Core Values

Developing Your Core Values


I’m a firm believer in developing Core Values for your church or organization. A Strategic Planning mentor once told me that your Core Values act as the guardrails on the path to where you are going. In other words, to get from here to where you ultimately want to go, there, you need some guiding principles and values that ensure you stay true to who you are and what you believe.  

As a general rule of thumb, think of your Core Values as the basic rules by which you will accomplish your mission as a church. These well defined rules should never be broken, as that would ultimately compromise a basic belief you have about how ministry should always take place.

I’ve already written a lot about this, so for your benefit I’ve included links to each relevant article here. I hope you find them helpful.

  • Core Values
    A brief discussion to help you figure out whether or not you have core values, know what they are and what they mean.

  • Why Core Values?
    An explanation of why core values are so important.
  • How To Draft Your Core Values
    Ideas on how your strategic team might go about drafting your ministry Core Values.
  • Elevation Church Core Values
     A list of Elevation Church Core Values and a suggestion to consider modeling the style of how you write and communicate your own core values after Elevation.

Image from skegbydave on

Elevation Church Core Values

Elevation ChurchI’m a firm believer that defining your core values is a foundational strategic necessity for any church or organization. I’ve already discussed this in-depth in my Core Value series. That said, I thought it’d be cool to share the core values that Elevation Church has defined for themselves. These have got to be some of the most unique, well written, values I’ve ever seen. They are interesting, inspiring and instructive. When I read them, I find myself pulled towards them and that church. It makes me want to learn more about them.

Understand, I’m not suggesting you copy these values and make them your own. I do suggest you develop your own values and consider modeling the style of how you write and communicate them after Elevation. Enjoy.

Elevation Church Core Values

  • We Are Known For What We Are For 
    We will speak vision and life over our people. We will lift up the salvation of Jesus rather than using our platform to condemn.
  • We Will Not Take This For Granted
    What we are experiencing is not normal. This is the highest calling, and we will remain grateful for God’s hand of favor.
  • We Are All About The Numbers
    Tracking metrics measures effectiveness. We unapologetically set goals and measure progress through all available quantitative means.
  • We Act In Audacious Faith
    In order to dominate a city with the gospel of Jesus, we can’t think small. We will set impossible goals, take bold steps of faith and watch God move.
  • We Need Your Seat
    We will not cater to personal preference in our mission to reach this city. We are more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.
  • We Are United Under One Vision
    Elevation is built on the vision God gave us. We will aggressively defend our unity
    and that vision.
  • We Dress For The Wedding
    We will continually increase our capacity by structuring for where we want to go. Not where we are. We will remain on the edge of our momentum by overreacting to harness strategic momentum initiatives.
  • We Are A Generation Of Honor
    We freely give honor to those above us, beside us and under us because of the calling and potential God has placed inside of them.
  • We Are Ruth’s Chris, Not Golden Corral
    Simplicity enables excellence. We place a disproportionate value on creating a worship experience that boldly celebrates Jesus and attracts people far from God.
  • We Lead The Way In Generosity
    Our staff and church will go above and beyond to give sacrificially to the work of God
    in our city.
  • We Think Inside The Box
    We will embrace our limitations. They will inspire our greatest creativity and innovation.
  • We Eat The Fish And Leave The Bones
    We will always maintain a posture of learning. We seek to learn from everyone and incorporate a variety of influences into our methodology.

How To Draft Your Core Values

draft-core-valuesI’m a firm believer in core values for your church or organization. I’m not going to delve into the WHY or the WHAT in this post because I’ve already done so in the following two posts:

So in today’s post I’d like to outline some ideas on how your strategic team might go about drafting your ministry Core Values.

