I bought a second copy of this book so that I could lend it out without risk of losing my only copy. I can't say enough good about it. It is very accessible, the ideas are clearly communicated with lots of applications to real life situations. If you feel like church staff relationships have gone a little sour, then this is a great resource. As well, if you want to improve the culture of your church, this is a must read. What the author does most powerfully is to show how programs and mission statements cannot address the problem of an unhealthy church culture. He then offers practical and on the ground solutions.
All in all, I appreciated Dr. Chand's book. As you can tell from the title, every church/organization has its own culture that must be understood before strategic planning, then implementation can take place. In some way, it's "captain obvious" but as obvious as it, I know of very few leadership books that spend an adequate amount of time offering perspectives on understanding your church's culture.
My favorite chapters were 1 (Culture Trumps Strategy), 4 (Vocabulary Defines Culture) and 7 (Changing Vehicles) and they probably best contain the outworkings of his thesis. Chand offers some solid thoughts in those chapters (and throughout the book, of course). It's easy for me to see why this is a part of the Leadership Network Series, a "brand" I take seriously.
Those who will profit the most from it are "big church guys" in traditional churches that have a big boat to turn around. They are the illustrations most often used and most of the chapters assume you are leading or a part of a larger pastoral staff. Consequently, pastors of smaller churches may like it but may have trouble implementing a lot of the principles. And lastly, those a part of missional-type churches will probably appreciate this the least (though there's plenty wisdom for missional-types too).
As I was reading, I kept having two thoughts: One, I need to read more leadership books and I'm glad I'm reading this one. And Two, When is he going to get to the part of connecting with the actual congregation? There's so much attention in dealing with the large church staff, when is the pastor going to communicate his vision that has been tailored to the culture that he and his staff have finally cracked?? The answer is Chapter 7 and that's my only criticism, it happens a bit too late and is not enough (though Ch. 7 is lengthy). I personally would have liked to hear more of Dr. Chand's advice relating to the congregation because he seems very qualified. But the problem for me is it's easier to change your staff culture because at some point, they know they will be dismissed if they don't get on board. What do you with a church that doesn't get on board? And what do you with your church when their culture is not to get on board? Again, Chapter 7 (and 8) helps but I would have liked to see more of the book focused on that (as the title implies).
Once you understand the trajectory of the book, I think most will appreciate it and find it insightful. It's clear, every church has a culture and leaders need to understand it in order to lead it.
One of my mentors encouraged me to launch my ministry in every church with a study of John's letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. I baulked at opening ministry with I percieved as a can of worms and then something hit me. These letters were written to the angels of the seven churches! Intuitively I knew that every organization I had worked with had a sense, an ethos, that was often hard to get a handle on and yet crucial to its function (or dysfunction!). My mentor was inviting me to pay attention to that ethos as I envisioned ministry in a new setting.
Samuel Chand's recent book, Cracking Your Church's Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration (Jossey-Bass, 2011), has brought greater clarity to my intuitive hunches about a church's ethos. Chand quickly challenges the reader to understand that culture is king when it comes to leading an organization. Your leadership has less sway than the inspiring or toxic culture that you swim in within your church. The unnoticed and unexamined cultural code will rise up to challenge every change needed by the organization, so pay attention to Chand's discerning exercises for revealing and changing the code for multiplied benefits. He uses the acronym CULTURE (control, undersanding, leadership, trust, unafraid, responsive, and execution) to help the reader think broadly about the cultural ethos of their organization.
The heart of the book centers on the chapters "Vocabulary Defines Culture" and "Change Starts with Me." Our vocabulary shapes the environment which we lead. If we describe everything in negative terms, then we find negative results. I have learned that the opposite is true as well. Chand helped me understand that I have to examine every piece and source of communication for the words that hold an organization from realizing its potential. The culture code is strong and must be addressed on multiple fronts honest communication, deep listening, naming the unknown in "some people say," and offering real affirmations as the church moves forward. The challenging reminder that I can only change myself is braced by a helpful section on how to leave gracefully when your gifts and strengths are not aligned with that of the organization's cultural code. This section of the book is pure gold and I wish I had read it sooner!
