15 Tips for Creating a Positive Staff Culture

A church is not a corporation, but the two can still learn from one another. From businesses churches can learn how to create vibrant, functional environments for their staff. Many major companies have poured a lot of time and resources into building incredible, positive environments for their employees. Business leaders know that the emotional well-being of their staff has an enormous impact on their ability to fulfill the company’s mission.

Here are some valuable insights that churches should consider when it comes to creating a positive staff culture.

1. A positive culture attracts talent.

“Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.”

—HubSpot’s Culture Code

Any marketer will tell you that a good product makes their job so much easier. Nothing is more difficult than trying to turn people onto shoddy work. If the product is terrible, you are going to waste a lot of money and time trying to get people to think otherwise. And recruiting is no different.

If your staff culture is healthy, it does not take a lot of work to attract talented, committed people. But if the morale of your team is low and their work is shoddy, it will be a lot harder to attract the kind of people you want—and once you do, it will be that much harder to keep them.

2. Culture is an advantage you can control.

“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. Develop a strong corporate culture first and foremost.”

—David Cummings, Co-founder of Pardot

When you are trying to grow a dynamic and thriving church, a lot of elements are outside of your control. You cannot make members more engaged, and you cannot force your community to be more enthusiastic about your presence. But you do have control over your staff culture—and that ultimately improves your leverage in other areas.

Culture is your key advantage because it works as an influencer in other areas where you have little control. Passion and enthusiasm on the part of your team members and volunteers encourages engagement from your church members and improves your standing in the community.

3. Captivate talented hearts.

“Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of talent is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage.”

—Greg Harris, President & CEO of Quantum Workplace

At first glance, this quote feels similar to the previous one by David Cummings, but it actually makes for an interesting postscript. A healthy culture provides your most significant competitive advantage. But if you want that competitive advantage to be sustainable, your culture needs to continually engage the hearts, minds, and hands of talented individuals.

Creating a positive church culture attracts talented team members, and by keeping them mentally and emotionally engaged, they become loyal—and your church thrives. This is a testimony to the long-term effect of a positive culture. It is what gets people in the door, and it is what keeps them involved.

4. Church members will follow staff leading.

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”

—Simon Sinek, Author & TED Speaker, "Start With Why"

The atmosphere created by a positive culture has a unique and ineffable quality to it. No one has to point out that it is healthy and optimistic; you just know. You can feel it. When your staff loves your church, that is an unspoken invitation for your members to love it too.

It is fair to say that the attitude of your staff governs the perspective of your congregation. If your staff is negative and morale is low, church members will pick up on the dynamic and respond in kind. On the contrary, if your team is excited about what they do, this enthusiasm is transformed to your church community.

5. Being a great employer makes all the difference.

“Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company.”

—Brian Kristofek, President and CEO of Upshot

Maybe you do not have a paid staff. It could be that an army of volunteers runs your church. That is OK. This truth still applies. If you want to know whether you have a great church, do not ask the people who merely attend—ask the people who serve. Their perspective largely influences everyone else’s.

If people look forward to serving alongside you, it is a sign that your culture is in pretty good shape. Their excitement about serving on your team reverberates throughout the whole church.

6. Culture is the entire game.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success—along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. . . . I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

—Louis V. Gerstner Jr., Former CEO of IBM

This quote is profound for an organization like IBM, but it seems even more integral to the church. There is a problem if church leaders have not allowed the gospel to encourage them to form positive-minded, hope-filled teams.

To paraphrase Gerstner for the church: In the end, a church is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to personify and amplify Jesus. You cannot do that without creating a dynamic and positive staff culture.

7. Build your culture through trust.

“Hire great people and give them freedom to be awesome.”

—Andrew Mason, Founder of Groupon

If you want morale to blossom, hire people that fit your culture. You want people whose attitude, outlook, and motivation jibes with your mission and values. It will be a lot easier to train them to do a particular job than it will be to train them to have a specific outlook.

Once you find those people, give them as much liberty as possible. Let them find creative ways to serve. It is almost impossible to create a positive culture that is not built on trust. People become more confident as you demonstrate the confidence you have in them.

8. Become synergistically independent.

“I’m a large believer in hiring the right people and giving them unbelievable amounts of power and autonomy.”

—Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes

When you think about the dynamics you are trying to build on staff, what do you imagine? You probably are not trying to create a team of people entirely dependent upon each other to do their jobs. But you also do not want a group of people who are so independent that they become isolated from each other. What you are looking for is synergistic independence.

