Question: "What is church culture? What contributes to the culture of a church?"

Answer: Culture is everywhere—it is in the society we live in, the schools we attend, the restaurants we keep coming back to, and the social groups we are a part of. It is even in our churches. Certain places and social movements promote certain cultures—ways of thinking, speaking, and acting. Every local church has its own set of customs, ideas, and priorities, and so every local church develops its own unique culture. It is important that Bible-believing churches create a Christ-centered culture.

Sam Chand, author of Cracking Your Church’s Culture: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision & Inspiration, defines church culture as the “atmosphere in which the church functions. It is the prevalent attitude. It is the collage of spoken and unspoken messages” (quoted by Ronald Keener in “A church’s culture is the atmosphere in which the church functions,” 07/01/11, Author Carey Nieuwhof states that “church culture is how your church feels. It’s the atmosphere, vibe, or climate of your church experienced by members, staff, and visitors” (“A 5-Step Guide on How to Create An Amazing Church Culture,” Biblically speaking, what contributes most to the godly atmosphere of a church’s culture is how and to what extent it reflects the character of Christ (Ephesians 5:1–2; 4:22–24).

An excellent passage to get insight on how believers can contribute to a godly church culture is Romans 12. In verses 1–8, Paul instructs Roman believers to do the following:

1. Offer their bodies as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1)
2. Avoid conforming to “the pattern of this world,” and instead be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2)
3. Be humble by thinking of themselves with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3)
4. Put their God-given gifts to use (Romans 12:4–8)
5. Love with sincerity, “hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9)
6. Be “devoted to one another in love” and honor others above themselves (Romans 12:10)
7. Never be “lacking in zeal” but be spiritually fervent, serving the Lord (Romans 12:11)
8. Be “joyful in hope,” “patient in affliction,” and “faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12)
9. Share with other believers who are in need and practice hospitality (Romans 12:13)

It is especially clear how the church’s culture must differ from worldly culture in Romans 12:14–21, as believers are instructed to bless those who persecute them, rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, live in harmony with each other, reject pride, “be willing to associate with people of low position,” and avoid being conceited. Paul also instructs believers to not repay anyone evil for evil, to be above reproach, to pursue living at peace with everyone, and to not take revenge. Lastly, he tells believers to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (verse 21).

Good questions to ask are “Does the church I attend promote a godly culture that echoes Romans 12?”; “Are believers in the church setting themselves apart from the world?”; “Do they actively use their gifts to glorify God?”; “Do they mourn with those who mourn”; and “Do they overcome evil with good?” Also important is asking, “How am I contributing to the church culture?”

Some church cultures are toxic. Church members who strive for preeminence (see 3 John 1:9), bicker, gossip, or live hypocritically are fostering a negative culture. Their church will likely be characterized by apathy, infighting, and blame-shifting. Rather than reaching the lost for Christ, they will become insular in their focus. Rather than celebrating the joy of their salvation, they will tend toward judgmentalism.

It is believers’ responsibility and joy to contribute to and promote a church culture that reflects the character of Christ. A healthy church culture thrives on giving glory to God. It shows concern for others and seeks to exhort and encourage its members through sharing the Word of God. Ultimately, believers should be shaping a Christ-centered church culture by obeying Jesus’ command to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).