Cracking Your Church's Culture Code should be required reading for every pastor. And pastors should pass their copy on to other leaders in their congregations. Every community, business, enterprise, and organization has a "culture code" and not paying attention to the code inevitably leads to ruin.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above book for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Cracking your Church's Culture Code is a good book. Allow me a minute to explain to you how the book took me on a little bit of a confusing journey. When I first read the title, I was hoping that this book applied to a broader segment than just pastors, as I work in the non-profit world. After beginning the book, I was pleasantly surprised that the book was not specifically targeted only to Church-world and it could be applied across a much larger spectrum. But, as I proceeded through the book, picking up good pieces of wisdom on the way, I found myself wanting the book to more specifically provide instruction on the unique issues presented in Church-world. Obviously, in the business world, the dollar is the bottom line, but in church-world, people are the bottom line. Now don't take me wrong, Dr. Chand consistently highlighted the fact that people should be the bottom line, but in Church-world, issues of grace, reconciliation, and loyalty make some of the people issues a little cloudy. The book focused more generally towards larger organizations with strong, well-defined executive teams. Also, I had one other slight critique, as I struggled with how Dr. Chand contrasted leadership vs. management. There is a sense in which we have the freedom to say what we say today, because of the foundation that was laid for us by the previous generation. It seems to me that leadership can only be examined, extolled, and preached because the previous generation did a good job of laying a foundation of management. Not that management alone can get you where you need to go, but I sensed a disparagement of management in contrast to an exaltation of leadership. I think reality does not let us get this out of balance. I mention these couple of critiques for the sake of honesty, as I did take away some good nuggets out of the book. I will reference this book again in the future as Dr. Chand did a good job of laying out some functional list of questions, acronyms, and self-tests that will prove beneficial. The main premise of the book, that culture, not vision or strategy, is the most powerful factor in any organization, is worthy of a book. The longer I work in ministry, the more and more this becomes a reality. I have had the opportunity to view this through an accepting culture where vision or strategy couldn't have destroyed the mission. And, I have seen it through a discouraging culture, where a positive change in mission or strategy could not reach past the culture. These issues are worthy of a serious time investment and Dr. Chand did a good job beginning that conversation.
The starting point for this whole book is a quote from Dick Clark - no, not the "it has a good beat, you can dance to it" Dick Clark but instead the head of Merck Pharmaceutical:
"The fact is, culture eats strategy for lunch. You can have a good strategy in place, but if you don't have the culture & the enabling systems, the [negative] culture of the organization will defeat the strategy."
Dr. Chand takes that conceptual idea and expands it into a multifaceted examination of how churches work (and how they don't) in his new book, Cracking Your Church's Culture Code. A great vision for ministry is worthless if the current culture of the church won't support that vision - the author compares it to trying to drive a car from Chicago to London, England... it doesn't matter how much you want to get there, you don't have a vehicle that can make the trip.
One of the strengths of the book is this wide-angle glimpse of how a myriad of factors shape the culture of a church - and Dr. Chand offers wise counsel from years of consulting on how to deal specifically with a number of these issues, from improving communication skills to planning ahead of the stagnation curve.
However, that strength is also a weakness - there is so much information here, presented in 2+ page "nuggets" & loosely organized by theme, that it's difficult to wrap your brain around all that the author is trying to instill in you & in your church.
With that said, I still found the book incredibly useful - esp. in dealing with questions about the nature of the culture of the church I pastor and what actions I can take to continue shaping that culture in order to build an authentic Biblical community. The chapter on "Changing Vehicles" (and Dr. Chand's admonition not to change the vision to suit the messed-up culture) is very convicting.
One note for small church pastors: unlike some church leadership books, the ideas presented here are applicable in our non-mega-church situations. While Dr. Chand uses examples from larger ministries, the principles he suggests are not restricted to big organizations.