, Meagan, Curt, and several other servers. They would circulate around and, according to coding they did with various objects on the table, any one of them would rotate in and serve, at any point during the meal. If Amber was on break, Curt would see that our menus were gone and that we were waiting for our food and check on it for us. The culture was clear. Customer service came first and they wouldn’t be tied down by standardized methodologies.

Let’s cut to the classroom and reflect on the theory behind the actions in organizational culture.

Culture can be defined as: Objects and practices that give evidence of a social order of a particular people group.

Culture-Defining Factors

An organizational culture is individualized and has many of the distinctive characteristics of the culture of people groups from Switzerland, Mexico, India, etc. Organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, Saturn, Wal-Mart, and Nordstrom all give evidence as to their culture—and churches are not exempt. In addition to formal, written and verbal communication, some culture-defining factors are:

Artifacts Endurance, permanency, and attributed value of physical items
Environment Physical issues of cleanliness, clarity, order, functionality, people group orientation
Customs Enduring formal behavior, dates and events
Norms Allowable informal and sometimes undetected behavior (adherence to schedule; carrying out responsibilities, expectations)
Dress Signs of wealth, formality, modesty, professionalism, people orientation, rank
Communication Style, tone, issues of respect, handling conflict, allowable overt or covert communication
Social Interactions Leaders, subordinates, gender, generational, age, authority
Roles Formal and informal styles/sources of power and influence on upper, middle and lower levels


Methodology, Culture and Personal Values

With background information in check, let me set forth my approach in order to frame out the direction I am taking. With the presupposition that the Lord has to be the Mover in change, an outline would go as follows:

  • Leaders change corporate methodology in order to redefine …
  • … corporate culture in order to influence …
  • personal values.

“Paradigm Shift” is a buzzword that does not fully address the complexities of dealing with and influencing people. One must see a paradigm shift, or change in methodology as I call it, as a surface level entry point to encourage deeper change.

Without the understanding that each level of change is partly for the purpose of changing the next, church methodology and culture can become short-sighted and an ends unto themselves. Conversely, since upper levels are more within the control of leaders, trying to dig into deeper change without using the leverage of upper levels can be frustrating and ineffective. Influencing personal values is the deepest form of change, but it is also the most elusive and most removed from the hands of leaders.

Key Principles

Everything has a culture, whether it is acknowledged or not. We are constantly sending and receiving cultural messages that reveal corporate, and ultimately personal values.

Culture may be organically and/or intentionally defined.

It’s highly unlikely that a supervisor told the rental counter workers to treat customers the way I was treated. In fact, I am positive that the leaders of that company took intentional steps to seek to assure good customer service. However, the rental counter employees organically defined their own culture. On the other hand, it is highly probable that a restaurant would develop an innovative approach to serving food to people only with the targeted efforts of an individual or group. Some organizations reflect where their culture landed after long periods of drifting, while others reflect the hard work of an individual or group to identify and proactively define their culture.

Cultural definition and influence can be on a macro or micro level.

Overseers will take a macro view of the church’s culture. They will assess and change big picture elements for big picture influence. Other leaders, managers, and supervisors are given the charge to break down the big picture and exert visionary influence in their specific micro areas. Cultural influence comes in the macro form of large group communications, church-wide programming, building design, etc. It also comes in the micro form of meeting formats, job performance, and coaching.

Culture can help one look beyond espoused values to reveal real corporate values and non-values.

The common saying “Walk the walk and talk the talk” applies here. Churches can create wonderfully detailed vision statements, colorful banners, and even put their slogan on polo shirts and mugs without reflecting what they say in the fabric of their church. The words become hollow platitudes unless there is real passion and drive behind them. Wise leaders look beyond mere words to culture-defining factors for a complete statement on corporate values.

Corporate culture may or may not reflect the personal values of participating individuals.

As described before, leaders may exert influence in order to intentionally define the culture. True leaders are among the people but are also walking a few paces in front of the people, creating a corporate atmosphere that embraces the corporate direction. Some or many may not have grabbed hold of those corporate values. However, corporate culture can be strengthened or weakened by individuals, especially leaders. A truly strong corporate culture has individuals who have aligned their personal values with the (hopefully noble) values of the organization.

The deepest level of change is in the area of personal values.

Unlike business organizations that may declare success if the hard bottom line is met, the church is held to a biblical standard. Church success goes beyond the outward appearance of corporate growth and stockholder value to matters of the heart. Without heart change, the most elaborate programs, the most beautiful architecture, and even the best pulpit communications fall short.

Practical Implementation for Leaders

Change methodology with a view to culture and personal values.

