Leading Church Cultural Change

Across the country many churches exist in a state of disarray, struggling for a sense of identity and falling into a purposeless existence. Many are in a desperate need for transformation, reinvention, and a cultural shift. Often, church leadership does not recognize the need for a cultural change, does not know how to navigate cultural change, or does not possess the necessary influence to make cultural change happen.

One of the biggest challenges for leaders in orchestrating cultural change is creating psychological safety or helping members feel as though a new reality is possible and achievable, and the process to get there will not create too much anxiety. (Schein, 2010, p. 302) Creating psychological safety for members consists of them seeing a possibility of change and growth without the loss of identity or integrity. (Schein, 2010, p. 301) Pastors are equipped with the ability to create psychological safety, but often lack a clear plan or process to take members through.

Schein (2010) gives eight activities that will assist any pastor in creating psychological safety while taking a church through cultural change:

  1. Provide formal training
  2. Encourage involvement of the learner
  3. Facilitate informal training of relevant family groups and teams
  4. Create practice fields, train coaches and open avenues for feedback
  5. Promote positive role models
  6. Hold support groups in which learning problems can be aired and discussed
  7. Develop systems and structures that are consistent with the new way of thinking and working
  8. Formulate a compelling positive vision

One of the most productive activities for pastors to lead members through is formulating a compelling positive vision for members to reach for. A well-formulated vision will provide guidance on what core elements will be preserved and what future the members can progress toward. (Collins, 1996, p. 66)


Collins, J. C., & Porras, J. I. (1996). Building Your Company’s Vision. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 74(No. 5), 65–78.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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