What’s Working in Large Churches Now (Part 4)
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As we wrap up our series focused on learnings from Christ Fellowship in Miami, Transformation Church near Charlotte, Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, and North Point Community Church in Atlanta, we’ll take a look at the final common theme of shaping a strong culture:
- They are intentional about widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus.
- They are encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning.
- They are leveraging multisite strategy as a reaction to growth that enables more growth.
- They are focused on shaping a strong team culture that leads to a healthy culture in their church.
A focus on culture is something that I’ve heard from all the leaders in the churches we’ve featured in this series, and it’s consistent with every large healthy church that we’ve served through the years. There’s no doubt about it: a strong, healthy culture has a way of making up for many other gaps in the church’s mission, vision, and ministry strategy.
If you’re looking for details on shaping a strong culture with your team, I encourage you to go back to our episode on why You Don’t Need Core Values. In this episode, my goal is to give you a glimpse of how strong healthy culture is impacting the overall health of these specific churches.
SHAPING A STRONG CULTURE
Healthy churches are clear on the type of culture they want to create in their ministry. Their leadership intentionally hires, evaluates, and celebrates based on this culture.
On this week’s podcast, Amy and I are finishing our series on what’s working in larger churches with a conversation on how these churches are focused on shaping a strong culture on their team—and how that strong culture on their team leads to a healthy culture in their church. We’ll discuss:
- How Christ Fellowship shapes a strong culture
- How Transformation Church shapes a strong culture
- How Sun Valley Community Church shapes a strong culture
- The four components of shaping your team culture
Webinar: What's Working in Large Churches NOW
Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson recently sat down with senior leaders Chris Hodges (Church of the Highlands), Omar Giritli (Christ Fellowship Church in Miami), and Miles McPherson (Rock Church) to discuss what’s actually working in their large churches now to reach new people and engage people in the life of the church a few years post-pandemic...
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Healthy churches are very clear on the type of culture they want to create in their ministry. They intentionally hire, evaluate, and celebrate around those behaviors. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy finish our series focused on what’s working in larger churches with a conversation on how these churches are shaping a strong culture in their ministry. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, we want to invite you to head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, each week you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, some bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Before this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.
Before we jump into today’s conversation, let me tell you about my friends at PlainJoe Studios. The PlainJoe team is an experienced design group who loves making practical solutions available for churches like yours. From website development to logos and brand identity, communication, strategy, signage, and more, it’s their goal to help you build your church’s story. To learn more about working with PlainJoe’s team of down-to-earth specialists, artists, architects, strategists, and problem solvers, visit plainjoestudios.com/getunstuck.
Well, welcome back to our conversation about what’s working in large churches. Tony, in the first few episodes we’ve talked about how large churches are intentionally widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus. Also, they’re encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with each other beyond Sunday morning. They’re leveraging multi-site strategy as a reaction to growth that enables more growth. So what’s the final theme that we’re gonna focus on today?
Well, today we’re going to talk about how large churches are focused on shaping a strong culture on their team and how that strong culture on their team leads to a healthy culture in the church. And this is something that I’ve heard from all the leaders in the churches that we’ve featured in this series. And, Amy, you know this to be the case. It’s consistent with every large healthy church that we’ve served through the years. There’s no doubt about it; a strong, healthy culture has a way of making up for many other gaps. . .
. . . in the church’s mission, vision, ministry strategy. Strong culture is so key. In fact, we talked about shaping a strong culture back in October; I think it was episode 266. And so there are some themes related to this this topic of shaping culture that we won’t hit in today’s conversation. But if you’re looking for a little bit more on this and how you can be shaping a strong culture with your team, I would encourage you to go back to episode 266 because you’ll pick up on some other principles we discussed on that episode. But today, my goal is to give you a glimpse of how strong, healthy culture is impacting the overall health of these specific churches.
Well, and one of the churches is Christ Fellowship in Miami. What’s interesting about their story is that a strong culture is one of the key ingredients to a successful transition in leadership in recent years.