Synergistic independence is about people who can work independently, but they consider themselves part of a team. They are aware that every task and interaction is a contribution to something bigger than their personal success. With the right culture, autonomy serves the team and not the self.

9. Treat your staff like you want them to treat others.

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”

—Stephen Covey, Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

How do you want staff and volunteers to interact with your church members? Model this expectation through your interactions with them. You cannot expect your staff to respond to others with kindness and patience if you are impatient or abrupt with them.

A good leader knows that they cannot grow a different culture than the one they have sown. Spend some time thinking about how you want people in your church to respond to each other, and then personify it.

10. Know that you cannot purchase commitment.

“A company can’t buy true emotional commitment from managers, no matter how much it’s willing to spend; this is something too valuable to have a price tag. And yet a company can’t afford not to have it.”

—Stan Slap, CEO of Slap Company

According to a Harvard Business Review article, the culture and values of an organization are better predictors of job satisfaction than income. The article goes on to suggest that once you pay someone a fair salary, your best bet for finding and retaining talent comes from promoting and refining positive cultural values.

You cannot put a price on the value of a dynamic, contented team. If you want people who are loyal, enthusiastic, and engaged, you need to invest time and effort into creating the right kind of environment.

11. Rethink your priorities.

“Your number one customers are your people. Look after employees first and then customers last.”

—Ian Hutchinson, Employee Engagement Expert

This might be a challenging way to think about church leadership, but there is some truth to it. A church staff allows you to touch more lives than you can on your own. By equipping them to love others and serve with the same passion as you do, you multiply your best efforts.

Creating a culture that blesses your staff and volunteers spills over into your congregation. By focusing on your staff, you end up serving your church members even better.

12. Be honest about where your strengths lie.

“The only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology; we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.”

—Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks

Anyone can open a coffee shop. As Schultz says here, it does not take proprietary technology or an exclusive patent. All Starbucks can bring to the table is their values and culture. That is what sets them apart and gives them an advantage.

A lot of churches could benefit from understanding this concept. When people come to visit your church, they are going to notice the way your values are translated into your unique culture. When you focus your attention on developing your strengths, visitors will be engaged by them.

13. Let people shine in their strengths.

“Everyone enjoys doing the kind of work for which he is best suited.”

—Napoleon Hill, Author of Think and Grow Rich

Imagine getting hired as a copywriter for a marketing firm. You love writing, and you shine in this new position. In response to your success, your company promotes you to manage the copywriting team. Now you are fulfilling a role that you are not particularly interested in, and work is no longer as enjoyable as it used to be.

Letting people shine in the areas where they are gifted is essential for morale. Too often leaders reward people for doing an excellent job by encouraging them to do something besides what they love doing. If you want people to flourish, it needs to be where they are most competent.

14. Embrace diverse perspectives.

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”

—Doris Kearns Goodwin, American Biographer, Historian, and Political Commentator

Every team has disagreements and conflict. In the best cultures, occasional discord is to be expected and even embraced. The goal is not to be surrounded by a group of flatterers who tell you what they think you want to hear or agree with everything you say. If that is the ideal, what is the point of having a team? Everyone else becomes superfluous.

It is not easy to create a team that feels comfortable offering contrary or alternative suggestions. Most people have been raised to defer to authority. If you genuinely value diverse perspectives, you have to encourage people to share them and then reward them when they do.

15. Create a team that can hold its own.

“Dispirited, unmotivated, unappreciated workers cannot compete in a highly competitive world.” —Francis Hesselbein, Former CEO of Girl Scouts

What does it mean for a church to be “competitive”? Are they competing against other churches? No. Your church is going up against everything in the culture that demands people’s allegiance and attention. You are fighting against an unknown variety of hobbies, entertainments, and distractions.

Your staff truly has its work cut out for them. The best way to engineer your team for success is to create a culture where they feel appreciated and valued. This is going to energize them with the passion they need to compete in a world full of glittering distractions.


Maybe you feel like the topic of work culture is pretty ambiguous and vague, and that might be true. Though you cannot put your finger on what exactly culture is, you recognize it when you see it. Whether it is positive or negative, a group’s dynamic is almost instantly recognizable.

A good culture motivates people to perform, and a bad one does just the opposite. For leadership, half the battle is in recognizing the impact culture has on an organization. The other half is in consistently doing the things that create a constructive environment for everyone. Once you identify where you want to take your church culture and start moving in that direction, you will create a team where everyone thrives.


CDF believes that true growth comes from intentional transformation. Our coaches partner with leadership teams to help churches grow from the inside out. Discover how CDF Leadership Capital can help your team.