Cracking Your church's Culture Code

I teach at EPIC Bible College and Graduate School which is located in Sacramento, California and the Academic Dean, Greg Hartley PhD, referred me to read a great book concerning Church Culture because he knew I have been assisting a church as their “Transition Pastor” that has experienced a challenging previous season as a a congregation. The book is entitled, “Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision & Inspiration”  In his book he identify’s the characteristics of five types of church cultures.

They are:

  1. Inspiring
  • Inspiring cultures create an atmosphere where staff and volunteers bring their “A” game every day.
  • Inspiring cultures are built on trust and respect.
  • Authority is decentralized and the direction is clear.
  • Inspiring cultures place a high value on creating a healthy culture and developing people on the team.
  • They have high but realistic expectations.
  • Creativity is rewarded and failure is viewed as a stepping stone for growth.
  • Turf wars are eliminated and synergy is evident.
  • Stories of success are frequently celebrated.


  1. Accepting
  • Accepting cultures are generally positive but some difficult decisions are avoided which creates tension on the team.
  • They typically have clear goals and strong relationships.
  • Generally, most people are supportive of the other folks on the team.
  • They tend to allow incompetent leaders to remain in their role too long.
  • Accepting cultures do invest in developing people and building the culture but not to the extent that inspiring cultures do so.


  1. Stagnant
  • Stagnant cultures often start strong but over time they lose energy and begin to stagnate.
  • Team members are only valued when they produce. Very little praise is based on the character of the team.
  • Team members tolerate their leaders, but don’t trust or respect them.
  • People tend to protect their turf, fight for power, and limit communication.
  • Complaining becomes the norm and small problems quickly escalate.
  • Leaders try to control their team by micromanaging them.
  • The status quo is accepted and responsibility is avoided.


  1. Discouraging
  • Discouraging cultures suck the life out of their people.
  • They live with unresolved problems and unhealed wounds.
  • Self preservation and self protection is prevalent.
  • The organization becomes all about the power and prestige of the top leaders.
  • People spend more time trying to survive power struggles then they spend doing the work of ministry.
  • Supervisors use threats and their authority to demand compliance and loyalty.
  • It is extremely difficult to implement a new vision because nobody cares.


  1. Toxic
  • Toxic cultures create a “closed system” where no new ideas or advice are allowed in.
  • They breed bad ideas, bad behaviors, and bad values.
  • People are expected to do as they are told…nothing less and nothing else.
  • They have high expectation of team members but offer no autonomy to make decisions.
  • Fear dominates the organization.
  • Open turf wars are accepted which results in suspicion and resentment throughout the team.
  • Leaders delegate responsibility without authority.
  • Creativity and risk are seen as threats.

It is my assessment with 35 years of pastoral leadership that the development of a “Healthy Culture” is not the focus for many leaders because it takes work that demands that people emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually unpack their own suitcases from their own family of origin in order to be intentional a healthy broader culture. Dr. Samuel Chand when discussing the process of a church or organization developing a healthy strategy states that leadership team members must, “Accept responsibility for what we can control – and make a steadfast commitment not to complain about what’s outside our control.” These are the crucial ingredients in spiritual, emotional, and relational health. 

I am interested in your thoughts if you are reading this blog post. Which of the five types of cultures defines your church right now? What are some of the mindsets that your culture tend to infect the people in your church (e.g. Lack of Trust in Leadership, Fear, Insecurity)? Finally, what are the behaviors that you as a leader need to begin to change that is adding to the Culture either being healthy or unhealthy?

One thing is certain: “If God is the source of power for people to experience recovery He is also the source for churches to experience recovery.”

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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