How to Execute a Strategic Plan at Your Church – Values and Culture

Before we begin, download a Cultural Description Sample here or at the bottom of the post. This document is what you’ll eventually want to create as part of your holistic strategic plan.

Let’s jump into the next section of our Strategic Plan: VALUES AND CULTURE.

You can’t design a successful strategic plan if you can’t clearly define success.

A massive part of leadership is pointing the organization to the desired destination and taking them there. This is what leaders do. And this requires a clear understanding of what you’re trying to do.4

In our last post, we discussed this at length. How do you define success? Your answer provides the starting point for the next step in a strategic planning process.

Great strategies are built strategically in this order:

  1. Determine position, reality, and success
  2. Develop a strategy
  3. Design the tactics
  4. Measure the progress

Determining success creates the benchmark for all evaluations and plans.

But defining success is just the beginning of the process. Next, we must further evaluate our position and reality.

7 Questions to Determine If Your Ministry Model Needs to Change

WHO Are You Now?

With success defined, we must next determine “who are you?” That’s not a typo. If you expected to read, “Where are you?” I get it. Where you are today is essential in determining how to get to where you want to be eventually. But, where you are is partially defined by who you are.

Before we evaluate what you are doing and how it contributes to your success (or lack thereof), we need to consider your DNA.

We don’t want to lose your identity along the strategic planning way.

We do that by answering this question: How do we behave?

How you behave defines your values and your culture. And I don’t mean the values you’ve written on your lobby wall. Most churches and businesses have “values.” I put that in quotes because, while you’ve documented your values, that doesn’t mean they are activated.

Throw out what you’ve written in brochures and documents for a few minutes and ask your team how you all behave.

Determining Your Actual Values Through Real Behaviors

Culture is a set of values that create beliefs that drive behaviors. In a strong organization, values develop behaviors. In weaker organizations (or older ones where leadership abdicates their role), the cultural process is inverted. Behaviors form outside of any guiding norms and create organizational values.

You see this all the time. On the wall of the inverted organization, we read, “We value collaboration.” But the organizational behaviors suggest each team member is out for themselves and feel it necessary to protect their turf (and budget). The values document reads “excellence in all we do,” yet the children’s and student ministries receive less than 25% of the annual budget to create excellent experiences. You claim to value “hospitality,” but the facility is persistently dirty.

It is critical to separate actual values from aspirational values as you consider your current organizational values. The reason is simple: Values define culture, and “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker). If you define success and devise a strategic plan to achieve this success without considering your actual behaviors and values, the strategy will not work. No strategy is strong enough to overcome the existing values and behaviors that define the culture.

As you can imagine, this part of the planning process can be painful. Many leaders and their teams struggle to delineate between actual values and aspirational values. If it becomes difficult to separate the two, it’s time to ask some value-driven questions.

Value Revealing Questions

If you are unsure if your actual values and behaviors match your claimed or aspirational values, ask these questions of your entire team. I encourage you to do this anonymously. Gather all the answers and study each response, looking for trends and commonalities.

  1.  Organizations tend to reward and punish behaviors. What actions or behaviors cause people to be rewarded or punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending time, money, and attention?
  3. What rules and expectations are always followed? Are any rules or expectations ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about their feelings and asking for what they need?
  5. Sacred cows are events or ministries unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend, and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame, and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium on comfort (and how does that look)?

The Complete Process to Evaluate Your Current Culture

If you’re interested in evaluating your culture thoroughly, here are the seven steps I lead ministry and marketplace teams through:

STEP 1. Inform your staff that you want to engage in a culture assessment to help identify the “unwritten rules” of the organization.
STEP 2. Send an anonymous form with the 10 Cultural Value Questions above.
STEP 3. Collect the answers and share the feedback with your Executive or Leadership Team. As a team, review the answers, looking for trends as values. Make notes of what you are finding.
STEP 4. Gather with your Leadership Team to compare and contrast the individual findings.
STEP 5. Decide from the trends what you want to retain and replace. Also, consider what is missing.
STEP 6. From step 5, create a Culture Document to share with the staff.
STEP 7. Begin actively reinforcing the new cultural values by living the behaviors personally, celebrating the behaviors that represent the desired results, using the values in HR process, and discussing the values in one-on-one meetings.

Attempting to design a new strategy without first understanding your current culture results in 1) a plan that cannot be executed or 2) a plan that creates a new and potentially unwanted culture.

How can I help?

Most of my clients consider me their CSO (Chief Strategy Officer). I created Transformation Solutions to help ministry and marketplace leaders progress from innovation through implementation. I’m dedicating my time to helping leaders discover potential problems, design strategic solutions, and deliver the preferable future. That includes you.

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