Article by Teresa Chang
We as church leaders need to recognize that culture is like the banks of a river. If there are no riverbanks, the river becomes a marsh, but where the banks are strong and stable, they channel the river’s flow, taking it where it needs to go. Culture channels the flow of community to its maximum impact and value in the world around us.
Note: In an effort to provide information about culture and how to build culture in your church, portions of the following information are repeated throughout our materials.
John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement and a leader in the realm of church growth, was convinced that the healthiest churches were grown from the inside out. You can do this by determining what you as a church really care about. What are your values—the things that drive you? Not the things you want to care about, but the things you have proven you care about again and again?
Culture is the shared values, priorities and practices, along with the traditions, symbols and expressions, that unite a community and connect that community to its past, present and future. Your culture reveals who you are as a church. As you clarify your values, you establish your priorities—things that are more or less important for the allocation of your time, energy and resources. Then out of your priorities, your everyday practices emerge. All of these work to establish the apostolic culture of your church.
Culture is to community what habit and discipline are to an individual. Culture takes time to build, but once it is built, it has an amazing power to steer large groups. If we as church leaders fail to build strong culture that is intentional, we will pay the price of an accidental, potentially conflicting culture that will have to be continuously monitored. But if we build healthy, strong, cohesive culture at the beginning of the process, we will birth a movement that doesn’t necessarily need to be managed at the same micro level.
How to Build Apostolic Culture in Your Church
Simply put, apostolic culture focuses on developing people and organizations to be the best they can be in order to put together a true representation of God on earth.
Culture is best built from the inside out—first in the leader, then in the team and finally on the public level. Let’s look at each of these steps more closely.
1. As a church leader, personify the culture yourself.
Culture reflects the senior leader’s lifestyle and the core community of the leadership team. Therefore, the first step in cultivating apostolic culture is for you, as a primary leader, to look at your own values and priorities. How are you carrying this culture into your personal family? Are you thinking about your people developmentally? Are you taking the time to work with them? Is the desire to develop people into the fullness of Christ integrated into your values, priorities and practices as a church leader?
2. Infuse that culture into your primary team.
Give your core team a vision and infuse them with the values and priorities that will help them grow apostolic culture throughout the congregation.
With anything you want to cultivate within your church, begin in your leadership team. If you want your church to embrace evangelism, for example, you will need to take time to evangelize as a leadership team and celebrate evangelism in your core team in such a way that it affects the entire church. The same with pastoral care. If you want your church to embrace connection, community, church small groups and so forth, celebrate and promote these things in your team of leaders.
Remember, the primary responsibility of every church leader is to replicate herself in someone else. An apostolic culture will always gather, train and send out, so be prepared for growth in your church small groups! Also, be open to adjustments in your leadership team and help them reach the goals for which God designed them.
3. Bring the culture to your congregation through teaching and modeling.
Begin to instill culture in your congregation through personal interaction, public preaching, testimonies and ongoing celebration of cultural successes.
An apostolic culture thrives when its individual members discover who they are in Christ and are empowered and equipped to impact the world around them, both in the church and outside it. They do this as they develop and cultivate their gifts and callings in Jesus.