Culture Change vs. Flavor of the Day

OOI Staff

September 2017

We often refer to Organic Outreach as an Operating System for a church. If you ever had a Windows PC and adopted the Vista Operating System when it came out then I suspect you will completely understand that if an operating system is not functioning properly it doesn’t matter what program you try to run; the results will be less than ideal. In our experience of working with churches struggling to ignite an atmosphere of outreach and evangelism within their congregation, we see them trying to implement various programs, searching for the one that will actually work for them. The truth of the matter is that many of these programs are absolutely fine and could work well for a season – if the operating system (alternativelyCulture) were healthy.

‘Culture’ is a collective atmosphere of “… shared beliefs, values, and behaviors.”1 It is what forms the lens through which we view, analyze, and act on everything around us. When faced with any situation, your immediate reflex response is informed by the culture. A major challenge that we observe broadly is that most Christians live in two distinctly different and separate culturesChristian/Church and Secular. This is true not only of church members but of church staff and pastors. While out in the world, we tend to operate from a secular culture. In conversations with non-Christians, we shift our language – we avoid using the name of Jesus Christ or describing how God is working in our lives. We rarely, if ever, offer to pray in the moment and out loud for those who are hurting and lost. In short, we blend in. In contrast, when at church or among other Christians, we shift into our church culture. We share what God is doing in our lives, and we pray for and encourage each other in the name of Jesus. We praise God for our salvation and the joy we find in Him. The problem isthere aren’t any non-Christians around to see or hear us!


" In conversations with non-Christians, we shift our language - we avoid using the name of Jesus Christ or describing how God is working in our lives."


The goal of installing the operating system of Organic Outreach in any church or ministry is to reach the point that everyone in the church operates 24/7 within the Christian culture. Not in a way that is “in-your-face,” but in a way that is natural for us. This kind of change does not happen overnight, nor does it take place without a deep intentionality. A 2009 study by Phillipa Lally, a health psychology researcher at UCL, found that on average it takes 66 days for a habit to be ingrained. Depending on the behavior involved it can take up to 254 days for a new habit to become second nature.

What we definitely know from experience is that without true culture change, any gains will be short-lived. If you work to change your church culture with intentionality, it will be 18 to 24 months before you begin to see the true signs of a new reality. When it does happen, it is an absolutely beautiful thing. When you begin to hear conversations on a Sunday morning of weekday encounters and the deepening of relationships with the unchurched, you will know that the hard work is paying off. This will inevitably be followed by new faces, new believers, and new workers for the harvest.

Waterhouse, J & Lewis, D. (2004). Communicating Culture Change. Public Management Review, 6(3), 353-376.

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