When developing church core values statements, you will need to be clear on your apostolic mission and your prophetic vision. Without these, it’s impossible to accurately discern the culture you’ll need to intentionally create to see success. Clarity on vision and mission will allow you to identify some essential core values to fuel cultural development, which is essential for it to function as a healthy church.
What are core values?
In short, core values are principles that undergird, influence and clarify what a church does, and how it does it. They provide boundaries and parameters around the mission, leadership and ministry philosophy, priorities and strategy.
Core values answer the question “who are we? what defines us? what is really important to us? What are the non-negotiables?”
Core values guide our identity (who we say we are), our theology (who we say God is), and our activity (how we do what we do).
A good way to discover your values is to look at your church calendar and see what type of meetings and events are given priority, and look at your spending and consider what areas receive the most resources! Our outflow of energy and finance shows us what is truly important.
Churches can fail to distinguish between actual values and aspirational values. Aspirational values are the values we think we have, but our actual values are the reality we are living in. If you tell me you value evangelism, but there’s little activity, then it’s aspirational and not actual. It’s not wrong to have aspirational values, as long as we recognise that they are. Also, our actual values might be negative – they might actively detract from or hinder the mission or vision. These will need to be ‘unearthed’ over time if they have developed sufficiently enough into your church culture.
Why is a church cores value statement important?
A core values statement will help people align their thinking and acting naturally and collectively to ways that contribute towards the church vision.
What are the benefits of a church core values statement?
- It defines key beliefs needed to develop the momentum of the mission.
- It shows people how to live in a way that serves the success of the vision.
- It influences overall beliefs, and therefore behaviour, in the church
- It steers church culture development
- It brings guidelines and principles to the church’s structural and strategic thinking.
- It provides parameters of assessment during ministry review and evaluation.
What happens if a church core values statement is lacking?
An unhealthy culture will develop in the church, which means dominant values, beliefs, preferences, attitudes, practices and behaviours characterise the church that may be counter-productive to the vision, or even actively work against it.
How do we begin developing a church core values statement?
- Work as a team. This ensures that other perspectives shape this process, making it better thought through. The values will also be owned by the team that have input into it. Clearer language will be another benefit, which helps with articulation and communication.
- Avoid pitfalls. Don’t copy the core values of another church – you aren’t like them, so they won’t feel you. Don’t have too many core values – the difference between a value and a core value is that one is core, central, primary and essential, and the other… isn’t. Have distinctive values that are truly you – not just values that any church on the planet could hold. Make sure you are choosing congregational values, and not personal preferences – otherwise, you are letting a single type of person dictate your church culture and it might not be a culture that serves your mission and vision.
- Consider your foundations. Review your mission statement and vision statements and identify all keywords in them that could be possible values. This gives you a working list of elements that have already been identified as essential to your church’s thinking. These possible values must be evidently present in either the mission or vision statement. If there is conflict over a value that isn’t present in the mission or vision, you have a choice – is it really, really a core value and not just a preference? Or do the mission and vision need to be rewritten to incorporate it?
- Discuss and review. Prioritise the list of values as a team to the core values – the non-negotiables that cannot and will not be dismissed. A good way to do this is to get individual leadership team members to do this first, then compare notes. Tally them up – what are the top ranking half a dozen?
- Clarify and define the core value. Language is powerful. What you think you mean when you use a word might not be the same thing someone else hears or thinks when they encounter it. As a team, agree ‘what do we really mean when we describe and define this value?’
- Be Wordsmiths. Articulate each value using simple and smart phrasing. “We believe in” is a good way to start a core value statement phrase. Don’t just say “we believe in the Bible” or “we believe in the works of the Holy Spirit”. Explain what you mean, and why it is important. Be creative. ‘We believe in excellence’ is one way of saying it, but you could also say ‘We reject mediocrity’. Then unpack it with a sentence to capture its heart and show why your value is valuable! Don’t use a paragraph when a sentence will do!
- Speak plainly. Don’t use Christian jargon or theological terms. If a twelve-year-old, a new Christian, or a non-christian wouldn’t understand it, you need to simplify it.
- Get the majority buy-in. You might not get everyone to like what you come up with, but if you get the majority of those involved in the process, that will be key to ensuring the core values statement has sufficient backing to be accepted across the church.
This post is part of a series on Healthy Principles For Church Organisational Structure. You can see links to the others posts in this series here.
- What constitutes a healthy church organisational structure?
- Be clear on the difference between mission and vision
- Develop a mission statement
- Develop a vision statement
- Develop a core values statement
- Develop a leadership structure
To find out the current health of your church in these areas, I have developed a free church health assessment. You can take it by clicking here.