How to Create a Healthy Church Culture Blog Feature
Dave Ferguson

By: Dave Ferguson on May 21, 2019

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How to Create a Healthy Church Culture

church building | Church Culture | Community Impact

The first person I ever heard talk about culture was Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosiac Church in Southern California. Erwin describes culture as spontaneous and repeated patterns of behavior.

Brian Zehr, Co-founder and Leadership Architect at Intentional Impact, teaches that there are three things that make up culture: values, narrative, and behavior.


First, values are the convictions of your mind and passions in your heart. They give you an adrenaline rush when you talk and think about them. Sometimes you hang your values on your walls to keep them front and center, and they're often a part of your training.


The second part of culture involves narrative, which is made up of two components—language and stories. Every strong culture has a unique kind of language. If you were to hang around Community Christian Church long enough, you'd hear us talk about helping people find their way back to God. It’s our mission statement, and it’s become a natural part of our language at Community.

Or, for example, when you go to Chick-fil-A and place your order and say, “Thank you,” they reply, “My pleasure!” Why? Because every strong culture has a unique language.

Additionally, narrative is not only language, but stories that tell how you live out these values. The stories are part of your history, and you enjoy telling them again and again.


The third piece to culture is behavior. You value culture in your head and your heart; you tell stories and language with your mouth, but behavior is what you do with your hands and feet. This is what happens in real life, making its way into your schedule, bank account, and free time.

When there’s congruence between your values, narratives, and behaviors, then you get a strong culture. When it’s incongruent, your culture suffers.

Most churches have strong values that we get to teach from the Bible, and we tell stories from our own community. But, when it comes to behavior, senior leaders often mess it up. When we lack the behavior ourselves, as senior leaders, it implicitly tells our people, “You only have to hold the values and listen to the stories, but you don't actually have to do it, because I don't even do it.” If you really do have a leadership gift, what you do will get reproduced.


The Culture Your Space Creates

There’s another way church culture is communicated—through our facilities. For example, at Community, we want to be a place where people find their way back to God. With Aspen Group, we intentionally designed our Yellow Box facility so that people who may not be familiar or comfortable with traditional church would feel welcome and safe to explore their faith, and, ultimately, find their way back to God.

A few years ago, we got a call from a local public high school teacher, who was in a bit of a panic. He had scheduled field trips to a variety of different religious institutions and facilities. He was taking his students to see an Islamic temple, a Hindu mosque, a Catholic church, a Jewish temple, and a Protestant Christian church.

The Christian church they were scheduled to visit canceled at the last minute, and the teacher now had hundreds of kids in three different classes and needed a place to take them. He called our church as a new option, and we said yes to giving the students a tour and hosting a Q&A in our auditorium.

The next day, the students came and toured our Yellow Box facility and did a Q&A with Jordan, our student ministries director. We made sure all the students got a drink from our café and a Community T-shirt. Then we showed them our student spaces and settled into the auditorium for a Q&A session. There they had a robust conversation that continued on to their classroom the next day.

The teacher leading the trip, who is not a Christian, told our student ministries director, "You know, Jordan, I don't know what it is, but there's just something different about Yellow Box. Every student feels it,” he said. "It's like when they come in, the place feels more welcoming. It feels like they get me. And, it's not just the students, it's me too."

So, via those comparative religion classes in a public school, touring our building and sitting down for a little Q&A, Jordan has had the opportunity to connect with this teacher on a personal level to talk about spiritual things. He's not there yet, but I think he's finding his way back to God.

Building for Community Impact

Our building communicates and reinforces our culture by aligning with our values, narratives, and behaviors. All of it points toward our mission of helping people find their way back to God.

How do you become an expert in your culture? Figure out the values that God's called you to that are unique to your community. How do you put language to those? Do you and your team’s behaviors reinforce what you say you value most?

If you're a culture creator, it'll empower and inform your people and your facilities. And, those people’s lives will whisper—the walls of the building will whisper—and your culture will make an impact in the community.


About Dave Ferguson

Dave Ferguson is an award-winning author, founding and lead pastor of Chicago’s Community Christian Church, a missional multisite community considered one of the most influential churches in America. Dave also provides visionary leadership for NewThing an international church-planting movement and is president of the Exponential Conference. Learn more about Dave at: