Book helps examine church's culture codes

We churchy types keep hearing that church leaders need to lead in a new way in order to effectively share the Gospel. And while we may agree that we need new skills for new challenges, the fresh vision we seek can be encumbered by our memory of how the church worked 40 years ago. Even if we are too young to actually remember, the structure of church remembers for us.  In my own denomination (Episcopalian),  we joke that “we have always done it this way!” We know that our devotion to steady habits is not the same as faith, but we also wonder how to accomplish this change.  Where do we begin?

In Samuel Chand's new book Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration (Jossey-Bass) he affirms what most ministers know: church culture, often unarticulated but still powerful, influences the success of leadership. Church programs and structures do not change church culture so much as they reflect it. After 30 years as a pastor, educator and leadership consultant,  Chand recommends that church leaders assess the culture of the parish and take steps to transform the culture in order to bring about the change we need.

This book is not a panacea and does not offer a simplistic recipe for success.  It does provide a coherent method of assessing the culture of a parish and strategies for moving toward a new and exciting way of being church. Chand outlines the characteristics of healthy (and unhealthy) church cultures, and offers practical skills for focused leadership in an environment that is changing. He is honest about the cost of change in a system (it is painful and feels chaotic), the cost of refusing to change, and the cost of genuine leadership. (You didn’t think this would be easy, did you?) Still this is a hopeful and encouraging book, which can be adapted within different denominational contexts.

The best tools Chand offers are the online culture assessment survey, the reflection questions within each chapter,  and the outlines and illustrations of the concepts he uses. Somewhat useful (although not to my taste) is his tendency to use acronyms to expand a concept. He is especially articulate in his analysis of change as rooted in an individual’s personal commitment to insight within their own context. But he is realistic: a leader sets the tone,  but commitment to any real change is sustained and deepened by others.

I will be re-reading this book and using it in parish life.

Book review written by Rev. Amy D. Welin, priest in charge at Christ Episcopal Church in Ansonia.

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