Culture Eats Strategy

Quincy Brown


Culture Eats Strategy

Have you heard the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast?” It’s the phrase that allegedly originated with management guru Peter Drucker. Mark Fields, who later became President of Ford Motor Company, made the phrase famous in 2006. While there’s an ongoing debate about whether Drucker ever really said the sentence, it's accurate that culture is typically dominant than any strategy. The importance of culture holds true for the church too.
Last Monday, when preparing to preach a revival at Lovejoy Church, I was reminded of the importance of culture from a surprise visit from Andrew and Tabitha, two of my former LaGrange College students. Andrew and Tabitha were among the several students that I married as well as among the hundreds of students who helped to shape my understanding of creating a culture to connect with the next generation.

The next day, LaGrange College posted a picture from the early days of the 10:00 pm chapel service that I led on its social media posts. It was as if the alumni assocation overheard our conversation!

Like Pac-Man getting ready to gobble up a ghost monster, the culture of our chapel program in those days penetrated everything that we did in campus ministry. From the early days of stumbling upon students during laundry on Sunday nights and launching a worship service that was convenient to students’ schedule, everything focused on the three values of :

  • Students attract students
  • Identity formation and relationships are primary concerns
  • Free things always get attention
Author Simon Sinek talks about the importance of values in a slightly different way in his book Start with Why.  Rather than using the word values, Sinek uses the golden circle that starts with “why” as the process for shaping culture.

In our congregations, “Why” is about the shared values that don’t change. It explains why we do what we do. These shared values or the “why” incorporates the unconscious (what Sinek calls the limbic brain) assumptions of the congregation. An example of the shared values of the UMC is: Do no harm, Do good, and stay in love with God.
The next circle of “How” represents the strategy of how a congregation lives out the shared values of “why” that results in measures or collective behavior. An example of strategy can be the spiritual practices of Wesley’s Works of Piety and Mercy. Finally the outermost circle of “What” represents the mission or what the church does (Make Disciples for the transformation of the world).
Like the chapel service for students, the culture of every church includes its customs and its underlying attitudes. It’s a combination of the congregation’s why (values), how (strategy), and what (mission) that leads to behavior and answers the questions:
Why do we do what we do? (Values)
How do we accomplish things? (Strategy)
What are we doing? (Mission)
Those years of working with college students at LaGrange taught me how culture shapes a congregation. What started off as an "elevator speech pitched to two freshmen, grew into a large group gathering that engaged nearly 30% percent of the residential student population. At the time, I didn’t have the language of mission, vision, strategy or creating a culture.  All I had was an idea and the willingness to try something new, and this was enough. What's the culture of your congregation? Are you willing to have a plan and try something new to change your culture?

On the Journey,


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