How to Identify Your Church’s Core Values

April 27, 2016

To ask you to identify your ministry’s core values is kind of a loaded question. Attempting to define the overarching values of an organization typically is the fastest way to demonstrate that not every team member’s actions are born from the same motivation Furthermore, it probably feels like it would be easier to write a 45 minute lesson about your church’s core values than find a way to distill them cogently down into a single sentence. However, despite the complexity, identifying and evaluating your core values is an incredibly important exercise that should be performed both at the beginning of and continually throughout the life of your ministry.

Why Core Values?

core values which way

Photo by oatsy40 / CC BY

When was the last time you drove somewhere new without directions, using only an intersection or some other identifying information for determining where your destination was? How did it go? No matter what your answer is, this is a metaphor for the importance of core values. Someone less familiar with an area will end up with a more circuitous, and, conversely, someone who knows an area well will confidently and easily navigate to their destination. So it goes with core values.

Whether you are developing, administrating, or participating in a ministry, core values are the guiding principles that shape the way you interact with the ministry and how the ministry interacts with others. Churches and other organizations with well-defined core values have a sharpness of purpose that is noticeably absent from those with fuzzier edges around their values. This is because core values ensure actions and decisions are generally consistent from situation to situation and keep ministries from sand-bagging themselves with events, programs, et cetera that are outside their core strategy. To put it another way, clearly defined core values are like bumpers on a bowling lane: they keep the ball rolling toward its destination instead of falling off into the gutters.

How to Identify Your Church’s Core Values

Regularly identifying values is important, because, among other issues, values can change over time. With each evaluation a decision has to be made, what needs realignment: the ministry or the values? But how does one even begin to uncover what the true values of a ministry are (regardless of what may or not have been written on paper)? Roberto Erario of the Function Point blog has some tricks he uses to help businesses discover their existing underlying values, and they translate well to ministry. Here are a couple of examples that we adapted the wording to:

  • List a handful of situations that could serve as microcosms for what the ministry is all about. Then, find the common thread among those events.
  • Pick out a handful of people within the ministry whom you feel would be good ambassadors for the ministry, then describe what among those individuals’ character traits lead you to each choice.
  • List a handful of ministry situations that were especially frustrating. Then, identify what values were not lived up to or were violated in each instance.

To summarize, look at the actions of those involved in the ministry, whether they be leader or participant, and start asking, “What is the underlying motivation behind this behavior?” By examining actions in these ways, you can bypass the idealized concept you have of your ministry and start examining the motivations of everyone involved. The hard truth is that you’ll probably uncover at least one negative value that you’ll need to change. Don’t lose heart, however! Angie Ward, who found “Don’t Rock the Boat” to be among her first ministry’s values, shares these words:

Culture takes a long time to create, and even longer to change. Melting the tip of the iceberg does not eliminate the ice below the waterline. But in any church, the first step toward creating a healthy culture is identifying the existing ethos, whether positive or negative.

Over time, you’ll be able to develop a fully realized picture of your ministry, and from there, you can take action.

Bonus: What’s Next?

Once your values are identified, what’s next? Regardless of what the existing values of your ministry are, there is certainly an ideal that you want the ministry to align with and function by. Write those down next to the values you’ve identified, figure out where the biggest misalignments are, and then begin correcting and reinforcing by making sure your people know what the values are and should be. To quote Rob Tims, “As important as it is to define your core values, if the members of your church are not clear about them, those values are worth little more than the paper they are printed on.” Check out his post, Core Values: Getting the Most Out of What Defines Your Church.

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