The Importance of Culturalization of Your Church for the Digital Age

Paul Moon

Paul Moon

Strategy Advisor to LeadershipEdges & Leadership Coach at The Epicenter Group

Churches have been bedeviled by risk aversion moving away from their prime focus on building relationships with the neighboring community thriving in the digital culture and siloed mind-sets during the digital revolution. When we are taking a spiritual journey into an uncharted territory of the digital age, taking risks to solve these cultural issues is no longer optional. We ought to renew ourselves with missionary mind-sets in every ministry journey into the digital world.

Shortcomings in congregational culture are one of the main barriers to church revitalization in the digital culture. What are the most significant challenges to the culturalization? This is what we found from the digital assessments collected from spiritual leaders in 2018.

The most challenges to revitalization in the digital culture

Each challenge is a long-standing difficulty that has cost churches more for successful culturalization in the digital age. When fear of taking risks holds sway, a lack of financial support for strategic opportunities in culturalization can be the result. When a proper understanding of the community that the congregation represents with is lacking, churches struggle to mobilize the leadership to enlist focused community members as early-adopters for their ministries and eventually fail to grow with the community into an emerging congregation culturally competent in today’s world. It will, furthermore, fail to discern which micro-community is the best target audience to focus on with their ministries that meeting the underserved needs of the target community. And when silos characterize the congregation, the spectrum of their ministry is often too narrow and inward-oriented that the congregation will soon find that their church is no longer representing their community values and disconnected from the communal life of the neighborhood.

Does the culturalization in the digital age emerge as a matter of course as the spiritual leadership works to update strategy or improves processes? I don’t think so. Many organizations that had waited for organizational cultures to change organically didn’t see the changes ever happened. Those organizations which were once believed to have perpetual existence, have disappeared for good at our own sights over the last decades during the digital revolution. The organic transformation moves too slowly as digital penetration changes the world too fast. A failure to digitalization of the ministry operating system often results in failure with ministry projects, and congregational revitalization and development. The old ministry paradigm is no longer working since the advent of the digital era. We need a game changer, which I call “disruptive ministry innovation.” This innovation is unfolded step by step with the acronym I.G.N.I.T.E. with focuses on three leading edges of disruptive ministry innovation:

  1. Competitive Edge: the efficiency & effectiveness of your ministry’s operating system
  2. Cultural Edge: digital transformation to become an inviting and welcoming church amidst the digital culture
  3. Community Edge: disruptive community development for your church to grow within your community by breaking through barriers

Please continue reading the article about the detail of the process, here that will show you what disruptive ministry is, how to boost the success rate of disruptive ministry projects through the “Minimum Viable Ministry” model, and how to systematically shorten the time needed for the digitalization of the organization with practical competencies provided by LeadershipEdges.

Before jumping into the game of the game changer, I would like to emphasize that the congregational leaders must become proactive in shaping and measuring culture, approaching it with the same rigor and discipline with which they tackle leadership development. Too often, we are all accustomed to inefficient and dysfunctional ministries. We hesitate to talk about why a ministry project has failed or why a church member or a seeker wouldn’t come back, and, by doing so, we lose a chance to get feedbacks and taking our ministry to the next step. When we are taking them seriously, we simply encourage experimentation through pilot ministry projects and collect valid data about the target audience and the efficiency and effectiveness of the ministry projects.  We don’t have to punish failure since it also brings very meaningful and practical insights so that we may become more resilient and agile about changing structural and tactical elements in our organization that run counter to the culture change we are trying to achieve.

 

Missionary mind-sets

Let’s face with one of the hard realities. One of the largest denominations in the USA, where I have a full connection, is not getting younger anymore with the average age of the Sunday worship attendance close to 70. they were disrupted by the digital revolution and the consequent phenomenon of “Dones and “Nones,” and as many as 70-80 percents of younger people do not find the church relevant or meaningful to their life. The Exodus of these younger people from the pulpit totally changed the landscape of the denominational future. Many spiritual leaders question themselves that this denomination will exist in the next 30 years since the traditional church culture has failed to provide the relevance and the connection to the emerging groups in today’s world. I think every spiritual leader finds relevance with this insight. What can we do to reverse the phenomenon? How to make our churches more inviting, welcoming and belonging place with those emerging people. It’s like the churches are isolated in a foreign country where a different language is spoken. I heard many years ago that the first thing that those missionaries appointed by the Southern Baptist were to learn the language of their foreign country for the first three years before any meaningful missionary works. The better we learn how to speak today’s language and the sooner we learned the values of their culture, the better the chance to build relationships with our neighboring community thriving in the digital culture. We need to learn “missionary mindsets,” which are all about the digitalization of our congregation. The new mindset will help us drive bold, decisive actions that enable the ministry to pivot rapidly in the uncharted territory of the digital era like a foreign place. Such moves require risk-taking, including the just-in-time ministry with continuous goal reorientation and agile resource reallocation.

 

Community, community, community

The belief and values in the community church have been defied a long time ago since the digital revolution has disrupted our churches. Although every church committee shows its intention to support any efforts to enlist new seekers including younger people, nobody seems to know how to get close to them. Despite all the negative effects of the digital age to Christianity, it surprisingly provides a better means to get closer to their community and allow them to do it. Accustomed to best-in-class user experiences both on- and off-line with companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, people increasingly expect for easy access to the information they need and swifter responses to their inquiries, when they want it. Good news is that there exist a variety of leading technology solutions to meet these demands, and they are almost free.

