We were working with a board of elders for a fast growing church. Like many growing churches, they were still operating like a small church even though they had become a large church. It is not an uncommon problem. The dynamics had changed dramatically because of the growth which identified some bad habits that were no longer sustainable. As we were working with the group over three months to teach important concepts, during the question time, one elder offered a rather pointed question. “This is all great stuff, but I am a man of action. How do we do this now?”
A fair and honest question. A familiar sentiment. In that moment, we shared a general process for implementing cultural change.
Educate, educate, educate
This is the most critical and often skipped step of implementing cultural change. We don’t know what we don’t know. In the church, our default posture to some degree to change and to do new things is almost always fear and skepticism. When implementing culture change, it is critical to educate over and over again. Just when you are sick of talking about it, people are finally starting to hear you. Starting with the staff and governing board, you need to infect the whole faith community with education. People need to know the why: the why the cultural change is needed, the why for the new approach, and the why for the the past approach. If you do not educate the church around a cultural change especially, people will use their imaginations, and that is never a good thing in any church setting.
No significant change will ever happen and stick without modeling. The good news is that if just the staff and the governing board insist on modeling and holding to the cultural change, the rest of the church will eventually follow. That may not always be easy, fast, or pretty, but it is, in fact, true. Modeling is an essential part of leadership, and no change will last without action. Words alone are not enough. People need to see what it looks like, and it starts with the key leaders modeling it for them.
Integrate into the Culture
The final step is to integrate the cultural change into the existing culture. That looks different for each situation. In some cases, it just requires the first two steps and making sure the cultural shift continues. In other cases, it requires repeating the first two steps. In some cases, it requires policies, procedures, and covenants. The key is to ensure the cultural change is built into the structure and has either been clearly accepted or is continuously elevated.
Leading change is hard, but leading cultural change is even more difficult. Being sure to lead well will ensure the culture will change for the better.