Church Culture: A Strategy for Change

August 9, 2011

“Our church has a deeply ingrained culture,” my friend declared after a recent breakfast meeting, “and it is highly resistant to change.”

“Not only our church,” I responded, “but many others are in the same situation.” Later, I remembered a comment by one of the presenters a few months ago in a conference entitled Theology After Google. “Mainline churches are flexible about theology and fixed with respect to culture and ethos, whereas Evangelical churches are absolutely fixed in their conservative theology and absolutely flexible and entrepreneurial in style and methodology.” The speaker was hoping that the conference would encourage mainline pastors to be as open in their congregational culture as they already are in their theologies.

Twenty years ago, I wrote an essay, which bears upon this condition. After summarizing why many “First Churches” had declined in membership and attendance, I described three strategic tasks for churches that wanted to recover vitality. If only the first one is done, I said, the trajectory toward death will continue unabated. If only the second is done, the existing congregation will likely collapse before the new one can be born. If both of these strategic tasks are done, then the third one becomes increasingly necessary.

  Confirm the existing congregation

 Generate new constituencies who will become the congregation in another decade

Redistribute power in the congregation

The article was published in the quarterly journal Encounter. Even though it is twenty years old, based on research of that period, much of the essay is still pertinent for pastors and church leaders today. Its title: “Pastoral Leadership for Congregational Vitality.” To read it, click Pastoral Leadership.


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