  • Set Your Expectations
    In my experience, the process of defining and clarifying your core values is both time consuming AND rewarding as a team. It is definitely a team sport though. Don’t go about drafting your core values alone. It’s meant to be accomplished in a team environment. So make sure you have set aside several hours to work on this project. You may want to consider two or three 3-hour sessions right away. Side-Note: Be sure to keep your meetings close together on the calendar. The more days/weeks between meetings, the less momentum you will build towards completing the project successfully.
  • Get On The Same Page
    It’s important that everyone on your team has a basic understanding of why developing your core values is important as well as what core values are and are not. The aforementioned articles (above) would be a great place to begin. Be sure you spend time talking about these things as a foundation first, so you don’t end up doing so half-way through the process.
  • Assign Homework
    Next, I recommend you ask each person on the team to take an hour by themselves to personally brainstorm what they believe the core values of your organization are. Be sure they are armed with the “What Core Values Aren’t” document when they do so! I suggest they either keep their list until you return together as a team or submit the list to one individual on your team. I don’t recommend each team member sending out emails to the rest of the team with their list. You want to have conversation about this stuff, but live, not digitally.
  • Combine, Discuss, and Condense
    Now is when the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Be sure you have a good chunk of uninterrupted time to talk and have each team member share each value on their list as well as “why” they believe it’s a value that should be considered. As each team member shares, write the list down on a white board so everyone can see the list developing. This one meeting is probably one of the most important. If you don’t have a good degree of trust and openness on your team, people may find it difficult to challenge or question some of the thoughts and ideas being presented – which is an important part of the process.After everyone has shared and the list is developed, begin working on condensing the list down to as few primary core values as possible. Resist the temptation to have a ton of values. You’ll find that, with some effort, many of the values can be combined into a bigger category. For example, “caring” and “responsive to needs” can both potentially fall under the umbrella of ‘caring’. You’ll also want to test each value against my list of what a core value is NOT. Keep in mind, as well, that choosing to not keep a value doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not important to you or the ministry – but that it doesn’t fall into the primary DNA listing of values for your church. Ideally, you’ll be left with a handful of values – preferably less than ten.
  • Rephrase Your Values For This Culture
    Unless you’re target audience is boomers on up, you probably don’t want to keep your list of values as is. I recommend you engage in another strategy session or two and rephrase each value in such a way that it will capture the attention of your ministry guests and attendeesFor example, at Elevation Church they hold a value that in it’s simplest form could be phrased: ‘Teachable’. However, the way they explain it on their website is much more interesting, catches my attention, and draws me in. They say: ‘We eat the fish and leave the bones’. Check out their 30 second explanation of that value by clicking this link and selecting the fish in the bottom right corner. Or in Granger Community Church’s recently revamped core values they define ‘Team’ this way: ‘We Value Team: We is Better than Me’.
  • Share Them and Live Them
    Finally, you need to discover ways to regularly communicate your values to your congregation, leaders, and even your guests. I suggest you post them on your website and literature about your church, preach a series about them and package it up and give it away to everyone who takes your members class, add them to your strategic dipstick list (the list of things you check on strategically on an annual or semi-annual basis), blog about them, talk about them, and do so regularly.Most importantly, make your values so important that they are non-negotiable. A negotiable value isn’t really a value, it’s an idea. If you have a value of integrity, make sure you and your team consistently think up ways to lead your ministry with integrity. If it’s about teamwork, don’t just talk about teams, build in your very structure standards that prevent people from running ministry all by themselves.

photo credit: Venessa Miemis via photopin cc

Clarifying Core Values


Patrick Lencioni once had a conversation with a business leader about his core values. The business leader boldly declared that “a sense of urgency” was one of their core values. When Patrick asked if his employees all met their deadlines, the executive responded with a profound, “No, their complacent as hell, which is why we need to make urgency one of our core values!”

As Patrick describes so clearly in his article entitled “Make Your Values Mean Something” in the Harvard Business Review (a great and quick read), it can be very easy to define values that are, in fact, not really values at all.

I’ve already blogged about why I think defining core values are an important part of an ongoing & strategic environment right here. In today’s post I’d like to identify what core values are NOT.

  • Core Values are NOT the same as Mission.
    Your mission should be one simple statement defining WHY you exist as an organization. Your values will support your mission by providing the ground rules for effectively walking out that mission every day. 
  • Core Values are NOT the same as Vision.
    Your vision represents a desired future based on the mission of your church. Your values are different. They represent HOW you will carry out ministry between now and the fulfillment of that vision. For example, “be a multi-campus church” is a vision statement, not a core value. 
  • Core Values are NOT Core Beliefs.
    It can be easy to confuse the two. Simply put, your values COME FROM your beliefs. For example, I have a core value that all ministry should be Bible-Based because I have a belief that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Using the illustration in my post entitled “Why Core Values?“, I have a value that my preschool children will not watch certain evening programs because I have a belief that those programs will harm my child’s development.
  • Core Values are NOT the same as personal growth principles.
    There are many powerful principles about how we are to live out our faith in the Bible. For example, we will personally grow if we love others, be fiscally responsible, work hard and give glory to God while we do, worship, pray, fast, read the Bible, stay connected with like-minded believers, not be unequally yoked, etc. These are all important aspects of the Christian’s life. However, they should not be confused with your church core values. 
  • Core Values are NOT Strategies or Goals.
    Strategies and goals will, by necessity, change over time. Core Values will rarely, if ever, change. Don’t confuse a strategy for fulfilling a vision with your values. For example, ‘summer camps’ may represent a strategy for reaching young people in your church. However, I would not consider ‘summer camps’ a value. Perhaps in 5 years you will decide that mission trips will reach young people better than summer camps. That would be a new strategy. 
As a general rule of thumb, think of your Core Values as the basic rules by which you will accomplish your mission as a church. These well defined rules should never be broken, as that would ultimately compromise a basic belief you have about how ministry should always take place.

