Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8
“Organizational Culture” has become a very common phrase in business, non-profits and faith-based organizations. An organization’s culture represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of the organizational members. It is a product of many factors: organizational history, unwritten but understood rules, treatment of leadership, traditions, transparency of decision-making and how new ideas come to manifest themselves. Over the last ten years, many of the great organizational pundits have gone back and forth on whether organizational culture trumps strategy or if a good strategy wins the day. After a time, this type of argument becomes more about semantics than actual useful application. The real question is how does organizational culture affect strategic thinking, leadership and growth for organizations? The pundits can debate all day, the rest of us have work to do.
In congregations, the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT)™ examines culture using a congregation’s collective values and beliefs regarding the world and the wider community through the lens of their Christianity. This is their theology. The CAT also looks at how committed the congregation members are in moving towards their collective objectives. This is their flexibility or adaptability.
For a congregation’s strategic movement and priority-set to be embraced, it must have alignment with the congregation’s culture. This is true in terms of a congregation’s theology – a conservative congregation that believes that conversion is the first step to a better society needs to have ministry that fits with that belief set. Likewise, in order to avoid becoming stagnant, a congregation with limited flexibility will have to be mindful in next steps so that they are able to embrace change and create an environment that is open to new ideas.
It is important to note, that while we have found time and time again that theology does not hinder strategic movement, lack of flexibility can. With the rare exception (14 congregations out of 2,000 to be exact), the more settled the congregation becomes the harder it is for them to be a vital organization. This indicates that the more settled the congregation, the more imperative it becomes that next steps focus on flexibility so that the strategy can be rooted in culture, but, importantly, that the culture allows forward movement.
In order to help congregations strategically plan their next steps, we have to first understand their culture and how this will help, hinder, and propel growth of various kinds. The often quoted phrase is “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Let’s get them at the table together. Because as we come to understand how culture affects a congregation’s next steps, we can truly begin to lead in way that is compassionate, mindful and effective.
– Emily Swanson, President
Holy Cow! Consulting