the gathering

4 Exercises to Discern Church Culture

Sep 27, 2021

Have you ever wondered why some people are routinely late while others get nervous if they aren’t five minutes early?  Have you ever had that argument with a significant other over holiday traditions?  Have you ever been in a church meeting where people get angry about the idea of changing something that seems insignificant to you?  Underlining all of these is culture. Culture is a broad word that encompasses our collective beliefs, behaviors and understanding of the world.  When you start a new church, culture will play a big role. The question is whether you create culture or let existing culture determine who you become as a church.

Anand Mahadevan writes about the importance of creating culture.  It’s an incredibly helpful article for church planters to think through in the early stages of starting a church. Anand says that values drive culture.  The following questions and exercises will help you craft the values of the new church.  This isn’t something that you’ll be able to complete in an hour or two.  It’s something that needs to simmer in prayer over the next few weeks.  Don’t try and crank through all of these now.  Rather, set aside some time over the next few weeks and let this ferment a bit.  
Exercise 1: Read through Matthew (2 hours)
Spend some time reading through the book of Matthew.  As you read through these stories, keep notes on what kind of culture Jesus was creating.  Keep two questions in mind: What did Jesus do to create that culture?  What things were counter-cultural?  When you are finished, start a long list of values.  Add things that stick out to you about the culture Jesus was creating to your long list.
Exercise 2: Rival Culture (1 hour)
The gospel can be embedded in any culture.  There are aspects of culture that need to be embraced and aspects of culture that need to be challenged.  Think about the culture of your community.  Write down what your community values. Which of these values fit well with the culture that Jesus wants to create? Which of these values are anti-kingdom of God?  What is their kingdom counterpart? For example a culture that values individualism needs to be transformed to community.  One that values exploitation needs to be transformed to dignity.  Look at your notes.  What ideas pop off the page?  Add these to your long list of potential values.

Exercise 3: One Anothers (2 hours)
One another is two words in English, but it’s only one word in Greek: ἀλλήλων (ah-LAY-loan). It’s used 100 times in the New Testament.  How we treat one another is a significant part of our culture.  In this recent election cycle and global pandemic of 2020, many pastors have lamented over how their congregation has acted on social media and other public spaces.  That’s culture.  There are underlying values and rival priorities to the kingdom of God that result in destructive behaviors in how we treat each other. 
If you’re old school, grab a concordance and look up ἀλλήλων.  You can also use a website like to search for the word.  As you read through the verses, keep a running list of the underlying values.  Add those to your long list of potential church values. 

Exercise 4: Refining Questions (30 minutes)

  • Who are your heroes?  What is it about them that you admire most and want to be?  Add those to your long list.
  • Think back on the teams you have been a part of in the past.  These could be church teams or teams outside the church setting.  Who were the all-stars?  What is it about them that made them an all-star?  Add this to your long list.
  • Think about those teams again.  Who were the people that weren’t good team players? Why?  What does that reveal to you about culture?  Add any new thoughts to your long list.

Live It Out
As you narrow your list of values, think of specific ways you will live these values out together.  In Luke 7:18-23, there is the moment when John’s disciples come to Jesus and ask him if he is the Messiah.  Before answering them Jesus begins healing people.  Afterwards, he says go tell John what you’ve seen.  It’s not enough to just to state values.  Living out kingdom culture with one another is the heart of creating culture in a new church.

Doug is a self proclaimed church planting junkie and has been involved with church planting most of his adult life. He helped plant LifePointe Christian Church in Charlotte, NC in 2004 and has served as a project manager since 2008. His passion is to help church planters accelerate their vision to reach the lost. In his spare time, Doug enjoys gardening, traveling, Illinois basketball and coaching his kids’ sports teams. His greatest supporter is his wife, Amanda. Together they live in Illinois, where they have two kids, Will and Kate.

Doug Foltz

Senior Director of Project Development, Stadia