Yeah, that’s right. Amy, pastor Omar Giritli became the lead pastor right at the beginning of the pandemic, and their previous pastor had served for more than 20 years. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a job for 20 years, Amy. I, it’s not looking like that at this point, anyways. May maybe this job—we’ll see if I can make it 20 years on this job.
You can do it.
But, in addition to that transition, Carlos, whose wife serves on our team at The Unstuck Group, Carlos also became the executive pastor. So, in other words, both the senior pastor and the executive pastor, these are two millennials that are now in key pastoral leadership positions at their church, which thank you, Christ Fellowship Miami, for finally letting the next generation lead in the church. But when I asked these guys about that transition and why it’s been so healthy, they pointed to their culture. In fact, Carlos explained that the culture has been strong for many years, and the leaders who have transitioned into key leadership roles—one of the reasons why they have been moved into these leadership roles is because they’ve proven over time that they carry the culture and the DNA of Christ Fellowship. And so these next generation leaders, they’ve built strong credibility and influence with the rest of the staff team and the congregation over time. And that makes it easy then for people to follow their leadership today. So, one learning here is that healthy leadership transitions are much more likely to succeed if there’s an existing strong culture in place and the new leaders have demonstrated over time that they embrace and carry that culture.
So I think it’s interesting when you hear stories of leadership transitions like this at Christ Fellowship because when you compare that to how typical employers identify leaders typical employers are looking at skillset. They’re looking at experience. They’re looking at leadership capacity, maybe education or certifications and other, other factors like that. It’s interesting to me as Christ Fellowship was starting to look at leadership transition that where they started was with culture fit. And I honestly would say that is a common theme I see in large, healthy churches. They’re first looking for is the culture fit there? And then they start to look at some of those other questions around leadership, capacity, skillset, experience, and so on.
Yeah. Well, back in October in that podcast series that we did on shaping culture, you mentioned that leaders have to model the culture that they’re hoping to establish on their team and in the church, but you also talked about how the entire staff team needs to embrace that culture as well. And when I’m on the ground with churches, that, Tony, is definitely something I notice in the healthy churches. Do you see that as well?
Yes, I do, Amy. In fact, Transformation Church near Charlotte is a good example of why it’s important to make sure the culture is strong throughout the staff team. So just to share a little bit of their story from the last couple of years, I mean, not unlike a lot of employers, including other churches, Transformation experienced a lot of staff turnover during the pandemic. I mean, we experienced staff turnover at The Unstuck Group, too. So, I mean, a lot of employers were dealing with that. And according to pastor Derwin Gray, one of the factors was it was actually a culture fit factor on the team that may have been leading to some of this turnover. And as a result of that, they spent some time kind of rearticulating their staff culture and values. And,while they were doing that, they, they intentionally clarified everyone’s ministry roles so that the entire staff team understood the wins for their positions.
And all of that has paid dividends over these last couple years because they’ve shared with us, pastor Derwin and Pastor Vicki, that the overall health now of the staff team has improved. And that is really leading to some real momentum for the church as a whole. In fact, Derwin and Vicki Gray have expressed to us that they think this is the healthiest the staff team has ever been. And it really began with clarifying culture and making sure that the staff team is aligned with that culture.
Tony, you mentioned this earlier, and we reference the podcast that we did last fall on shaping culture, but can you remind us: when it comes to shaping culture with the staff team, where should pastors begin?
Yeah, so it actually begins before you bring people onto the team. In fact, it really begins in the recruiting and hiring process where we always encourage leaders— just don’t look for competence, just don’t look for character— make sure you have a culture fit. And so it begins in the hiring process, and then it’s gotta be a part of your onboarding process as you’re bringing new people onto the team, making sure that they understand this is the culture that you’re walking into. And it’s always amazing to me, Amy, no matter what previous experiences somebody has had and no matter what they assume the culture is like on the team that they’re joining at a, at a healthy church like this, the onboarding process is so key because there are parts of the culture that you just can’t intuit from the outside looking in.
