The influence of culture on people, performance, productivity and progress is incalculable.

Cultures are a little like viruses (if it’s not too soon to use that analogy again). People can’t help but be infected by the people and the place where they spend so many hours a week. When someone drops into a new culture, they absorb its influence in many ways. 

As it’s New Year and so many people have their weight on their mind after overdoing the festivities I was interested to read a study by Alison Hill of Harvard that showed the number of obese friends a person has can increase the chance that that person will become obese, suggesting that weight gain spreads through social networks. Having four obese friends doubled people’s chance of becoming obese compared with people with no obese friends. Basically, the research reveals the incredible impact people can have on those around them and their behaviours and outcomes. 

Haven’t you seen – as I have so many times – how one person, especially when placed in a position of leadership, can cause a shift in an entire culture—for good or bad? 

So can we actually create a winning culture – or are we doomed to take two steps forward and three steps back?

Studies galore illustrate the substantial positive impact that an effective culture can have on organisational performance, finances, employee engagement, retention, and customer service. Translate that to church.

Why do so many churches and entire denominations still not take issues of recruitment, onboarding and succession more seriously, prayerfully and carefully – when they’re often the key deciding factors on whether you’ll have a great culture (and indeed a future) or a toxic mess?

I know looking back as a leader my greatest joys have come from such decisions when we got them right, and 99% of my regrets come from when I got them wrong.

I’ve learned so much and continue to do so from my friend William Vanderbloemen (however you spell his name he says you’ll not go far wrong on Google). I first met William years ago at some leadership event or another in the USA where he told me he that having been a Pastor and then in business, comparing the way the two generally go about issues like recruitment and succession especially of senior leaders, he felt a call to come alongside and work with some churches to help them grow by finding leaders that fit and building teams with a great culture.

His book Culture Wins – The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace details something of the story of how his search group has now grown to win multiple awards while successfully completing over 2,500 completed searches for churches, schools, non profits and businesses large and small, while at the same time creating and modelling the kind of culture others can learn from and emulate, rather than leaving it to chance. 

Whatever church you’re part of, or wherever you work of volunteer, making the culture better can lead to everyone being more engaged, energised and enabled to make their best contribution to what matters most. 

I intend to write a number of blog posts based on some of my key learnings from the book, to bring to our staff team in the months ahead, and I’m excited that while William has twice provided world class input at our LAUNCH Catalyst Community as I plan for its next iterations later this year. It seems like a great next step following the last LAUNCH where we looked at how we REPLANT. I’ll be picking his brain more in the months ahead because the church in the UK and Europe has so much we must do differently and better in this area. Watch this space and subscribe to the blog for how that develops.

William opens the book by underlining how vital culture is, it ‘trumps your business idea.. your strategic plan.. even the competency of your team.’ Why? He says from his own leadership experience he’s seen that it didn’t matter if you had a talented team with a good strategy: (and if I dare, I’ll add in theology…)

“If you have a bad culture, it will win – and ruin your company. And if you have a great culture it will also win, and enable you to do great things”


He says your culture will be the determining factor for your team/church/organisation reaching its potential in the years ahead because as Peter Drucker reputedly put it, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” or in more concrete terms, “A strong culture increases net income 765 percent over ten years, according to a Harvard study of more than two hundred companies.”[1]

As a church leader I have other far more important measurements than money, but if culture can be defined as the living relationships we bond and work together on to achieve a shared goal, then kingdom wins when culture works.

[1] Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code .