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I’m beginning to think core values for the church may not be as important as a set of internal values that shape the uniqueness of the team itself. Before I get to a full explanation of what I mean by that statement, let me map out what has led me to it.

When The Unstuck Group works with a church to plan for the future, we always facilitate a conversation to develop a clear mission, vision, strategy and values. These are really foundational to developing a focused plan.

The mission defines the primary purpose for the church.

Typically, in ten to twelve words or less, we try to develop a mantra that answers the question why? Why do we exist? For The Unstuck Group, as an example, that statement is pretty simple: “We help churches get unstuck.” That’s why we do everything that we do.

The vision paints a picture of where the church is going in the future.

We like to develop that vision for three to five years out. We also like to make the vision specific and measurable. Sometimes it includes actual numerical targets. Other times it names a specific initiative that the church hopes to complete. As long as it’s realistically possible with a move of God, bigger vision is always better.

The strategy clarifies how the mission and vision will be accomplished.

We tackle strategy development in two parts. First, we help the church confirm its “growth engines.” We make sure the church has defined how it will grow by reaching more people, and how it will help people grow spiritually. Ideally, the same core strategies will accomplish both the numerical and spiritual growth. Secondly, we help churches determine what’s important now? We take the big picture and help them break it into bite-sized chunks to prioritize what needs to happen in the next six to twelve months. We want everyone to understand: This is what I’m supposed to be focused on today.

The values reflect the underlying principles that shape the culture of the church.

If developed properly, they should really set the church apart from every other church in their region. They should drive actions and decisions of every person on the team. (In case you’re curious, these are the nine values that shape our ministry through The Unstuck Group.)

I say should because churches struggle at times to craft value statements that will really have impact. Instead, they tend to make one of the following mistakes, leading to ineffective results:

  1. They try to name all their values rather than narrowing the list to a set of core values.

    More than six or seven core values is too many. Three to five is ideal. When the list is too long, the values become watered down. A long list also makes it much harder for everyone to remember and implement the values in every situation.

  2. They copy another church’s values.

    If I had a nickel for every church that includes in their core values, “We believe excellence honors God and inspires people,” I’d be a very rich church consultant. Copying Willow Creek’s core values won’t make your church like Willow Creek.

  3. They don’t identify values that are distinctive.

    Instead, churches name values that every church embraces. “We believe in the Bible,” or “We believe in prayer.” Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage, would define these as “permission-to-play” values. If you are a church, you have to value the Bible and prayer. They aren’t options. If it’s in your statement of faith, you don’t need to restate it in your core values.

  4. They confuse their strategy with their values.

    Some churches include things like “worshipping God” or “small groups” as core values. Those aren’t values. They are, instead, part of a spiritual formation strategy to help people take their next steps toward Christ. Worship and groups are good things, but they aren’t compelling core values that shape the personality and culture. Again, if it’s part of your spiritual growth strategy, you don’t need to restate it in your core values.


It’s with all of this in mind that our team has been having an internal conversation about values. We’ve been discussing the impact, or lack thereof, that a church’s values have on culture. For that reason, I’m beginning to think core values for the church may not be as important as a set of internal values that shape the uniqueness of the team itself. In other words,

I’d much rather have a set of strong team values that the staff rallies behind than a long list of benign statements that end up buried on a page of the church’s website.

Part of this new direction comes from my firm belief that strong culture develops from the inside out. The character and personality of the top leaders will ultimately shape the culture.

With that, I’ve begun to steer churches away from developing a broad set of core values for the church and instead develop a narrow list of team values. With this approach, churches seem to be more open to identifying what’s truly distinctive about their teams.

  • What are the key attributes of anyone who would join the team?
  • What attitudes invoke the unique personality of the team?
  • What’s at the core of every staff member that drives the culture of the team?

If that list can be identified, then the health of the team (and then of the church) could really be impacted. That list will shape who’s on the team. It will help determine who takes on leadership responsibilities. It will help people make better decisions. It will help prioritize what happens first.

If that list can be identified, the team will establish the culture that eventually pervades the entire church. When that happens, a list of benign value statements on the church website becomes superfluous.

Do you want to have a stronger, healthier team? Then begin by being intentional about the values that shape the unique character of who is on the team. That will become the foundation from which the culture develops.

And that supports the church’s advancement of its mission, vision and strategy.

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