Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. I am not sure where I first heard that phrase, but I have certainly come to appreciate its validity when it comes to congregations. Most sources attribute the quote to the late business management guru Peter Drucker. Drucker who had a significant influence on business leadership also greatly impacted non-profit management.

Why is the quote important to congregations? Most congregational experts agree that churches must have a clear and current vision. This vision should be based on the unique context of the community and the strength of the individual church. Vision must drive strategy. It is no longer enough to follow the prescribed denominational model or emulate the ministry of a well-known successful congregation or pastoral leader. Mirroring another strategy most likely will not work in a different context.

So, when a congregation invests time and money in the process to create a great new or refreshed vision, with a clear strategy to implement the vision, it is critical that the cultures of both staff and lay leadership not sabotage the strategy. The investment to build and keep a strong positive culture can be major, and the rewards measured in the success of the well-executed strategy are worth the investment. Although a typical congregation invests between 45 to 55% of operating budget for staff expense, the additional cost in time and money to build and maintain a positive culture is worth the investment.

Consider these seven ways to invest:

Invest in understanding the strength of the individual team member and collective strength of the team The Clifton Strengths Finder is a great tool to name the unique gifts of each member and then see how combined the team strengths make for a strong culture.  Spiritual gift assessments is also helpful in understanding team members gifts, and both help staff have common language to understand each other better.

Invest in honest feedback –  360-degree tools and surveys are a great way to measure feedback that will help direct and build culture. These tools help team members understand perceptions and identify blind spots. This knowledge is helpful in creating healthy individual development strategy.

Invest in developing team members –  Each member of your team needs to be a lifelong learner stretching to improve skills and understanding. Emotional health balanced with spiritual well-being and physical wellness help a team member to bring positive support to the whole.

Invest in community  –  Social events, playing together and investing in the lives of each team member can build and sustain a culture. When you pray for and care about the human side of teammates, the desire for the team to succeed grows.

Invest in trust – Help the team understand what builds trust and tears down trust. Teams who have ongoing conversations about trust and put in place ways to recover when trust is broken have a greater chance of success.

Invest in team-building activities – In addition to the work of building a community, find ways to build the collective competency of the team. Consider being a team that reads together. Use books to build a common language and expand ideas. Consider off-site events to allow focus and a change of pace. Use outside facilitator to train and motivate. Reach out to other church leaders in your area to provide new insight and lead spiritual growth for the team.

Invest in establishing a staff covenant and review and renew it often –  A shared vision of what our mutual commitment to each other is helps to hold the space for trust, but covenant commitments require accountability. So be sure to know this investment could lead to the necessity for difficult conversations.

These seven investments are not a guarantee of the success of the strategy, but they will go a long way to be sure that your culture is a resource to implementation rather than a cookie monster eating away at the strategy. Start with an honest conversation about culture. If you need help, The Center for Healthy Churches team is available to walk with you if you need an outside voice or assessment.

Phill Martin
Rev. Phill Martin is the Deputy CEO of the National Association of Church Business Administration. Phill’s passion is to engage and connect individuals and organizations to help them reach their maximum potential. He enjoys coaching, teaching, mentoring and connecting people with information and resources. Learn more about Phill Martin. He is a coach and consultant for CHC.