Your mission represents WHY you exist.

Your vision represents WHAT you think the future should look like.

Your strategy represents the PLANS you have set in motion to fulfill your vision.

Your values represent HOW you will carry out those plans at all times.

Why Core Values?


You will never see my wife or I watching the nightly news, select sit-coms, or murder mystery’s on TV at night with one of my preschool children present in the room. It’s simply not something we have ever done. Becky and I have chosen this standard together. It wasn’t hard. It’s one of the family values we share. I’m glad for this value, and will always stand by it for my family. I won’t impose that value on other families, though I may share why we have this value in the hopes that others might adopt it too. This value is part of our family DNA and shapes who we are and what we do in our home.

In the same way, churches have values. They may or may not be well defined, but they are there and they make a huge difference in how ministry happens.

I’m helping three churches develop their ministry core values. In one of our discussions, the question came up, “Why do we need core values?”.  I’m convinced that if a church defines their core values, and lives by them, they will serve as both a protection and a guide to church leaders in fulfilling their mission.

Here’s Why:

  • D.N.A.
    Everyone knows that there are no two people exactly alike. Even identical twins are overwhelmingly unique from one another. The same is true for every church in the world. The mixture of leadership, people, culture, values, experiences, etc. ensure that there will never be another church like it. Identifying values helps to clarify for church leaders as well as attendees and guests just WHO you are. For example, a church with a core value of “Family Friendly” will not only attract families, but clarify to all that this is part of who God made this church to be.
  • G.P.S.
    There are many paths that can get you to where you want to go, but not every path is the best or right path. While driving, you may prefer to stay away from toll roads or highways. Most GPS units will allow you to program that information in. As a result, the path (or strategic plan) created for you  will stick to those preferences. Additionally, when a roadblock forces you to detour, your GPS will recalculate keeping your programmed preferences. In the same way, core values ensure you don’t stray from ‘who you are’ while fulfilling ministry. For example, let’s say you’ve identified a value of ‘Accepting’ – meaning you will accept anyone in your church regardless of status, background, race, etc. If a group of mentally handicapped adults begin attending services and occasionally become disruptive, your value will ensure you find a way to accept them into your church without alienating or rejecting them.
  • Guardrails
    A business consultant once told me that core values are the guard rails that will protect you while you move from where you are to where you’re going. It’s true. Well defined and implemented values will help ensure we don’t fall off or meander off the path. For example, I recommend you adopt a core value of “Integrity”. This means you will build into your culture certain standards and practices that will ensure that your ministry operates with integrity. Perhaps that might include higher standards regarding the handling of money or who counsels who, where, and when, etc.
  • Behavior
    Values dictate behavior. I’ve heard it said that whenever a person strongly reacts to something it probably means their values have either been violated or validated. When a church selects and chooses to live by certain values, people have a blueprint for how they should act, react, and live out ministry in the church. For example, a value about reaching the ‘younger generation’ might impact the primary means by which the church chooses to communicate to it’s attendees.
  • Buy-In
    Well defined values help others decide how involved they want to be in the life of the church. People want to know what they are getting into, and they want to know they can sink their teeth in deep. Values will help them make that leap. For example, if one of your values includes “Family Friendly” and I have a strong conviction that solid families help lead the church for the next generation, then I will be inclined to give a lot of myself toward the cause.
  • Strategy
    Finally, your values will play a big role in strategic planning. You have no desire to create plans that don’t incorporate every one of your values, but sometimes that is what happens when values aren’t clarified. For example, a value of ‘team’ might communicate that you have no interest in people running a ministry by themselves. It’s critical that teams are in place everywhere, which will mobilize the church to ‘be’ the church. This value comes into play at the outset of a strategic discussion by asking the question, ‘How will we accomplish this as a team?’ or ‘Who will we recruit to be on this team?

Make it so.

“Make it so.”

Back in the day I was a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you watched the series at all you will remember Captain Picard’s famous line, “Make it so.” Leadership gurus all around have gotten tons of mileage out of that little line. Let’s get it done. Do what you need to. Let’s stop talking and start doing.

