What Is Church Culture—and Why Does It Matter?

You might have heard the term “church culture” and wondered what it meant. It is basically the personality of a church. It is a picture of the atmosphere and environment that’s made up of elements like the mission, values, behaviors, goals, and ethics.

Some churches have an outreach-based culture, while other churches might have a church that is focused on growth and community. Some large churches are still able to maintain an intimate church culture through small groups and classes, and some small churches are able to impact their community in a big way.

Why does culture matter?

Different churches have their own strengths and weaknesses. And even though we think we have our preferences because they are the right ones to have, healthy churches have a variety of different cultures.

If the culture is healthy, there is room for a myriad of church cultures in a community. Some positive things you might see in a healthy church culture include:

  • A celebration of growth and discipleship.
  • The leadership is decentralized, and everyone has a role in leading the church.
  • The community is built on respect and trust.
  • There is a sense of interdependence among the congregation.
  • The vision is clear and obvious.

Culture, like anything else, is subject to the laws of entropy. If energy is not poured into a culture to keep it vibrant and healthy, it slowly begins to break down. The drift is subtle. Maybe ineffective ministry leaders stay in positions too long, or they start to avoid disagreements and tensions which slowly fracture the church. Complaining slowly becomes a natural occurrence and people begin to argue over positions and turf.

When these cultures become unhealthy, it becomes evident in the unresolved conflicts, the unhealed hurts, and the unaddressed problems. It becomes easier to motivate people through guilt, shame, or threats. And even if the vision and mission are still championed, the members are beyond caring.

If something does not change, the culture flips from unhealthy to toxic. This is the last stop on the cultural spectrum. Leadership becomes more dictatorial than collaborative, and every decision has to be reached through a complex political system.

Coming to grips with your culture

In the same way that a fish cannot tell how dirty its aquarium is, it is easy to miss the warning signs of a church culture that is in decline. It can happen so slowly that it is almost invisible to the people involved. Vigilance, however, allows for the signs to be seen.

For more information, you can download our free ebook The Conflict-Free Guide to Transforming Your Church Culture .