By Bill Easum

Being stuck in a hotel with the flu gives one time to ask dumb questions. With nothing to do but sneeze and cough and watch TV, I turned to the Yankees and Red Sox game.  While watching the game, the question popped into my head- why so much spitting?  That afternoon, still with nothing to do, I watched the Colts play and saw all the butt patting- hence the question -“Why do baseball players constantly spit and football players pat each other on the butt?”

Well, there is an answer. Over the years the players in both games have created a culture. This culture affects the behavior of everyone in it. The older players mentor the younger players into this culture. As a result of this culture, baseball players spit and football players pat butts. That’s what people do in that culture just like American shake hands and Japanese bow. It’s the result of the culture.

Now, let’s apply this to the church. Over time the elders of a church create a culture, an atmosphere, or environment that pervades everything.  If the culture is healthy, the church does well. If the culture is unhealthy, the church turns ugly.

No one ever talks about the existence of this culture; just like no baseball player analyzes why they all spit- they just do. They have little choice; it’s in their DNA.

Over my years of consulting, I‘ve discovered two cultures that are present in every healthy church and one culture present in every dying church.

A Culture of Transformation

In a culture of transformation it’s normal to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ every week. Making disciples is at the heart of everything that happens. Every message, every time people meet, the goal is for people to find faith and grow in Christ.  In such a culture evangelism and disciple-making are seen as two sides of the same coin rather than two distinct practices or programs. They are the seamless fabric of the entire environment instead of relegated to a committee or program.

A Leadership Culture

A leadership culture is where it’s normal to see new leaders emerge as well as most of the staff to come from within the congregation. The church has a system for raising up leaders and the success of every paid staff is measured by how many new leaders they are raising up and mentoring. The culture emphasizes equipping and mentoring rather than activities and doing.

A Conflict Culture

Most dying churches have a culture of conflict which is the main reasons they’re declining.  A conflicted culture is usually dominated by a handful of people who regularly intimidate the rest of the congregation. You usually find conflicted cultures in established churches with less than two hundred people in worship. Sadly, these churches seldom even realize they are conflicted. Since this culture was forged over a long period of time, it’s impossible to change these churches in quick fashion.  It’s also why conflicted churches can’t be helped without changing the culture which usually means at best, changing the leadership, or at worst actually removing the leaders from the church.

So What?

The leaders develop the church culture by how they act. Take a staff meeting for example. In a healthy culture the items for discussion might be:  “How many new Christians do we have this week?” “How are we doing raising up leaders?”  “How many potential leaders are we mentoring this week?“ “How many of our present disciples are going deeper in their faith?”

In an unhealthy staff meeting the conversation might be: “What are we going to do with so-and-so who is stirring up problems?” “How are we going to raise more money?” “How are we going to get this new ministry past so-and-so?”

In a healthy church the staff spends time developing leaders whereas in an unhealthy churches leaders spend most of their time putting out fires and trying to grease the squeaky wheel.

A church culture of transformation and leadership cannot happen in a church where conflict and intimidation are present. That’s why the scriptures are so insistent that those who disrupt the church should be dealt with severely (Acts 4-5). Failure to do so destroys any hope of developing a healthy church culture. Conflict and intimidation by one or two people is the number one reason most churches have a poisonous culture. Instead of encouraging transformation and leadership development it does just the opposite. Growth is stifled and any form of leadership development is nil. So if you want a healthy culture, root out the conflict and apply the Scriptures to the intimidators and disrupters.

Most healthy churches measure how many baptisms, how many new leaders, and how much penetration they have into the surrounding culture.  Most unhealthy churches measure only one thing – the budget.

Developing a Healthy Culture of Transformation and Leadership

How then do leaders develop a healthy culture? Well, make no mistake, it doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and strong leadership over several years.

First, the leaders must be healthy Christians focused on God’s mission for the church which is always to make disciples. Their very presence promotes an atmosphere in which people feel accepted, loved, and encouraged to grow more like Jesus.

Second, unhealthy, self-absorbed, conflicted church members should never be allowed to lead or get in the way of making sound decisions. They should lovingly be asked to step aside or leave. Failure to do this always results in an unhealthy culture. The only reason a church becomes unhealthy or conflicted is because a long line of leaders allowed a few people to bully and intimidate the congregation.

Third, the leaders need to know what to measure.  Healthy leaders measure disciple making rather than the budget’s bottom line. When it comes to church activities, everything is evaluated around transformation and leadership development. If an activity doesn’t lead to one or the other it’s dropped. This means that even pastoral care must include the ingredients of transformation and leadership development. You get what you measure and what you measure along with how you behave develops a culture that in time determines all that is allowed or encouraged to happen.

So which behavior does your church encourage you to do – spit, pat butts, or make disciples?