What is necessary for successful cultural change in church?
In my 10 years of engaging with and consulting for churches, I have seen mixed results in bringing positive change to church culture. On one hand, there are difficult-to-change cultures:
- Liturgical churches that have little relevance in connecting with youths and young adults. These communities are gradually losing this age-group because their ministries have not changed over the years.
- Patterns of controlling leaders that bring in pastors for a season, and then step in to take over when things don’t go their way.
On the other hand, I have seen churches that have changed their culture over time:
- Inward-looking churches that make a shift over years to engage the surrounding community, serving and reaching out to them. These churches truly become outward-looking and making the impact beyond the church walls!
- Traditional churches that embrace the move, work and signs of the Holy Spirit, pressing on despite resistance until it becomes a norm for ministry life. Prayers of prophecy, healing and encouragement are practiced regularly for members and newcomers alike.
Reflecting upon these, I recognize that, there are 3 leadership qualities necessary for successful cultural change in churches. They are:
- A discerning leader
There is a need to identify the deep issues in value-clash and navigate them. Discernment allows leaders to be sensitive and pastoral in navigation of direction. This can significantly reduce pain in the midst of confrontation.
- A strategic leader
Culture is seldom shifted by any single element, but rather through the effect of several elements working in tandem. A strategic leader is like an architect building an echo-chamber that combines different elements, eg. the wall, padding, ceiling, to produce a reverberation through the hall. He discerns which ministry to build first and which to layer next so that different ministries within the church come together to create a “chamber” that sustains the voice of the new culture.
- A patient and persevering leader
Most cultural changes take a long time! Similar to a rubber band being stretched, as changes are made, culture threatens to pull-back to its original shape. A leader who feels called by God must persevere for that period and “lean” consistently in the direction of change until the breakthrough comes.
So, can a church “change her spots”?
There is One who believes she can:
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness (Isaiah 43:19)
If God believes His people can change, then I do too!
May you always hold in your heart the hope for positive change in God’s people — God’s church!
Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!