Church culture
How is the productivity of your church? (Facebook)

You’ve heard it said that culture starts at the top and works its way down. I couldn’t agree more.

And yet, after years of working with and around pastors, listening to their greatest concerns, I know it’s easy to get stuck feeling disappointed about culture without really understanding what you can do to change it.

“The church just isn’t very generous.”

“Nobody ever wants to volunteer.”

“People are flaky—I never know if they’re going to show up on Sunday.”

Is it possible the culture of your church reflects the culture of your heart? Is it possible to turn a misdirected ship around?

How can you build a thriving, productive culture in your church?

1. Focus on the positive. This is one of the most difficult things to do, not just as a pastor, but also as a human. It comes so much more naturally to see what needs to be fixed and focus your attention there. But just as with anything, focusing on the negative makes you miss the positive and invites more of the negative to exist.

Tell your congregation or your team what you love about them and what you think they do really well. Focus on how you can leverage these strengths and grow them.

Chances are, as you focus on the positive traits, they’ll begin to overshadow the not-so-positive ones.

2. Encourage more than correct. There are definitely moments when your entire group, or certain people in it, need to be corrected—when there is a serious moral issue or when a particular conflict or topic is distracting you from the mission and vision God has given you.

But encourage more than you correct.

Think of how Paul writes the letters to the Corinthians or Ephesians. He always starts with words of grace, peace and thankfulness for his ability to serve that particular group of people.

By the time he gets to the issues he needs to correct, he’s already put some encouraging words in the bank to strengthen the relationship.

Model your words after his. Focus on the positive, speak it out loud and, when needed, you’ll have gained the relationship capitol to speak the truth in love.

3 Take ownership for the culture. This is the hardest part to accept for most leaders because no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, the negative culture it isn’t all your fault. You can’t control people. You can’t predict how they will act.

But while it isn’t your fault, it is your responsibility. God has entrusted this community to you and asked you to care for His flock.

If you don’t take ownership to change the culture, who will?

Taking ownership means you must quit complaining about what’s wrong. Complaining is a waste of time and energy. Instead, seek solutions. Implement them. Teach people. Change yourself. The negative culture is not all your fault, but over time the attitude of those who are following you will be a reflection of how you’re leading.

How and where do you want to lead? Be intentional to take people there.

4. Pray and ask for wisdom. If you aren’t sure what you’re doing or where you’re going, don’t worry. If you can’t pinpoint the exact problem, or you can but you aren’t sure how to solve it, you’re in good company. Every person God has ever used for his purposes throughout history has felt completely out of his or her element at some point.

God’s calling should be humbling.

Thankfully, the Bible says (James 1:5) that if you lack wisdom, all you have to do is ask God, and He will give it to you. That’s all you have to do—ask!

Don’t neglect this simple but completely vital aspect to creating a God-honoring culture at your church: God Himself. Pray and ask for wisdom, and then lead boldly, knowing He’s taking you exactly where you ought to go.

With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and all while staying involved in the local church. He blogs regularly about what he has learned from making connection at

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