LTWGMY DAY 3: What Bowling has to do with Building Culture

One of the pleasures of writing Lead the Way God Made You was the opportunity to interview some amazing church leaders. Here’s an interview from the book with Craig Jutila. At the time this book was written, Craig was on staff at Saddleback. Craig talks about what it took to install a new ministry culture in his department.

Larry: What is culture?

Craig: Culture is the way things are done. It’s the vision, values, and behaviors of a group. Look, there are no written rules out here in California that you can’t paint your house pink if you wanted to. But no one does it. Why? It’s not part of the culture.

Nowhere at Saddleback is it written, “You’ve got to be flexible,” but it’s part of our culture.

I tell prospective staff, “You won’t last six months if you aren’t flexible.” Even though it’s not written down it’s how things are done.

This year during Easter season we had to add another weekend service. This decision was made the Wednesday before the launch of the service. You’ve got to be flexible to make it in this culture.

Larry: Craig, rebut this objection: “I have so many pressing things to do to get ready for Sunday. I don’t have time to worry about our culture.”

Craig: People who think this way probably have an issue getting people to serve out of a sense of vision and not merely out of need. Scripture says, “without a vision the people will perish.” The New Century Version says, “Without a vision, the people run wild.”

Truth is, you’re building a culture whether you know it or not. The issue is whether you are building a good culture or a poor culture.

Larry: What are some of the biggest threats to a healthy culture?

Craig: Turnover. If you don’t keep staff long-term, you can’t build a culture well.

People need to be a part of your team for about six years before they start to fully experience your culture. If someone stays on your staff six months or three years and then punts, they never experience the benefit of being a part of the culture. If they could have just stuck it out a little bit longer, they would have experienced the pay off.

That applies to the turnover of volunteers also. Say your volunteers rotate through your children’s ministry once a month. That’s twelve times a year. They have no chance of assimilating your culture.

Larry: What are the “push buttons” that you use to get at your culture and shape it?

Craig: Story telling. Every culture needs those “tribal story tellers” who preserve the important milestones in every organization. Every healthy organization needs a historian.

Around here, one of our most important culture-building phrases is “remember when?” It’s important that we take time to remember our history. It might be a time when a staff member got stuck in the basket of a “cherry picker” machine, and we all had a good laugh. Or a time when we overcame a massive challenge.

“Remember When’s” are important culture-builders because they capture culture defining empowering moments.

Right now, in my office, I have a bucket filled with what looks like junk. It’s not junk, it’s history. There’s a piece of sheet rock from our old modular [the old children’s ministry building]. There’s also a piece of concrete core pulled from the new building. On the wall, I have a registration sheet framed with the first fifty children checked into the children’s ministry on the opening day of the new kid’s building. You can also see framed pictures of the first seven annual themes that we used to train our children’s ministry volunteers.

You also need to guard the health of your ministry. If you see a bad attitude, you need to go right after it. Recently I had too many staff members that weren’t getting along. They started out antagonizing each other and then went to not talking each other. I had to set them in my office and facilitate reconciliation. You can’t let this stuff go on unchecked.

Larry: How do you go about getting your staff and volunteers to take ownership in your culture?

Craig: I’d change that word “ownership” to “empowerment.”

It’s like bowling. You tell your volunteers that they will be bowling in Lane 9. You don’t get to choose the values, mission, or curriculum of the children’s ministry. Those decisions are what make up Lane 9—and they’ve already been determined. But you give your volunteers freedom to bowl within that lane. You give them the ability to make decisions on how to knock the pins down. You need to give your volunteers freedom to execute with a defined set of values.

Larry: What percentage of your workweek is involved in cultural architecture?

Craig: Not that much any more. Now I have a team that propagates the culture. But the first six years I was at Saddleback I was obsessed with the culture.

The first three years were very hard. I changed the music, several leaders, the curriculum, and a lot of “how” and “why” of children’s ministry—you know, those iconic things that no one wants to see messed with.

“I actually had one parent tell me that they prayed that I would come under attack from Satan—that I would be the demise of children’s ministry at Saddleback.

To change a culture that is engrained takes an awful lot of octane. The first year I was at Saddleback I listened. The second year, I rolled out the plan. The third year, we began to execute that plan. It took an amazing amount of octane to change the culture of this ministry.

You have to be so careful with your culture. It’s like golf. You can control your swing, but once the ball leaves takes off—it’s over. There’s nothing more that you can do but watch. It takes more octane to redo a culture than it does to build it right the first time.

Since those days, Craig left Saddleback and went on to expand his business Empowering Kids .

Today, we’ll have one of Craig’s ministry partners, Joe McGinnis, review Lead the Way God Made You at his website, Family Regeneration. Be sure to enter his contest for a chance to win a copy of Lead the Way God Made You.