The First Question:
What are the Core Values?

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty

For years we have assumed that what the general church says is the “Mission” of the church, is in fact the mission of every church. This might be true of the pastors, or a few key leaders, but most of the people in the pews have little understanding of the mission of the church, nor do they care, there are other reasons that they come to church. What they do understand, intuitively if not consciously, are the values that drive them to attend, participate and contribute to their church.

People have a general understanding of value. If we have just enough money to buy a very used economy car we have a minimal expectation of the car. If we have enough money to buy a brand new luxury sedan we expect it to deliver power, luxury, and reliability for many years to come. For the assets spent, we have an expectation of value to be received.

The two assets we have to spend are time and money. Our understanding of the value we expect to receive determine our willingness to spend our time and our money.

Thus, when people decide to get up on Sunday and give one to four hours of their valuable time to get dressed, travel, sit and sing, study and fellowship, contribute money, and volunteer their time, it means they have some expectation that they are going to receive some value in return for their investment? What possible value do they receive in return for doing all of the above?

For most people community is far more important than commitment. Community is the value they derive. Church is home for these people.  Small churches are communities in which there are common values: shared beliefs, purposes and aspirations; much like a tight knit family.

Dr. James Griesemer, Professor and Dean Emeritus of the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, says “Values are the behavioral aspirations of the organization, a fundamental belief about how the people in the organization intend to conduct themselves in pursuit of their mission and vision.”

Thus, the local Hell’s Angels, Harley riding, beer drinking association and social club, may have different understandings of how they intend to conduct themselves in pursuit of their mission and vision, than say the United Methodist Women.

The Book of Discipline 2008 version says that: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” As glorious as that may sound, it is probably not what drives your people to get up and come to church on Sunday morning. Some? Sure! All?  Hardly.

Another way to understand value is to look at different work places. Why do people work in one place and not another? Why does one company consistently hire the best people and keep them working happily for a long time, while another company cannot fill all of its positions and continues to have a high turnover. Given that both pay the same salaries, it may be the way that one company values its employees. It may be the way the employees are able to use their creativity to accomplish their goals. It may be the way they “conduct themselves in pursuit of their mission and vision.” Getting a salary, may not be the only value received for the time people spend in their work place.

The question you have to ask first is this, “What are the core values of my local church?”

If the core value of the congregation is to gather on Sunday morning and see one another again, then they have accomplished their goals by noon every Sunday. If the pastor thinks the core value is to make disciples for Jesus Christ in order to transform the world, he/she may have a difficult time getting that mission accomplished with the people in that church. They do not aspire to the same high calling, and they are not working with the same purpose in mind.

If this same church holds a wonderful planning conference, and sets their Mission Statement, their Visions, and their quantifiable Goals and Operational Ministries, for the next year, but never understand that their core values do not line up with and drive those other things forward, they will never understand why their plans all failed. It is not that the outside forces defeated them. It is that the engine wasn’t connected to the transmission. Core Values are the engine that motivates people.

How do you discover the Core Values? There are many ways, but I like the most direct: Ask them!

When I start at a new congregation I put a half sheet of paper in the bulletin each week for the first six to ten weeks, each headed by the large printed title: “Hey Pastor!”   followed by a series of questions about the community at large. Being the new guy to town it is easy to ask: What at the best restaurants in town? What are the best plumbers, electricians, handy men, banks, groceries, deli’s, tire stores, mechanics, etc. Then, later on, it is easy to come back with different questions: What do you like most about your church? When you think about coming to church what excites you? When you worship what moves you? When you are on the church campus where are you most at home? When you have to get out of a warm bed on a cold morning, what drives you to come to church?

Collect the half sheets in a basket in the back of the church, put the same basket in the office on Monday. People will fill it up. As you read the answers, it will reveal itself, just like lemon ink on a warmed piece of paper, it will reveal itself.

But you can’t move the car (church) forward until you connect the engine (values) with the transmission (Mission) to drive the wheels (Goals) which will allow you to steer toward your destination (Vision).

So, go discover your churches Values. Until you know these, you aren’t even in control of the car.

© Copyright 2015 by Steve Petty