Embracing “What We Are For”: The Key to Impactful Church Culture

Every now and then I’ll jump onto “Christian Twitter” which is mostly a collection of people taking the most polarized Christian positions possible and sprinkling in anger, snark, and rage-bait. None of it is particularly fruitful, it mostly just contributes to increasing levels of tribalism or balkanization. So, how do you keep your church and your congregation into falling into the trap of being known for what they are against instead of what they are for?

We’ve all seen the churches and celebrity pastors that are particularly well known for what they are against. Most of them reached astronomical levels of notoriety during the 2020 pandemic. Would it come as any surprise to find out that non-Christians don’t particularly think highly of those churches and pastors? The public considers them outright harmful, especially among digital natives among Millennials and Gen-Z! Here’s what most people think of when they think of church:

Is it fair? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s the growing perception of churches based on them largely communicating what they stand against instead of what they stand for.

The Pitfall of Focusing on “What We Are Against”

In the age of social media, it’s easy for churches to get trapped in a cycle of outrage and negativity. Instead of emphasizing what they stand for, many churches become known for what they oppose. This approach has several pitfalls. The allure of outrage can be addictive, leading churches to join the noise and perpetuate a culture of constant criticism and condemnation. Additionally, this focus on what they are against can create a divisive messaging that alienates individuals seeking purpose. By primarily highlighting the negative, churches risk driving people away and hindering genuine engagement and connection within the church community.

Embracing the Power of “What We Are For”

I love how Simon Synek underscores the importance of discovering and communicating a “why” in an organization. The most recognizable and long lasting brands tend to have a really compelling reason to exist. For example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple wanted to democratize computers for people, similarly Steve Gates at Microsoft wanted to put a computer on every desk, while both companies are starting to struggle a bit because they have largely accomplished their “why,” they inspired staff and the public with what they set out to accomplish. Now, churches tend to say their “why” is the Great Commission… true… but there are at least tens of millions of churches in the world and each has a part of the Great Commission. Essentially, each church has “something they are for” that they can communicate and be known for.

Shifting the narrative and focusing on “what we are for” can revolutionize church leadership. By directing our energy towards positive messaging, we can create a more impactful and inspiring church culture. This will provide a powerful and unifying foundation for your messaging. Craft positive messages that emphasize the values your church stands for… and I get it… there’s crazy stuff out there today. It’s tempting to look at something like gender transitioning and form an aggressive “what we are against” messaging; however, I’ve always gotten much further with people by presenting a message more akin to “wouldn’t it be great if we gave kids an opportunity to discover who they naturally are and try out accepting the biology they were born with before we take any irreversible actions?”

I get it, a lot of this is going to be “easier said than done,” but if you want to speak into people’s lives, then saying “what you are against” is not going to get through the way sharing “what you are for” will.

Inspiring Action and Connection

Beyond cutting through the defensiveness of those who disagree, focusing on “what we are for” inspires action and connection among your congregation and engages the imagination of the community at large. Here’s the thing about sharing a “what you are for”: even when you feel like you’ve said it too much, you probably haven’t said it enough. It’s important to share those things you are for broadly and repeatedly. You’ll find that as you do this, people get on board, if your church has growth, giving, and volunteer shortages, the problem is usually that the congregation doesn’t have a clear idea of what the church is for.

Leveraging Information Technology to Amplify Your “Why”

A friend of mine quipped “all companies today are information companies” and another disagreed saying “all companies today are media companies” both statements are actually true… and true of churches as well! Now, they weren’t saying that every organization needs to be Disney or HubSpot, but they are pointing out that the way we work and communicate is done on high tech platforms that lets us very easily put content in front of those we want to influence to take action.

So how do we communicate what we are for? Well, first it helps to get discernment and discuss these things with eldership. If your elders are arguing over lawnmower brands then you need to ask them to help the church with this vital growth and discipleship issue instead. You might need to bring in some fresh eyes and ears to help your board get refocused if your board has dropped to far down into church daily operations issues.

Anyhow, those things you are for need to be regularly communicated to your staff in your collaboration suite (like Teams). They need to be communicated in your sermons. They need to be communicated in your courses, both online and offline. They need to be communicated in short-form. They need to be communicated in emails. They need to be communicated in SMS and/or messaging platforms. They need to come up regularly in any online community spaces you run (Facebook groups, Telegram, Discord, etc.). They need to come up in podcasts you record. Again, if you think you’ve said it too much, it’s probably just barely starting to register with the congregation so communicate what you are for regularly across all your technical platforms that enable you to communicate with your congregation and community.

Final Thoughts

Again, there’s a lot of crazy stuff out there today and it’s tempting to get distracted trying to point out how crazy it is, but it’s time for churches to break free from the confines of negativity and outrage-driven narratives. The gospel is, after all, the greatest story of hope and reconciliation ever told! By shifting the focus to “what we are for” and embracing your church’s unique “why,” you can inspire meaningful change by flipping the script of what people expect of churches so that you get the opportunity to influence people toward Christ.

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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