The Essence of Core Values

Strategic Planning

What do the three following experiences in churches have in common?

  • Members drive past two or three churches of their own denomination to attend church.
  • There is an ever-present tension between congregational leaders, which surfaces from time to time as conflict.
  • The whole church rallies around a couple of events each year to a level that few other churches reach.

What do they have in common? Often the motivation for all three are core values.

Understanding Core Values

Core values are the most deeply held convictions shared by a majority of congregational members. These values define the church’s identity. They emotionally bind together the membership. New members are often attracted to churches because they share the congregation’s core values. Core values motivate congregational leaders.

Core values are one explanation as to why Christians will drive past a couple of churches of their own denomination to attend a church. They don’t make the trek because of doctrine – the congregations share the same doctrine. They make the choice based on shared values.

While core values are powerful, they are not obvious. Values are convictions, thus in the realm of concepts and ideas. Discovering core values does not take a great deal of time, but it does require intentional effort.

Clarifying Core Values

Two decades ago churches created core values statements with ten to fifteen core values. Since those early days we’ve learned churches have two or three true core values. It’s difficult for a fifty people to share even three deeply held convictions, let hundreds or thousands of people.

Back in the day, churches were including values they wanted to develop in the future. Congregations would state, “We value outreach.” The church did not value outreach, but members really did want their church to value outreach. They aspired to it. But it wasn’t truly a core value because it didn’t yet exist.

Congregations were also confusing core values with distinctive beliefs. Sometimes doctrines are also core values. I’ve worked with a couple of churches were “grace” was both a fundamental doctrine and core value. However, doctrine and values usually serve different roles in churches.

Discovering Core Values

I lead a core values discovery process for churches. We primarily identify congregational behaviors, then examine what motivates the behaviors. It’s much like seeing ripples on the surface of a stream, then figuring out what’s below the surface caused the movement on the surface.

For example, we look for how resources are allocated. We talk to new members, searching for what attracted them to the church. We study conflicts in the church, watching for the sources of conflict. We interview leaders, recording what motivates them to serve in the congregation.

An Example of Core Values

What does a core value look like? Here is an example from a church.

“Compassion: Our highest calling as Christians is to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, care for the marginalized and accept the disenfranchised.”

Evidence of this core value included the congregation creating its own food pantry and job training service in a store front. On Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day members personally served hot meals at the church to homeless and disadvantaged people from the community. Instead of tithing to missions, the congregation gave to a local shelter for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

How could discovering core values benefit your church? Leave your thought in the comments or shoot me an email. Additional posts in this series include:

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