CHURCH IDENTITY, CONGREGATIONAL CULTURE
Just as ecclesiology helps us understand the church from a theological angle, church identity or congregational culture looks through sociological and organizational perspectives.
One may define identity or culture as the unique personality of a church created by its ministry, history, location, size, beliefs, leadership, demographics, age groups, and patterns of social interaction. Identity ascertains how a congregation, once biblically conceived, expresses itself in a local setting. What “personality” does it develop and reflect? What images do the members and the community use to describe that congregation? These images, whatever they are — pillar, anchor, family, community of faith, etc. — are deeply etched into the consciousness of members. Churches tend to pass on these images to their children and to new members who identify. Often the transmission is sub-conscious, but no less real.
The reality is that “culture trumps everything.” As Samuel Chand says, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” (Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code, 3). No matter how effective the strategy or how competent the leaders, identity/culture is the guiding force behind congregational life.
The following resources provide in-depth understanding of congregational culture/identity. They are listed in suggested order, although each makes important contributions to the subject. One may also be interested in a similar guide on Leadership and Organizational Culture.
- Samuel R. Chand, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration, Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series -Chand describes the five identifiable categories of church culture and provides diagnostic tools for assessment. He offers seven keys of understanding culture and a cultural change process.
- Will Mancini, Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement— Not on church identity per se, but an excellent guide to helping leaders cast vision in a way that is congruent with the unique nature of a congregation. Mancini explains that each church has a culture that reflects its particular values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions and shows how church leaders can unlock their church’s DNA and unleash its one-of-a-kind potential.
- Robert Lewis, Wayne Cordeiro, and Warren Bird, Culture-Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out — A well-written explanatory guide to defining a congregation’s essential identity in partnership with God, and then aligning everything with this identity. It is one of several volumes that present the “organic” model.
- Janet R. Cawley, Who Is Our Church? Imagining Congregational Identity – A well-crafted process for churches to understand their identity through the “personal identity exercise.”
- Erwin Raphael McManus, An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind– A fine example of how church leaders function as culture-creators or “social architects” in their congregations.
- C. Ellis Nelson, Editor, Congregations: Their Power to Form and Transform— The standard resource on this subject for many years, especially with the chapter on “Using Church Images for Commitment, Conflict, and Renewal.”
- Carl S. Dudley and Sally A. Johnson, Energizing the Congregation: Images that Shape Your Church’s Ministry– Focuses on five images which their research and experience suggest as most prevalent among American Protestant churches — Pillar, Pilgrim, Survivor, Prophet, and Servant.
- Avery Dulles, Models of the Church— A classic on the subjects of both ecclesiology and identity, describing five different types of congregations according to what they offer their members spiritually and their communities missionally: Church as Institution, Church as Mystical Communion, Church as Sacrament, Church as Herald, and Church as Servant. Catholic in orientation, but quite useful for other traditions.
- James F. Hopewell, Congregation: Stories and Structures – This remains as one of the most fascinating and unique discussions of the church since its original publication in the late 1980s. Presents a way of understanding churches through the narrative types developed by Northrop Frye — comic, romantic, tragic, and ironic.
- James P. Wind, Constructing Your Congregation’s Story– Provides a thorough, step-by-step process to craft a history of how God has worked in a congregation since its inception.
Related Ministry Resources
See Other Resources on Church Leadership and Renewal:
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal, Index
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Theological Foundations, Ecclesiology
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Philosophical Foundations – e.g. Church Growth, Missional, Emergent, and Other Missionally Responsive Trajectories
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Church Dynamics and Research
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Congregational Culture, Church Identity
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Church Size, Size Transitions
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Research and Case Studies on Effective Churches
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Special Situations, Small Church Development
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Strategies for Renewal
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