3 Deadly Symptoms of a Sick Church Staff Culture



It seems to be a buzzword these days. If you “Google” search it, more than 535 million results will be generated in less than .27 seconds.

What is culture?

I’ve heard culture simply defined as a system of beliefs that guides a community’s behavior. While this may be oversimplified, it’s incredibly accurate.

Culture has become increasingly important to secular organizations as well as churches. You’ll see mission statements, core values, infographics, staff developments, and training, all with the emphasis of protecting and developing a church's culture. There’s no arguing that when a church has a healthy culture, also known as DNA, it can rest assured that its legacy will produce healthy leaders down the road.

But what should you do when you know your church's culture is sick?

I sat down with Bryan Rhinehart last week, a former missionary, and now an executive coach and president of Relevant Coaching, and asked him about organizations with a healthy culture. More specifically, I asked him how he spots a sick culture. Here are some key indicators.

1. Absence of Trust

Bryan says, “Truth rings at a certain tone. You can tell when people aren’t being honest.” When a church has a healthy culture, its team members trust each other, and more importantly, they are honest with each other. When there’s a lack of trust, people hide ideas, are afraid to take risks, and tend to self-preserve. When there's no trust on a church staff, people care less about the health of the organization and more about protecting their own interests, most likely because of fear. When there’s no trust on a church staff, communication breaks down and people talk, but they stop sharing with each other. Trust is built when employees see integrity, authenticity, clarity, and care from their leadership team.

2. Unclear Expectations 

Another sign of a sick culture is when people don’t know what’s expected of them. Or worse, there’s no accountability when people don’t meet expectations. We’ve talked about this before in our blog article, How To Keep Your Church Staff Happy. Your expectations must be clear and embraced. Bryan says, “I’m amazed at the corporate level how often leaders think they are being clear. But when I ask employees to articulate what their leaders want from them, they simply can’t.” It’s the same in a lot of churches. I talk to leaders all the time who are frustrated with their team members, but when I ask those team members to write down their job description, it’s usually different from what their bosses write down. It’s the leader's job to make absolutely certain that everyone is on the same page.

3. No Passion

When the culture is sick, people are present in body only. I’ve sat in numerous meeting where team members clearly checked their minds and their hearts at the door. Sure, they where there in body, but they weren’t really present, at least not in a way that was beneficial. I usually see this when people are frustrated by a myriad of issues. Bryan says this is typical in a setting where people don’t feel heard, their ideas are rejected, or all they ever hear is negative feedback. Do your team members have a voice? Do they get to speak into the direction of the organization or project you are working on? Or do they just sit there, clock in, and nod at all your ideas? If the latter is true, you have a sick culture. It’s up to you to make sure you are doing your part to listen to feedback and respond with action steps.

How’s your culture? Is it sick, or is it thriving? Look no further than in the faces of your team members. 

What are some other ways you spot a sick culture?

If you like this, then you'll also like like 7 Warning Signs Your Church Staff Is In Trouble.