3 Required and Important Stages for Discerning and Shaping a Church’s Culture

There is something which exists inside of your church even if you do not realize it: culture. Everyday you and the other leaders inside of your church are creating a culture. Since culture always exists and is a necessary part of the work environment you and your employees spend 40 hours a week in, it is important that you understand culture and know how to change it.

3 Required and Important Stages for Discerning and Shaping a Church's Culture

This summer I read a fantastic book by Aubrey Malphurs titled, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture. Malphurs’ main premise is that culture in the church is important because:

  • 80-85 percent of American churches are either plateaued or in decline
  • on a typical weekend only 17 percent of the population attend church
  • many of the young people growing up in church often leave church when going off to college (p. 111)

In his book, Malphurs outlines three stages of shaping a church’s culture. I’d like to outline those stages for you with my comments as a way to help you “discern and shape your church culture.”

3 Stages of Shaping a Church’s Culture

1. Preparation

Pray for Change
As with any significant change, the Christian should start with prayer. Take time to share with God your thoughts and feelings, ask God for his direction, and do your best to seek his will.

Do a Church Analysis
Malphurs’ church analysis includes:

  • annual worship attendance
  • annual average giving
  • strengths of the church
  • weaknesses of the church

Read the Church’s Culture
Reading the culture means you follow Malphurs’ simple three step process outlined earlier in the book:

  1. Observe: What do you see, hear, and feel?
  2. Interpret: Read the values and beliefs of the church.
  3. Apply: Determine the church’s commonalities, uniqueness, strengths, weaknesses, whether or not the culture is spiritually mature, as well as where you as the leader would be most effective.

Learn Why People Resist Change
People resist change for a variety of reasons based on their backgrounds. You as a leader need to discern the many ways people might resist change and deal with these reasons directly.

Know How People Respond to Change
Similar to why people resist change, how people respond to change is something that you as a leader need to anticipate and be prepared for.

Use the Tools That Facilitate Change

  1. A Tough Faith: As a result of being a mature believer the leader should have a tough faith for knowing God, God’s will, and having courage to pursue God’s will.
  2. Insightful Questions: An intelligent leader knows that he cannot simply “tell” people things, but he must “ask” questions that lead people to conclusions on their own.
  3. Good Communication: This is accomplished by listening, taking advantage of opportunities to communicate vision, being alert of rumors that may start, communicating progress, and communicating in a positive way.
  4. Implementation Teams and Ad Hoc Committees: Malphurs is a strong advocate for having teams of people to implement the work and to ensure it is followed through correctly.
  5. Knowing the Kinds of Change: Among the kinds of change are addition, subtraction, and replacement.
  6. Knowing the Levels of Change: Change occurs in levels of compliance (forced change), identification (wants and needs of the congregants match the suggestions for change), and internalization (change that takes place in the heart).

2. Personnel

Character Qualifications
The essentiality of having character qualities for leaders of churches is something which has been important ever since the first century church in the Book of Acts.

Spiritual Qualifications
A spiritual qualification for a leader of a church is someone that stays close to God and the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Gifts
In order to lead a church through discerning and shaping its culture the leader must know his spiritual gifts.

The passion a leader has is his motivation to use his spiritual gifts to build the kingdom of God.

Similar to spiritual gifts, the temperament which a leader has effects what he does and how he does it. By “temperament” Malphurs is referring to tools such as the Myers-Briggs, Biblical Personal Profile, or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II.

3. Process

Read the Culture
Malphurs describes the process of reading a church’s culture similar to an apple. In the apple you have the peel, flesh, and core. Each element of the apple reveals significant information about the church culture. To understand this analogy in greater detail you will need to read sections one and two of Malphurs’ book.

Thaw Out the Current Culture
This means that you first inflict pain by showing the struggling state of the church. Then, Malphurs provides a list of what he calls “make-or-break” questions that leaders need to ask. Finally the leader needs to develop eyes to see opportunities and to recruit a strategic leadership team who will go through the change process.

Transition the Culture to a New Level
The second to last step in the process of shaping a church’s culture is where you select a strategic leadership team, develop a mission and vision statement, discover the core values of the church, and develop a strategy (community outreach, disciple making, staffing, etc.)

Re-form the New Culture at the New Level
This final step includes looking at the world outside of the church to observe trends and changes in the world that might affect the church.

This post has shared some of the key distinctions for leaders interested in shaping a church’s culture. Even though the basis of this post has been on Aubrey Malphurs’ book, Look Before You Lead, I have only shared his strategies from section three of the book. If you are interested in this topic and would like to learn more I highly suggest that you purchase his book and read it in its entirety.

Question: How do you discern and shape the culture of the organization you lead?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at