Do you want to do “community deep-listening” project? We used to go out to drop by store by store or house by house to do a survey or bring a focus group to explore their trends and values. It consumed our time, energy, and financial resources, not to mention that all those would be wasted unless we prepared a well-prepared correlated questionnaire or find a right mixture of relevant people for the focus group. Now, the community deep-listening becomes possible through a technology solution like Google’s keyword planner and many other solutions. For the ministry purpose, we find many free solutions. What kinds of keywords are being searched from my own targeted area can tell us about the underserved needs of the community. It helps us to shape and present our core ministry with those needs. Analyzing the monthly volume and the competitiveness of providing a service to those who have searched for such keywords open a new space where we meet early-adopters for our ministry and build relationships with them. It also plays a crucial function of looping back the experiences and feedbacks, which they have with our ministry, into further realigning the values of the ministry and improving the ministry operating system so that we may offer the evolved ministry to the broader target audiences.

A community-centric culture is the prime focus in culturalization, and becomes a matter of survival for those churches which were hit hard with “Nones and Dones,” and helps them keep their values and belief in community. The technological venue of getting closer to your community can help reduce the risk of guessing what’s working in your emerging ministries before launching them—and then waiting to see if your guess is right after the launch takes place. Community-centricity extends far beyond our efforts finding new emerging evangelism to become a foundational cultural element that drives all core decisions across all areas of the ministry. That includes ministry operations, which must be regularly renewed in order to efficiently operate in today’s rapidly changing environment. Community-centric cultures anticipate emerging relevant interactions with a neighboring community by dynamically integrating their demographics and underserved needs found by keyword research, initial experiences and feedback from the early adopters of a proposed ministry project.

 

Shattering silos

The traditional churches are notorious for an organizational silo, and its policies since the latest church structures were defined at the time of the peak of its expansion, probably even before the 20th century. Considering it is the 21st century, it is simply old. We may find a need to have them back for a new renaissance of Christianity, but we find them irrelevant when talking about survival in the 21st century. The problematic silos, however, are rather the closed-minded, parochial mentality of spiritual leaders who hesitate to acknowledge that we need help from the emerged neighboring community to do “our Church” together. Churches are the ones swallowed by the gigantic tsunami caused by the digital disruption, and an image founded on the Internet depicts it so well.

The Importance of Culturalization of Your Church for the Digital Age

Whenever looking at this picture, it reminds me of a hymn, “Throw Out the Lifeline across the Dark Wave” composed by Reverend Edward Smith Ufford, who watched men throwing a lifeline to those struggling in the water and wrote the lyrics and melody to this hymn in 1988.

Throw out the life line across the dark wave;
There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! O who then will dare
To throw out the life line, his peril to share?

Throw out the life line! Throw out the life line!
Someone is drifting away;
Throw out the life line! Throw out the life line!
Someone is sinking today…

In order to continue saving the souls, could you imagine that the church in the picture needs first a lifeline from the neighboring community, which successfully thriving in the digital culture as overcoming the disruptions came with the digital revolution?  We now must learn to build a bridge across the dark wave from the community, not the other way around.

How can you tell if your own church has silos to buster? Find out, FIRST, if you have a collaborative communication platform enabling your ministry leadership to use it internally and capable of direct communications with your neighboring community members. The communication layer of your ministry foundation is an essence to the culturalization of your church in the digital culture. It shouldn’t be one-directional but many-to-many communications. SECOND, find out if your church must invites and includes those from your neighboring community, who are not members of your congregation, as ministry team members for any ministry projects. Why did your ministry projects fail lately even after all those resources allocated to them?  You didn’t simply have the cultural competencies necessary to invite and welcome seekers and make them feel belonged to your congregation. We must shatter the illusionary silos that we still have such competencies in our congregation. We don’t anymore. We need to bring them in from the outside. We must learn to find those who have such competencies and thrive in today’s culture and work together builds a bridge between the church and the community. We also learn to find and use practical competencies, like today’s technological ministry solutions, in order to speed up the process.     

Churches used to be swayed by a big vocal voice in the congregation. Now, data-driven transparency help solves the blind-men-and-the-elephant problem. Creatively designed landing pages with the sole purpose of collecting meaning data should be one of the main focuses of your church website, but the principle of it should be focused as one of the main elements of any ministry gathering such as a welcoming dinner, a music event, the new member gathering, and so on. Your ministry team should discover, for example, why a church member is not coming back anymore. If necessary, you should get such information through those people who are/were close to the person. The purpose is not to punish or blame someone but to improve the experience of people with your next ministry.

THIRD, your congregation has the tendency to believe a given problem or issue is someone else’s responsibility, not their own. This symptom is very hard to counter in the past. With aid by a collaborative team communication platform, it can be tackled easily with cross-functional collaboration. When a given ministry project, for example, is under execution by a certain ministry team, but if all the communications and resources shared among them can be transparently shown to everyone on board with the communication platform, and they are also accountable for checking and giving inputs and feedbacks to the said ministry project, the impregnable silos can be conquered down.

 

Closing

We must remind ourselves that cultural changes within the congregation will always be slower and more multifaceted than the technological changes that require them. That makes it even more critical for congregational leaders to take a proactive stance on the digitalization of their churches. In order to achieve the resilience and agility you need, you should work from the community for the sake of community as embracing risks but adopting a new paradigm and technological ministry competencies to ignite your emerging ministries.

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