This is an excerpt from my upcoming book 21st Century Strategies for Church Growth.
Too many church members, and indeed too many churches, carry an attitude of entitlement rather than commitment. They act as if they’ve paid their admission price and now the rest of the church has to coddle and cow-tow to their every whim. These church members come to church (when it’s convenient), sit down in their pews, drop a twenty-dollar bill (or a thousand dollar check – it makes no difference) into the offering plate, and then sit back and relax. The thought of helping prepare the church building for worship, cleaning up afterwards, stepping up to lead a small group, or taking a turn in the childcare area simply doesn’t cross their minds.
If this was an isolated incident, that would be one thing. But across North America, churches imbue this entitlement ethos. And though there may be a few in the pews who wish things would change, changing an organization’s ethos never begins with a grassroots effort. Corporate culture change is a top-down enterprise that has trickle-down effects … with an emphasis on trickle. Change occurs slowly.
The key to launching the ethos change is for the leadership to conspicuously reflect the congregational core values without complaint, not even under their breaths or in their psyches. Wayne Cordeiro, founder and pastor of New Hope Oahu – a church that met in a high school from its inception in 1995 until recently – is fond of saying, “If you don’t serve the Lord with gladness, you serve the enemy” (Deuteronomy 28:47–48). He models this ethos creation by immediately relieving any set-up or take-down volunteer who complains or acts out their frustration. The result of his firm boundaries, his modeling, and his insistence that leaders and volunteer alike reflect a joyful attitude of extravagant generosity is a congregational ethos of warmth, cooperation, and commitment. With an average attendance of over 14,000 every weekend and with the expectation that the Levites (the set-up and break-down crews) serve with joy from their 1 AM Saturday morning start time, his methods and his modeling have become a paradigm shifter for many churches.
However, modeling alone will not shift a congregation’s ethos. St. Francis’ misused quote, “Preach the gospel always and when necessary use words,” will not a convert make, nor will it change an ethos. The shift from entitlement to commitment will take serious teaching, preaching, conversations, and accountability-holding.
Creating Culture Change
The following bullet points will aid your church’s leadership team in planning an intentional ethos-changing strategy.
- Adopt a Congregational Covenant of Conduct that includes a covenant of participation and support.
- Adopt a meaningful Leadership Covenant – and insist that all leaders publicly sign the covenant (typically during the annual leadership installation service)
- Create a banner/flag or two for display in the worship center, the hallways, etc. that proclaim the congregational ethos of commitment.
- Preach at least two sermon series each year on what it means to be a committed disciple of Jesus Christ – and highlight the expectation of congregational participation and support.
- Teach commitment in your Discovery Class and provide an opportunity during the class to make a commitment to one of the congregation’s ministries (Discovery Class is where guests and members discover their spiritual gifts and passions and then are connected with ministry opportunities to serve).
- Hold leaders accountable for all of the covenants and quickly remove those who are either unable or unwilling to model the covenants.
- Adopt and model the Deuteronomy 28:47–48 mandate of serving joyfully. Those who are unable to serve joyfully should take the morning off from their duties and the congregation in order to prayerfully get their lives and priorities in order.
Question: What else would you add to your ethos-changing strategy? Share your ideas in the Comments section below.
 Wayne shared this story with us on one of our visits. One morning – at about 2 AM or so – Wayne was helping set up the chairs in one of the worship spaces. As he was doing so, he noted a young man slamming the chairs down as he set them up. Wayne asked him what was going on and the young man related that he had had words with his wife and that he was still miffed. Wayne invited him to stop his work for the night and take the next day to get his attitude in check. The young man told Wayne that he’d be alright and he was sorry for how his attitude was affecting his work. As he turned to continue, Wayne stopped him and said, “I don’t think you understand. Go home. Your attitude affects everyone around you and will poison the Spirit here for worship. If you’re not serving the Lord with gladness, you’re serving the enemy … and this evening it’s not the Lord you’re serving.” For the record, the young man returned to his responsibilities the next week with a different attitude. BUT, if he had not … if he’d left the church … Wayne confided he’d have been fine with that. He would let nothing get in the way of the work of the Spirit at New Hope.