And so it’s important in the onboarding process that we’re not only speaking to here’s what the role is and what you’re going to be doing, but we’re also speaking to the culture that we’re intentionally trying to create on the team. And then, once people are on the team, this needs to be a focus of the coaching and the development that we’re doing with existing staff. And then as kind of the wraparound piece on that, that means when we come back and do reviews of folks on our team, whether that’s an informal review or more of a formal review in your, in your organization, when we’re developing performance plans for people, as an example, we should also be developing culture plans for the folks on our team.
So if you, the senior pastor, your senior leaders, and your staff team are really intentional about how you behave and treat other people, then that will, there’s just no way around it, that’s going to shape the culture of your team and then the culture of your church. Now, to help you get more intentional about shaping this culture, this is where clarifying the framework in writing will probably be helpful. So rather than developing a list of core values for your church, we think that it’s actually more valuable to create a list of specific culture-shaping behaviors that will help you start to model what it is the culture that you want reflected throughout your team and throughout your congregation. And I recommend that you narrow that down to no more than five specific behaviors. Make them action-oriented and describe what it looks like when teammates live out those behaviors as they engage with other people. And so what, what you’ll see is if you can name the behaviors, then if you can name a clarifying statement, then helping your staff team embrace the behavior and help them understand clearly this is what this behavior looks like on our team, that will help you. Then, you’ll kind of have a framework for modeling, coaching to that culture, and then providing accountability within your team for that culture to be embraced across all of your staff, which, again, will start to shape the culture of your church.
Tony, it might be helpful at this point, do you have any examples of some of the culture-shaping behaviors that some of the churches you’ve worked with have named?
Yeah. So, one of the churches that we worked with, one of their culture-shaping behaviors was “stay hungry.” And I don’t, I don’t think they were talking about food, Amy, though I love a good Italian meal every once in a while. But they, their shape, their behavior was “stay hungry.” And how they clarified that was with the statement, “We are never satisfied with status quo. For us, good enough is not good enough.” They want to stay hungry. They want to continue to make improvements. They want to continue to make it better. Another team that I worked with, their culture-shaping behavior was, “we laugh together.” And they clarified that by saying, “We choose to be joyful and have fun in our journey together as a team.”
So I, I love, just two examples, obviously, we work with a lot of churches, and we see a lot of different culture-shaping behaviors. But, hopefully, those samples give you a taste of what we’re talking about, naming those culture, culture-shaping behaviors, and then having some sort of clarifying statement so that the team knows this is what this behavior looks like in the context of our team.
Yeah. And what’s interesting, you didn’t share, and we probably unpack this in that podcast, but they’re not the permission to play ones—you know, we pray, we read our Bible, we do this—we actually should be able to evaluate those behaviors, right? When you’re talking about coaching and performance plan and all that, we should be able to know: are they doing this or are they not? And some of those spiritual disciplines should be, I mean, we never should assume them, but that should be championed in a different way.
Tony, as you’re looking at how the culture within the staff team begins to be reflected in the culture of the entire church, Sun Valley, again, certainly comes to mind. They have a strong team culture that’s deeply rooted in their church as a whole. Can you share a bit more about their story?
Yeah. So we talk about Sun Valley a lot because Paul, their executive pastor, has also served with The Unstuck Group now for 11 years, Amy.
So, I started The Unstuck Group close to 14 years ago, and Paul now is the longest serving ministry consultant on our team. But that’s, that’s a side hustle. His, his day job, he’s the executive pastor at Sun Valley. And but because of our relationship with Paul, we maybe know Sun Valley Community Church better than most of the churches . . .
. . . that I’ve served through the years, that we’ve served through the years. But earlier in this series, I shared some of the amazing data from Sun Valley about the number of new people they’re reaching and the number of people who are saying yes to Jesus. And they’re getting baptized; they’re going public with their faith. And when I ask Paul about what’s driving this, he didn’t mention a specific ministry strategy. Instead, he said all of this life change really has more to do with the culture that they’ve developed in their church. And it’s just part of who they are. They’re helping people meet and follow Jesus. It’s the focus of their mission. It’s the focus of their ministry and that’s what’s most valued at Sun Valley Church. Pastor Chad, their lead pastor, confirmed that. He explained that they’re routinely sharing stories, and they’re, he described it as, using language in their communications that helps to shape the culture at the church. As an example, Chad and the pastors, they, this is their language. They’ve used this for years. They’ve said it this way, “The church is not a building for you to come to. It’s a movement you choose to be a part of to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus.” And then, they continue with this kind of encouragement for their congregation. They say it this way, “We don’t just come to church; we are the church.” And what Chad’s just expressing here is when you repeat using language like that over time, your church begins and your church begins to see your leaders modeling this over time, guess what? It’s naturally going to become a part of the culture of your church.
