Culture vs Strategies

by Ken Dillingham

I recently had a conversation with a leader that consults with churches on how to create multiplication movements. Just the day before he had been in a meeting with leaders from an association of independent churches. These are some of the largest non-denominational churches in America. Their names would be recognizable if mentioned. Our conversation was interesting to me because this group had called my friend in to discuss their ineffectiveness to duplicate their success into their church plants.  Because of their often-meteoric rise in attendance, they had assumed that investing their best systems and strategies, along with tens of thousands of dollars, they could franchise their success into new church plants. The reason they had called on his consulting services was that their efforts simply had not gone as planned. Though they were fully engaged and committed to planting churches, many of these church plants struggled to survive with only a few of them having modest success. They had come to a vital conclusion. They had expected that their success (at their megachurch) was based on their church model and strategies. Therefore, they had assumed that they could duplicate the growth trajectory that many of their churches had when they started them. Even though they had experienced great success, somehow, they had been unable to transfer that to their new church plants. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the famous quote from Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The concept behind the quote is simple. Strategies are efforts to produce the desired outcome. Strategy involves creating a systematic plan to achieve a particular goal. On the other hand, culture is something more potent. Culture is the result of shared values within your community that embed into the DNA of your people. I’m often reminded of this dichotomy between strategy and culture when I read “church growth” articles or hear a message from the latest church growth expert. It seems that we in North America think that church growth is the result of incrementally improving the model until we reach relative numeric success. It appears that we have bought into the idea that somehow if we just keep perfecting our models and strategy, we will capture the elusive “secret sauce.” Church growth conferences in the last 25 years have been selling their “secret sauce” of success. The label on the packaging could read, “Just pour this packet into your church and stir.” Unfortunately, so many pastors, desperate to have the iconic golden buzzer pushed over their church’s well-meaning efforts, spin their wheels trying to duplicate what worked for the latest success story church. Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. I believe in systems and having standardized, repeatable processes for an efficient organization. But the church’s missional success comes from something much bigger and powerful. 


Brian Sanders speaking of the biblical mobilized-model church, says, “The result is a missionary engagement that far exceeds anything a megaministry could execute … The approach affords at least the possibility of total penetration because the God who sees all things, inhabits all places, and loves all people without prejudice or ignorance is the one doing the sending. No strategy will reach every kind of person except a strategy that mobilizes every person.”

Jesus left his disciples with something far more potent than a plan. He gave them his spiritual DNA in their hearts. Jesus sent his Spirit into the hearts of individual believers to reproduce ‘Him’ into them. His parting words to the disciples should fill our hearts with wonder and hope. To summarize John 16 into one phrase, Jesus said, “I’ve been with you, but I shall be in you.” Individual believers transformed and living out the ‘missional heart of Jesus’, became the force that swept the world. And it can be our culture today if we will embrace it. 

Perhaps you would like to explore what creating this kind of culture in your church would look like. If so, we would love to connect with you. Just follow this link to go to our Contact Us page to find out more. 

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