The idea of organizational culture seems obscure and difficult to define at first glance, especially in the church world. A more formal definition of organizational culture might be “the underlying assumptions and beliefs shared by a group of people that operate unconsciously in a church or organization’s view of itself and its environment.”1 The deeper level of assumptions should be distinguished from the “values” and “artifacts” typically associated with the surface level of culture.2 For the sake of simplicity, let’s just agree to define culture as the shared values of a group.
Leaders often reference three layers of culture in a church or organization. The cultural pyramid provides an illustration of these three layers: artifacts, stated values, and underlying assumptions.3
At the top of the pyramid are the artifacts of the culture. Artifacts are visible and often recognizable even to people who are not part of the culture. Common artifacts include vision statements, taglines, logos, branding, organizational specific language, acronyms, and so forth. Artifacts also include things you might not expect like buildings, physical space, ministry processes, communication style, and even how people dress. A person may get an idea of who your organization is but not fully understand why these artifacts have been established without looking at the stated values.
In the middle of the pyramid are stated values. These are the values regularly promoted by the leadership in a given culture. Stated values may be formalized and reinforced through the clearly articulated values, strategy, measures, and so forth. Every church and organization has stated values. Whether or not the values have been formalized, they exist and people are listening. Even if the values aren’t displayed on a wall, your values can be found in the common language and stories as well as what is celebrated, measured, and controlled in your culture. If you have articulated your values, they must truly resonate and align with the assumptions or assumed values of people within the culture in order to be healthy.
Notice that as you move from the top of the pyramid to the bottom, you also move from visible attributes of culture to invisible attributes of culture. The bottom layer of the pyramid is your culture’s assumptions. Assumptions reflect the underlying shared values within the culture. These values often remain unstated and are nebulous or self-defined by people within the culture. The assumptions and espoused values are possibly not correlated or rooted in the actual values of the culture. It’s important to recognize that what is written on the walls is not always actualized in the halls of the church.
Sometimes a good bit of cultural examination has to take place to bring these into the light. Consider following questions regarding your church’s current culture.
- What or who is celebrated?
- What is measured?
- How is important communication handled?
- How are decisions made?
- What is your church’s most prevalent leadership style?
- What is your church’s cultural personality?
This is an excerpt from Creating and Curating a Recruiting Culture by Todd Adkins. Learn more about creating a culture of recruiting in your church and download the full booklet here.
- Adapted from Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Josey-Bass Inc., 2004), 6-11.
- E.H. Schein, “Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture,” Sloan Management Review, no. 25 (1984): 3-16.
- Adapted from Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 18.