Shaping Culture: Defining It (1 of 4)

Define Culture

If you can’t define your church’s culture in words, you aren’t intentionally shaping it.

For years I made the mistake of assuming culture was too ambiguous to capture in words.  I thought I would somehow kill the magic of culture if I tried to quantify it.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Now I believe that culture is so vital that it must be captured in words.  If you can’t write it down, you don’t really know it and you have no hope of teaching it to others.  So, leaders, don’t let yourself off the hook – force yourself to put words around your culture.

The single most helpful tool I’ve found in putting words around culture is a concept called plumb lines that comes from Larry Osborne at North Coast Church in California. In the building world, a plumb line is an extremely simple tool (a piece of string with a weight on the end) that will help you make sure what you are building is perfectly vertical and aligned.  Larry describes cultural plumb lines as “leadership proverbs.”  They’re short, pithy little sayings that describe your culture.  When clearly stated, these provide clarity in keeping everything aligned with the culture you want to create.

Here are a few of our plumb lines at Restoration City:

  • Look for a way, not an excuse.
  • Find the unexpected extra.
  • Assume the best.
  • People > Programs.
  • Environment Matters.
  • Treat Volunteers Like Celebrities.

We have more but that gives you an idea of the church we’re trying to become.

We don’t make our leaders memorize all of our plumb lines but they show up in our conversations, emails and sermons enough that people start to catch on before too long.

What plumb lines describe the church or organization God is asking you to create?  Take the time to write it down.  Don’t be frustrated if it takes a while – I’ve been actively working on these for Restoration City for the last two years and thinking about them on and off for the last 12.  You can always add, edit, delete plumb line.  The key is to be getting something on paper.

Defining your culture will force clarity in your mind and give you a tool to teach your team.

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