As leaders seek to continue to advance strengths and/or diminish weaknesses, they listen to God, their own people and the world outside. They evaluate where they want to be and where they are, and then make plans in how to get there. No visionary leader would be content in defining “there” solely as buildings and programs. The focus that dwarfs those items is God’s purpose for His people. Deep change happens when God’s purposes are embraced in the seat of individuals’ consciousness and are acted upon.

Wise leaders see that they are instruments God has chosen to use to bring about this deep change. They also see that deep change is God stuff and they can’t change anyone. The Apostle Paul clearly communicated this to the Corinthians in his planting, watering, and growth dialog.

Leaders then communicate and take actions to influence at their greatest point of leverage of methodology and then culture.

In keeping with your planning, evaluate what culture-defining factors you can strengthen or diminish on a macro or micro level in order to illustrate communicated vision and values.

In change, seek for small to large visible “wins” early on.

I was consulting with a church that was far into a state of stagnation and even decline. As we progressed together through the months, they expressed a desire to bond together better as pastors and elders and also to rewrite parts of their constitution. I laid out this principle for them, saying that they were further hibernating as leaders. They were planning on doing work that was invisible to most of the church when the church needed tangible, public demonstrations that would begin to reinforce the words of their newly developed vision statement and core values.

Whether you are beginning to put actions with a new strategic plan or just want to do things better, it is imperative that you invest a good amount of your “fuel” in broadcasting that the rocket is leaving the launch pad.

More is caught than taught.

Because of scripture’s emphasis on leadership communication, I would be hesitant to fully adopt this saying, but a solid principle comes out of it. Education experts tell us that learning increases exponentially with experience. Some Christian publishing companies promote curriculum with “active learning,” technically called kinesthetic learning, where children learn by hearing, reading and doing.

As related to organizational culture, there are two basic areas of conveying actions that can be “caught”:

Visible Modeling: I am currently reviewing resumes for a pastoral position and add individuals to the “A” list as I see that their ministry philosophy has grown beyond change through teaching alone. I am looking for someone who holds to the immeasurable importance of scripture but also looks holistically at the need to incorporate methodology that sets a spiritual, social, physical, emotional, etc. climate for growth.

Tangible Results: Moving down the road of methodology helps define a culture, but it also helps bring about results that, in themselves, make a statement. A friend of mine is on staff at a church that began its turnaround from plateau almost twenty years ago. As the church began to grow, an older gentleman approached him and said, “I don’t understand them drammies (Sunday service dramas), but when I see all the young families that are coming in …” While some may rationalize success away, others may catch what words alone cannot do. It’s hard to debate visionary communication when the culture is being impacted with changed lives and breaths of new life.

Two Practical Applications

These culture principles can be applied in hundreds of church areas on both a macro and micro level. Before the theory slips into the file cabinet, I’d like to show how methodology, culture and personal values play out in everyday work situations you may face.

A. Culture on a Macro Level: Insider Versus Outsider Orientation

Goal: To be a church (culture) of people (personal values) who build redeeming relationships with those in need of Christ.

Methodology: Action-oriented Suggestions for Leaders/Supervisors

  • Supply people, information and signage for clear directions in and around the church.
  • Monitor sermon “insider talk” about people only church insiders know.
  • Carry out church maintenance, child care, etc. for outsiders who won’t say “It’s good enough.”
  • Encourage a three minute time frame where, after a worship service ends, insiders seek out new faces and don’t immediately “circle up” with their friends and relatives.
  • Reach into the community in practical, tangible ways.
  • Allow the community to reach into the church for support, care and even use of facilities.

B. Culture on a Micro Level: Subordinate Communication

Goal: Create a safe and satisfying environment (culture) where workers (personal values) feel valued, give their very best, and communicate honestly.

Methodology: Action-oriented Suggestions for Leaders/Supervisors:

  • Be approachable by modeling transparency and humility.
  • Disarm punishing, retaliatory behavior that drives honesty into covert “parking lot” conversations.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Although they may not be present at oversight meetings, keep subordinates up to speed on “big picture” plans and even ask for their input.
  • Monitor your demeanor. This goes beyond anger to issues of respect, social distance and expressions of appreciation.
  • Ask for feedback including formalized 360 degree feedback.
  • Show care and protection for the individual through raises, insurance coverage, compassionate confrontation, etc. versus solely seeking bottom line performance.


Consider one or more small or large groups of people under your influence. Working from deep change to the surface, identify a personal value you would like them to embrace. Identify aspects of the cultural atmosphere as expressed through culture-defining factors of norms, environment, roles, etc. in which their growth could best happen. Finally, in methodology, identify communication, actions, programs, and objects that can begin to bring tangible results and create a culture that illustrates corporate values.

Leaders change corporate methodology in order to redefine corporate culture in order to influence personal values.