Here’s the thing. In the church world, we like to talk . . . a lot. Probably too much. This is especially true when it comes to mission, vision, and values. In my last post I wrote a quick and informal definition for each of these three concepts. Here’s what I said,

Your mission can help you and your congregation clarify WHO YOU ARE. It can play a huge role in focusing your leadership on your church being the church the way God designed you to be. Your vision can become an expression of what you believe that will look like one day. It is your hope for the future. Your values can act as your guide, or the guardrails, as you walk down the path from where you are to where you are going.”

Please note the word, “can” in each of those sentences. That was intentional. I really, really wanted to say, “will”. That wouldn’t be realistic. When you finish figuring out your ministry’s mission, vision, and values you are hardly done. In fact, you’ve reached ground zero.

Now you’re ready to create a culture that revolves around your mission. You’re ready to begin the strategic process to see your vision fulfilled. You’re ready to roll-out to your leadership your ministry philosophy in such a way that it becomes part of your language throughout the week, on Sunday mornings, and even in the homes of your church attendees. Now it’s time to, “Make it so.”

How about you? As Andy Stanley has said, “Is the statement on your wall happening down the hall?”

Mission, Vision and Values . . . Oh, My!

mission, vision, and values . . . oh, my!

When I was a kid I watched “The Wizard of Oz” like every other kid about once a year. I had sort of a love/hate relationship with the movie. I never told anyone, but some parts were really scary to me. I did NOT like the wicked witch or the evil winged monkeys. I also remember being really scared the first time Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man met the lion. I know I wasn’t alone. There are few in our nation who don’t know where, “Lions, tigers, and bears. Oh, my!” came from!

I think a lot of pastors feel about the same way about mission, vision, and values. Scary. What in the world are they? How do they fit together (or do they)? And are they really that important? Sometimes people will talk about them like they are somehow connected to the second coming of Christ or something. Certainly, we aren’t going to see God move or church growth without them, right?

I’d like to set the records straight.

In your ministry I think they are important and can be extremely helpful in clarifying who you are, where you are going and how you will get there. That said, you can survive without them. You already knew that. There are thousands of churches in the world that don’t have a clear mission, vision, or values and some of them are doing quite well thank you. God is even showing up and changing lives on a regular basis.

So why this almost religious preoccupation with them? I will say, some people can get a little legalistic and pushy about all this strategic stuff. I try really hard NOT to be one of them, but it is hard.

For me, it can be compared to something like godly counsel in the lives of your congregation. Do you believe that godly counsel could be a valuable and important part of your parishioner’s lives? I’m pretty sure you do.

Do you think they can still survive, hear from God, and grow spiritually without it? Likely.

But you also likely believe that they would be missing a key ingredient in life that could greatly impact their spiritual growth, eliminate unnecessary heartache, and bring them to levels of maturity and spiritual health they could not otherwise obtain.

I think you get the point.

Your mission can help you and your congregation clarify WHO YOU ARE. It can play a huge role in focusing your leadership on your church being the church the way God designed you to be. Your vision can become an expression of what you believe that will look like one day. It is your hope for the future. Your values can act as your guide, or the guardrails, as you walk down the path from where you are to where you are going.

I hope to begin a series this week exploring each of these aspects of church life. Stay tuned for more mission, vision, and values . . . oh, my!

Core Values

In my last post I mentioned the core value of Excellence. Let me digress from our Joe and Jane scenarios by talking about Core Values for just a moment. A Strategic Planning mentor once told me that your Core Values act as the guardrails on the path to where you are going. In other words, to get from here to where you ultimately want to go, there, you need some guiding principles and values that ensure you stay true to who you are and what you believe.

It’s very easy to set this aside and presume that your Core Values are obvious to you and your church. After 15 years of ministry at Elim Gospel Church you would think that such a discussion would be fairly simple. However, several years ago when we began exploring our values, what we found shocked all of us. We didn’t all know what our values were; and we weren’t in agreement as to what each value meant and why they were important to us.

So we spent many, many hours as a leadership team identifying, defining, and clarifying our values. The experience proved invaluable to us. Within the same week of this discussion we found ourselves making decisions for our respective ministries based on these values. And what I’ve discovered over the years since then is that our values provide a measure of assurance to me and our leaders whenever we are making decisions about the future.

Do you know what your Core Values are as a church? Do your key leaders? How about your elders? Are they written down in some document somewhere that you need to ask someone to find? When was the last time you looked at them, discussed them, and evaluated them?