Core Values: Shaping the Way We Think and Act

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One of the key exercises I engage with leadership teams is helping them define their core values. It’s part of the strategic operating plans we develop. Defining mission, vision and strategy are very important. Establishing the core values is just as important.

Having a good set of values improves an organization’s overall health. Core values should define the personality or attitude of the organization. They should help people make decisions. They should help establish how everyone acts.

The problem, though, is that many organizations have done a poor job of establishing their values. Either they’ve tried to copy the values of another organization or they’ve made one of the common mistakes I’ve outlined below:

  • You have too many values. If you have more than six or seven values, you haven’t found the core. Ideally you’ll narrow it down to three to five. It doesn’t mean those are the only things an organization can value. It just means these are the “core” values.
  • The values aren’t distinctive. If you’re naming the values that every other church embraces as foundational, they really aren’t core values. Embracing prayer as a core value, as an example, really doesn’t distinguish your church from any other church in your community.
  • You’re trying to make everyone happy. When that happens, you try to include every value that anyone hopes the organization will embrace. The challenge, of course, is that when you try to be all things to all people, it’s almost impossible to be effective at anything.
  • The values aren’t really reflected in your organization. They may be values you see in other organizations. They may be values you hope to one day see in your organization. In either instance, it’s hypocritical to name it a core value if doesn’t currently exist.

Instead, let me suggest you and your leadership team gather together and first make a list of as many values as possible. Then let everyone take a few moments to list their top five values from that list. Consider the list I outlined above as you process this together. Then tally the results. What are the top five values? (Or choose four or six if the voting is close.)

Once you’ve listed the top values. Ask this question: “What makes this a core value for our church?” Document those responses. Then have one or two people on the team write one sentence that captures the heart behind each value.

After you’ve identified your values, use them to focus conversation and make decisions. Implement them in membership classes and leadership training. Hire people who embrace those values. Let them begin to permeate your culture.

Granger Community Church went through a process a few months ago to narrow down their long list of values to only five. With the help from Doug Slaybaugh, one of our ministry consultants, here’s where they landed. It’s a great example.

Now it’s your turn. Don’t copy another church’s list. Take the time to develop your own core values.

Do you know if your church is healthy or not?

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About Author

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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