Culture Wars

I've been thinking a lot lately about organizational culture; how do you define it, who sets it, how to navigate it etc.

Every church in America has it's own culture. Your church has yours, my church has mine, and chances are they are fairly unique. When talking to fellow youth workers who have had bad experiences at a previous church, I've come to the conclusion that one of the biggest contributing factors is a failure to navigate the culture of that particular church. It's really tough to pin-point or define the culture of any particular church, but it exists and the ability to recognize and function well within it is one key to longevity and success in the church setting.

- Is the work environment casual or formal?
- Are you expected to tell your supervisor where you are during the day?
- What meetings can you afford to miss and what ones must you make sure to never miss?
- What type of humor is allowed in what settings?
- Is the church led by type 'A' personalities or not?
- How loosely or tightly are office hours tracked?
- Is there an expectation that most good work happens when you are in the office?
- Does your church value 'sacred cows' or is it open to lots of changes?
- Are there certain leaders who expect to be treated in a certain fashion?
- Is email the preferred method of communication amongst staff or face-to-face?

...and the list goes on.

Try this exercise: write a one paragraph definition of your church's 'culture' and ask others you work with to do the same. Then, spend some time together and identify the areas that were common to everybody. Chances are those areas are the true culture of your church and the less common areas may be individual values or experiences.

What I've learned and what I've seen others learn is that one person rarely changes the culture of the church. Culture is developed over time; for better and for worse and the wise youth worker is one who can appreciate it, understand it and navigate it.


Joshua Griffin said...

I really like this post. I just sent it to my team.


wes said...

i refer to this as "embracing your identity", but i haven't thought of it with staff relationships. I guess that's because i've served at churches with small staffs (3 staff).