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How in the World Do You Change the Established Culture?

established culture

How do you effectively change an established culture? In addition to church planting, I have had the honor of pastoring a few churches over 100 years old. With church planting we established the culture. In the already established churches they were well established long before I arrived. I knew, however, that if the church was going to survive for years to come some things would have to change.

So, I know what it’s like to have to turn around a culture.

How do you take an established culture, which may be decades old, and turn it into a new culture?

5 Ways to Effectively Change an Established Culture:

1. Figure out where the culture most needs to be changed.

I don’t usually like to start with the negative. I’m typically a very positive problem. That would actually be one of my flawsm, but this is a turnaround. This is assuming something is not right about the culture. The current culture is holding you back or keeping you from moving forward.

To do that you’ve first got to know what you’re turning around before you start to change anything. A lot of times we rush in to fix things. It’s how we are wired as leaders, but we end up doing more harm than good if we don’t understand the real issues. When I come into a turnaround situation I want to know just how bad is it? Discover the real problems. They aren’t usually the ones people are mentioning. We’ve got no money is indeed a problem, but there’s usually an underlying reason why. Same with employee turnover. Or morale problems. And momentum problems.

Discover the real reasons.

2. Figure out what is working that you can build upon.

In church revitalization, I used the phrase “Rediscover, don’t reinvent.” It’s very arrogant as leaders for us to assume or pretend everything about the organization is wrong, or that we have all the ideas moving forward. If there’s nothing good then don’t turn it around. Close it down.

But there are usually some things that are still working or things, which the church or organization have that has worked in the past, and maybe they need a few tweaks, but that’s often low-hanging fruit. You find some quick wins with people by finding some things people can get excited about again.

In church revitalization, one of those things was missions. We were a church with a huge, long-term heart for missions. Missions was in our DNA as a church. We needed better organization there. We needed to renegage people in missions and think missions not just globally, but locally, but missions was a place we could easily onboard people and build quick momentum.

3. Begin to get a vision for the future. What does it look like?

And start creating strategic steps towards the future. This is where you will start making changes. You will need to make good changes. And use good change management skills.

This includes one of the best change management practices, especially as pastors and that is listening to people. One of the surest ways to derail change is to make people believe you don’t care. When people assume, for whatever reason, the changes are being made without considering their opinion or concern they will naturally resist.

One of the biggest, yet seemingly smallest, changes we have made in church revitalization was switching our service times. It seemed so simple, yet I was pulled aside and told several times it would be the last change I made in the church.

Effective change management also means you influence decision makers. You usually don’t have to change everyone’s minds. Some you simply won’t, but you do need to get a few influencers on your team. Let them be a part of the ideation process

4. Communicate. Then communicate. Then communicate again  

Cast the vision wide and often. You have to Over communicate. When you think you’ve shared too much – share it again. And again.

I always tell pastors when casting vision, this is your best sermon work.

Find stories that connect to people’s hearts. And share in lots of different formats.

With the change of worship services we created a whole brochure explaining the reason for the change, which seemed to many to be so simple to understand. We held multiple meetings – with large and small groups of people. It was placed it in the Sunday bulletin. I talked about it from stage. Many times, in my experience, once the change is explained, people become supportive or less opposed.

Understanding the why, what, how, and when makes gives people a level of comfort in the change.

5. Steadfastly work the plan.

It will take longer than most leaders hope it will. The longer the present culture has been engrained the longer it will take to change it. Protect your soul during the process, take frequent periods of rest, surround yourself with some encouragers, but stick with it.

The process to get there won’t be easy, but when the established culture is improved you can really start having fun again.


This article about changing established culture originally appeared here, and is used by permission.