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Growing a Healthy Culture

Craig Jutila

I can remember going to the doctor with a sore throat. The doctor took a cotton swab, rubbed it along the back of my throat, and then put the swab in a petri dish to grow a culture. The culture indicated my current state of health and revealed what was going on in my body -- good or bad.

If you took a "swab" of your children's ministry and put it in a petri dish, what would your culture reveal?

Simply put, culture is "the way we do things around here." A healthy ministry culture creates a place of trust and synergy that should produce an abundance of fruit in ministry. There are five ways to grow a healthy culture.

1. Select leaders by their callings. At Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California, the goal is for people to serve where God has called them -- not where the greatest need is. They may need a sixth-grade leader, but a new volunteer wants to serve 4-year-olds. Respect people's callings, help them discover their gifts, and place them in areas where God intends for them to serve.

2. Communicate well. Share information that's positive, negative, and constructive. Last year at Saddleback's children's Summer Spectacular, we discovered that our registration process caused parents frustration because of unbelievably long lines. After some great constructive feedback, we were able to address the problems before the next Summer Spectacular. The results produced a successful event! The church culture communicated that when people speak up, all of us are smarter than one of us.

3. Equip people. Show volunteers not only what needs to be done but also how and why it needs to be done. A soccer player understands the need to shoot the ball into the goal. Coaching the player on the best shooting angles and pointing out why they work develops a strong player. Equipping volunteers over time builds future leaders.

4. Share your values. We have values that guide our ministries and keep us focused on the right path. A common purpose creates community among your leadership and volunteers. For example, if outreach is something your ministry values and if your volunteers reflect that value, it'll become a positive part of your ministry culture.

5. Remember when. You've developed a culture when you can tell the "remember when" stories. When your leadership has walked with the ministry and your volunteers for an extended season, the "remember when" phenomenon develops. You have people who remember ministry milestones, have celebrated the triumphs, and recall when things didn't work or flat-out bombed. They've taken the results in the petri dish, good or bad, and worked to build a healthy culture.

I've served in two churches over the last 13 years. My experience is that a culture does not grow overnight (unless you have a sore throat). It takes three years to pave the way, two more years to gain trust, and at least one more year to increase your ministry's momentum. So don't expect to grow a healthy culture quickly. As a leader, you need to build trust with your volunteers. Assure them that there won't be a revolving door in your children's ministry leadership and that you're committed for the long haul. A culture takes time to grow, but with perseverance, your petri dish will reveal a healthy ministry.

The Bottom Line:

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." -- Philippians 1:27


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