Sun Valley is often sharing life-change stories, too, to celebrate what God’s doing in a person’s life. But they’re using those stories to also reinforce the culture that they hope to establish at the church. And so, after sharing a life-change story as an example, they may say something along these lines. Again, this is the words they use, “For those of you who give and serve at Sun Valley, just know that this person,” whoever their name is, ” will be in heaven because of you. Whether you’ve met them or not, you are a part of their story. And I just want to say thank you. Thank you for not just coming to church, but thank you for being the church.”
Don’t you love that?
I mean, it expresses the true mission of the church. But in doing that, Amy, they’re really shaping a strong culture to help people meet and follow Jesus. And here’s the deal. Sun Valley didn’t just drift into this culture. They’re very intentional about modeling this. Their leaders model it. It it begins to, they’re shaping this culture across their entire staff team. In fact, Paul just mentioned that they recently had an all-staff gathering, so I don’t know, it’s got to be a couple hundred staff people on their team now, but they all came together from all their locations, all six locations. And among other things, Chad and Paul, senior pastor and executive pastor, taught through their, they call it their new staff orientation content to make sure everyone, all the staff, no matter how long that they’ve been there, that they understand this is who Sun Valley is. And if you’re going to be a part of our staff team, this is the culture that you need to embrace. This is the culture of our, of our team, and this is the culture of our church. And I love the fact that they’re not assuming just because someone’s been on the staff team for many, many years, that they are recalling and living out the culture that they’re trying to shape. So they’re spending time with their entire team on a regular basis to make sure that that culture is taught and that it’s clarified and they’re coaching to it. And, again, it’s just a great model for how even a church that’s been established for many years now, they’re so intentional about making sure there’s a strong culture on the team so that there can be a healthy, strong culture in the church, as well.
And what I love about what you just shared is that that visioning came from the lead pastor and the executive pastor because that’s where culture all begins. And they couldn’t stand up there and teach that if they weren’t actually living that out. It wasn’t delegated to another staff member. It just reinforces, “At our core, this is who we are.” So. Good. All right, well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Well, I love this series because, well, first of all, it’s a reflection of the fact that now we are beyond pandemic days in the church.
And now churches have, have re-engaged their mission in a healthy, strong way. And we’re seeing there are many churches that are winning in this season, including many large churches. And so, again, I just, I just asked all of these large churches that are experiencing wins today, “what are you doing? I mean, what’s really working for you? “And it was all around intentional, being intentional about widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus. They all said we’re encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning. They all talked about leveraging multi-site strategy as a reaction to growth that enables more growth for their ministry. And then lastly, as we talked about today, they were all focused on shaping a strong culture on their team that’s leading to a healthy culture in their church.
And so, here’s the deal. I know many of you’re listening to this podcast, but you may also be interested in hearing firsthand for about what’s working in large churches right now. And because of that, next week on Thursday, February 23rd, Amy and I will be joined by Chris Hodges from the Church of the Highlands, Omar Giritli from Christ Fellowship Church in Miami, and Miles McPherson from Rock Church in Southern California. And they’re going to be with us to discuss candidly what’s actually working for reaching new people, for engaging people in the life of the church, a few years now removed from the pandemic. And so we want you to join us for this conversation. As I’ve mentioned throughout this series, I think no matter what size church you are in, the principles that they’re going to be talking about in most instances will apply to your church, as well. And if you’d like to join us, you can register for this free event by following the link in your show notes.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you’d like to be a part of the upcoming webinar, you can get the link to register in the show notes. And if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand-new episode. So, until then, have a great week.
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