One of the true greats in youth ministry, Mike Yaconelli, wrote a book in 2002 that presented a difficult challenge to the modern Church. In Messy Spirituality Yaconelli challenged the Church, which was filled at the time with me-generation Baby Boomers and young, upwardly-mobile professionals (Yuppies) of the 90s, to lay aside its pretense and live authentically.

“Messy spirituality unveils the myth of flawlessness and calls Christians everywhere to come out of hiding and stop pretending. Messy spirituality has the audacity to suggest that messiness is the workshop of authentic spirituality, the greenhouse of faith, the place where the real Jesus meets the real us.”

In his clarion call to authenticity Mike proposed a new way of operating, a new way of relating in the Church, a new way of going deeper, even though he knew that kind of honesty could be rather messy at times.

What Mike was offering was a new core value for the Church.

Core Values Are a Key Component in Your Congregation’s Foundation

Ministry Architects finds that, after a clear Mission Statement, a list of eight to ten Core Values is essential to establishing climate and culture in a congregation.

While a mission statement may give the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a congregation, core values give the ‘how’ or the ‘in what spirit’ description of a congregation. Click To Tweet

And while some core values of a congregation might be applicable most anywhere, other values may more specifically reflect influences of locale, tradition, or contemporary context.

For example, many churches might have core values like “Christ-centered” or “scripturally-focused,” but a metropolitan church working to reach out to a nearby homeless population might value “Engaged in Community.” Or a suburban church surrounded by young families might view “Children Are a Blessing” as a core value. Perhaps, like Mike Yaconelli, a congregation might want to state its value of “Authenticity,” calling its congregants to live openly and honestly as their share life together.

Most core values are stated by a word or short phrase followed by a descriptive sentence. Taking Mike Yaconelli’s example, it might look like this: “Authenticity – We value openness and honesty as we seek God together, knowing that only as our real selves can we meet the real Jesus.”

Why not take a few moments to jot down your own list of eight to ten words or phrases, values that express the spirit by which you would hope your congregation would operate. Share your list with others and challenge them to come up with their own lists. You may find that a pattern begins to emerge.

Core Values Establish the Culture of a Congregation

It is through core values that a congregation finds and expresses its personality, how a congregation discovers its culture, its ethos. It is how a congregation decides and proclaims how and in what spirit it will operate. Click To Tweet

It is through a list of core values that a congregation takes away the guesswork and puts in front of its people (and its visitors) a statement of “This is who we are, and this is how we go about what we do.”

A Few Thoughts About Core Values

The Denominational Effect – While knowing the denominational background of a congregation is always helpful, that knowledge does not necessarily give the full picture of the culture within a congregation. Churches vary widely, even within the same denomination, and a list of core values goes a long way toward revealing what sets one church apart from another.

Communicating Regularly and Thoroughly – Core values must be kept before a congregation on a consistent basis through all of the church’s media – bulletins, website, from the pulpit, etc. – and should be reflected in the ongoing goals of the congregation. “In the top drawer of the church office file cabinet” is not the right place for your list of core values. It must be seen and reinforced on a regular basis.

The Leadership Effect – It is through core values that leadership has its greatest chance to establish or change culture within the congregation – from the outset in the establishment of a first list to modifications of stated core values along the way.

The Hard Conversation – The best lists of core values result from long, hard conversations. These conversations can take place across coffeeshop tables or in leadership retreat settings. But these best lists emerge when lots of people have input, and they have the chance to state and defend what they value within the life of the congregation.


Core values give us one of the best chances to share who we are and how we go about our God-given work. And people want to know what we’re about. So get your pad or your iPad out and see what begins to show up in YOUR list. If you want to explore more about how to shape or re-shape the culture and ministry of your congregation, email me at I’d love to spend some time talking with you about how core values reflect and determine what your congregation is and does.

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