“Culture eats strategy for lunch”, so said Dick Clark of Merk Pharmaceuticals in the magazine Executive Leadership. We all know how as leaders we have put a great new strategy or structure in place, thinking it will be the answer to all our problems, only to find that we have the same problems we had before, just packaged differently.
If we want true change we have to address the culture issue. Generally churches function on a transactional consumerist basis – we give this, and we expect to get that. Every attempt we make to change it to a contributor basis with true ownership of the vision we fail at the first hurdle.
So culture change is the order of the day. And when it comes to building Missional Communities, this is never truer. Don’t do what we did at Frontline and make the structure change before addressing the culture issues. We have had to do a lot of ‘retro-engineering’ of the culture to make our communities work. Thankfully we are getting there. But it’s slow. We changed the structure overnight, but the culture change is taking years
As we seek to build our Missional Communities and grow healthy ‘families on mission’, I’ve found it helpful to think about the difference between a family and a club. Family is the culture we are looking for. Club is the old consumer mind-set. So let’s look at some of the differences:
|Subscription based||Common pot of finances|
|Time defined by membership||Long term identity|
|Focused on specific activity||Focused on life|
|Competitive / comparative||Supportive / developmental|
|Compartmentalised bit of life||Integrated|
|Set times||All the time|
|Recruits new members||Delights in new birth|
|Identity in function||Identity in belonging|
|Image and performance based||Honesty and vulnerability based|
|Not allowed to fail||Encouraged to fail|
|Grows by addition||Grows by multiplication|
|Skills are valued||Maturity is valued|
|Led by chairmen, presidents and secretaries||Led by Parents|
|Boundaries set||Porous boundaries / flexible|
The problem with having a club culture (no relation to Culture Club! – for those who remember the 80’s) is that everything happens on a transactional basis. Nothing is permanent, nothing can be built on. Everything is based on performance and convenience. It operates as long as it suits me, and as long as it serves my needs. It happens in a tightly defined compartment of my life. Does that sound like some of our Missional Communities?
Family on the other hand is all-pervading, it’s 24/7, it’s chaotic, creative and highly inclusive. It’s a supportive place of shared resources. It’s a place where failure is celebrated as a learning experience, not berated as a losing experience. It’s a secure place of belonging where new and innovative things can happen, and where newcomers are loved into finding their place.
A young Muslim with a failed asylum seeker claim found Christ among us as a community. He quickly felt the love of the family and started to share his pain and rejection. He benefited from our shared resources, from meals in many homes and finances, to an MP3 player with the bible in his language. He found a place to serve, helping others with their gardening. He helped one of the guys in business remodel his offices. He knows he can call when he needs help, and has been supported in putting together a fresh asylum claim. He has a sure hope for eternity even if his hope for this world is still very uncertain. That uncertainty is massively mitigated by his new family.
So for those of us involved in or leading a Missional Community, here’s a question to mull over:
What are our Missional Communities more like – club or family?
Nic is senior pastor of Frontline Church in Liverpool. Nic and Jenny have 4 daughters and 6 grandchildren. Nic also has an increasing role in the Covenant Kingdom Network of churches. A good book in a coffee shop is his favourite kind of recharging time.