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How to Discover and Develop Core Values

The degree to which leaders experience success or failure in church planting depends on whether their core people share the same values.

 See sidebar "Stating Core Values" |

By Aubrey Malphurs

From the church planter’s perspective, vision and strategy are critical to the vitality of the church. However, discovering and developing core values is also a key to successful church planting. A church’s values answer the fundamental ministry question: Why do we do what we do? Proper core values are foundational; they are the essence of what makes a great church. Tell me the core values of the church you’re going to plant, and I’ll tell you about your church.


Why are an organization’s core values important?

1. Values determine a church’s ministry distinctives. No two ministries are alike. Some churches focus on biblical preaching and teaching, others on evangelism, and still others on counseling or the family. This is why it is acceptable to start churches even when there are other churches nearby. Different churches reach different people. The determiner is the essential values.

2. Values dictate people’s personal involvement in the church. Church planters can spare themselves and their churches grief by communicating their values to all who are considering becoming a part of the church. Communicate the values early in the life of the church and repeatedly throughout the life of the church. Encourage those with similar values to join. (I call this values alignment or a ministry match.) Encourage those with different values to look for a church that is more in line with their values.

3. Values communicate what’s important. Values signal your ministry’s bottom line and make it clear what you believe is God’s heart for your church. If a core value is evangelism, make it known.

4. Values help people embrace positive change. Changes in American society are having an impact on churches. Some of the changes have been good and some bad. The key question is: Does this change agree with or contradict the ministry’s core values? Reject that which contradicts, and accept that which agrees.

5. Values affect the church’s overall behavior. Values shape the entire organization, determine the ministry’s direction, and dictate every decision you make and every dollar you spend.

6. Values inspire people to action. The shared beliefs of leaders and followers are the motivators that energize people to take action. Values infuse ministry with meaning. They touch people at a deeper level that provides a sense of cause and brings significance to their lives.

7. Values enhance credible leadership. Many leaders, as well as their churches, are values-driven and the ministries they build reflect those values. As go the leaders, so goes the church. Leaders with good values build ministries of integrity.

8. Values shape a ministry’s character. Values are the qualities that make up an organization’s character. This character determines how an organization conducts its ministry.

9. Values contribute to ministry success. An organization’s ingrained ownership and understanding of its core beliefs make it possible for its people to be successful in ministry.


A church’s primary values are defined as its constant, passionate, biblical core beliefs that drive its ministry. This definition has five key elements.

1. Core values are constant. Core values change very slowly. Change usually takes from 2 to 4 years. This is why it is hard to revitalize an established church. It takes time to change people’s values. Consequently, it’s critical that you begin with the right values.

2. Core values are passionate. Vision is a seeing word; passion is a feeling word. Core values touch the heart and elicit strong emotions. They stir feelings that can move people to biblical, Christ-honoring ministry.

3. Core values are biblical. The true test of a credo or values statement is: Does it square with Scripture? The statement doesn’t have to be found in the Bible, but it shouldn’t contradict the Bible.

4. Core values are core beliefs. People use various synonyms for values: precepts, principles, tenets, standards, or assumptions. (Some of these terms may not equate with values.) Values are your primary or core beliefs. A belief is a conviction or opinion you hold to be true based on limited evidence or proof.

5. Values drive the ministry. Values are the deeply ingrained drivers behind the behavior of a church. This includes the decisions made, money spent, risks taken, problems solved, goals set, and priorities determined.


We can refine the above definition by analyzing five different kinds of values a planted church may hold.

1. Conscious versus unconscious values. Most credo or values fall under the latter. Leaders must discover and articulate the church’s primary values so members may know why they’re doing what they’re doing. This begins with leaders discovering their own values, because their values will shape the values of the emerging church. Leaders must move their own values from an unconscious to a conscious state.

2. Shared versus unshared values. The degree to which leaders experience success or failure in church planting depends on whether their core people share the same values. Shared values foster high levels of loyalty, provide a consensus over key decisions, promote a strong work ethic, and reduce levels of stress. Make sure people who join your team have the same values.

3. Personal versus organizational values. I ask my pastoral students to discover their organizational beliefs before they join a ministry. Those who take an established church must discover that church’s credo and make sure their values reasonably align with that church’s values. Otherwise, the honeymoon will be short-lived. Church planters, on the other hand, bring their personal values to the planted church. Their values will become the church’s organizational values. That’s one of the advantages of church planting.

4. Actual versus aspirational values. Actual values are the beliefs that a church or church planter owns and acts on regularly. Aspirational values are not presently owned, but the church or church planter desires to attain to those values. It is important that a leader distinguish between the two because a leader risks losing credibility when drafting a values statement. For example, to state that a church values evangelism, but no one is being saved, hurts the church’s integrity. Does this mean that a church can’t include aspirational values in their values statement? (See sidebar for answer.)

5. Good versus bad values. Every ministry will have good and bad values. Bad values are beliefs such as compromise, prejudice, intolerance, or the abuse of power. It is important for the church to become aware of bad values and change them.


Church planters determine the core values of their church by discovering their own core values. Several techniques will assist you in values discovery.

  1. Brainstorm with other church leaders to uncover key beliefs. Record the results on a sheet of paper.
  2. Collect and study various value statements or credos of other churches. Appendices A—C in my book, Values-Driven Leadership, provides samples.
  3. Use the storyboard process to discover your vital values. This is the process I use when I work with churches to help them discover their values (Advanced Strategic Planning, pages 30—32).
  4. Take the following abbreviated Core Values Audit.


Rate each of the core values below from 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. Be very stingy with assigning 5s.

__1. Godly servant leadership

__2. A well-mobilized lay ministry

__3. Bible-centered preaching/teaching

__4. The poor and disenfranchised

__5. Creativity and innovation

__6. World missions

__7. Passionate evangelism

__8. Authentic worship

__9. Intercessory prayer

__10. A well-kept facility

__11. The status quo

__12. Strong families

__13. Cultural relevance

__14. Lost people

__15. Warm fellowship

__16. Biblical community

__17. Social justice

__18. Faithful service

__19. Giving/tithing

__20. Civil rights

__21. Other

List the core values–no more than 10–that received a rating of 4 to 5.


Once you’ve discovered your values, develop them. This involves writing your values statement or credo. Publish this credo and make it available to those who are a part of or desire to be a part of your ministry. There are numerous ways to articulate a values credo (see Appendices A—C in Values-Driven Leadership).

A key concept in church planting is vision. Vision is important. However, of equal if not greater importance are ministry values. As a church planter, discover, discuss, develop, refine, and display your ministry core values. God will use this in your ministry to have a significant spiritual impact in the 21st century.

| See sidebar "Stating Core Values" |

Aubrey Malphurs

Aubrey Malphurs, Ph.D., former pastor and church planter, currently teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary and has a training and consulting ministry with churches and denominations. He has written several books on church ministry and leadership.


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