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Tim Alford

4 keys to establishing a healthy culture

One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to travel around and visit many different churches, youth groups, para-church organisations, festivals and events.

The good news is, there is wonderful diversity in the church! Nowhere else would you find such an eclectic mix of ages, cultures, nationalities and social groups united under one banner. The church is a beautiful thing!

Yet amongst all this diversity, they all hold something in common: They all have a culture. Your church has a culture. Your youth group has a culture. Your team has a culture. Even your meetings have a culture! You may not be able to articulate it, but make no mistake - your youth ministry has a culture.

Your culture is a set of (often unwritten) rules and values that determine behaviour within an organisation. Simply put, culture is ‘how we do things around here.’

So how do we establish a healthy, fruitful culture within our children's and youth ministries?

I agree with Dr Henry Cloud when he says, “What you create, [and] what you allow, is what you get as a leader.” Spot on. Our culture is always a combination of what we create and what we allow.

So with that as our foundation, here are four keys to establishing a healthy culture…

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1. Name It

If as a leader you haven’t explicitly named the culture of your youth ministry, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t got one, it means it has an accidental one. An accidental culture is that which has evolved organically according to the behaviours of the most influential characters in the group.

When Jesus spoke of 'the yeast of the Pharisees', he was describing how the behaviours of a small group of influential individuals will quickly permeate an entire culture, though it doesn’t necessarily serve the good of the group. So if you want a healthy culture, you have to name it, write it down, and talk about it again and again until you’re blue in the face!

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2. Model It

Once you have named the culture, the people you lead must now be able to look to you to see an example of what that culture looks like. So let’s say you’ve named a culture in your team for everyone to arrive on time for every session. Guess what you need to do? Or perhaps you’re seeking to build a culture of passionate worshippers amongst your young people. Guess what you need to be?

Bill Hybels makes this point perfectly, “Leaders must never expect from others anything more than they’re willing to deliver themselves. They should never expect higher levels of commitment, creativity, persistence, or patience than what they themselves manifest on a regular basis.”

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3. Challenge It

I’m willing to wager that this will be the first article in YCW mag history that will encourage you to be intolerant! But if you want to establish a clear, healthy culture, intolerant you must be! Not of individuals of course, but of behaviours that conflict with the culture you are creating.

Patrick Lencioni writes, “Great cultures tend to be appropriately intolerant of certain behaviours … After all, if an organisation is tolerant of everything, it will stand for nothing.”

At the time of writing, just three days ago I was part of a team who launched a new youth group in Malvern. We had already decided that we would set a culture of respect, where no one talks and everyone listens to whoever is leading the session content.

So before our first session, I took a moment to remind our team to be intentionally intolerant of any behaviour that would subvert that culture, by quickly challenging any young person who was talking when they should have been listening… and they did so magnificently!

Remember, your culture is a combination of what you create and what you allow, therefore, do not tolerate any behaviours that contradict your named culture, because if you do, those behaviours will become the culture.

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4. Celebrate It

As much as we should confront behaviours that subvert the culture, we should celebrate those that affirm it. Therefore, never miss an opportunity to celebrate someone who did something in line with the culture you are building - and wherever possible, do that publicly!

If others in your group or team see you celebrating a certain behaviour, they are more likely to replicate it themselves. As Andy Stanley says, “What’s celebrated is repeated.”

 

So here’s what we do. We name the culture, we model the culture, we challenge any behaviours that do not reflect that culture, and we celebrate those that do. Do these four things and you will have a healthy culture in which your young people and team will thrive and flourish.

Welcome to the culture club!

 

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