The Truth About Core Values and 6 Steps To De-Clutter Your Message

If you’ve lived in one place more than a few years, you know what’s it like to deal with clutter. I am constantly trying to remove junk from my property. Raise your hand if you’re with me.

I propose that organizations – churches, companies and even personal creative aspirations – have the same problem, and most of the time no one is willing to do any spring cleaning. Usually, no one knows how. Every single program, product or service in a church or organization was put there by somebody, and that somebody, or their descendants, loves it there.


We Have Too Much Going On and it’s Hurting our Message and Our Ability to Create.

To know if this applies to you or your organization, just look at your calendar, or your website’s home page. Aargh!

We need to narrow our focus.

Perhaps it’s easier in companies to deal with this, but I don’t think it is. I mainly know church life, and boy it’s hard in churches, because it was Aunt Sallie Mae’s bench and she is a charter member, or John’s grandfather’s tradition to have the pumpkin patch.

This doesn’t just happen to older places. For example, studies show that most churches decline after their 15th year of existence – it doesn’t take long for tradition to lead to stagnation.


Why We Develop Message Clutter.

Most of the message clutter I see in churches, companies and in personal development come from the gradual, creeping influence of disparate ideas. Consider the common story:

  • When a church or company is new, core values are usually tightly aligned with all parties, because the group is small and share life together.
  • Each new person brings with him or her a set of personal values. These may or may not align with the core values.
  • Because of this, each person places different emphasis on what is deemed of most worth and worthy of most resources.
  • As the organization grows, the threat of these new ideas is that it will diffuse the tight agreement on the original values.
  • If different people start putting their efforts into making different principles a reality, then the organization can develop cracks and even split.
  • The larger the organization, the more difficult this becomes.
  • Over time, it becomes more and more difficult to absorb the unspoken values carried by the leader.
  • The challenges of a church are compounded because, whereas in business values are internal and for the sake of employees and not customers, in a church, there is ideally no divide between worker and customer, because every disciple is a worker, so all workers should understand the values.
  • Therefore – it’s necessary to state the church’s values as often as possible to keep new and existing people aligned.


The Secret to Decluttering Your Message is With Core Values.

Values are usually considered business-y jargon. Most organizations – churches, companies and such – have a list of core values.

The truth is, the phrase “core values” is kind of annoying, isn’t it? It brings up images of guys in suspenders and red staplers and forms in triplicate. It’s a business buzzword, and most of the time, the value lists organizations roll out have little to do with their everyday life. Right?

But what if values are actually misunderstood and under-utilized? What if they are actually a helpful tool, when properly used?

Here’s what I’ve come to realize lately: Values are decision-making tools.

In order to understand this better, first, let’s get on the same page about the word, which is a good word that’s been left on a chain out back for too long.


What Values are Not.

A few things to clarify what core values are not.

  • Values are not buzzwords.
  • Values are not a mission statement.
  • Values are not a vision or plan.
  • Values are not vague.

Most people don’t know their personal, church, or company values. Yet, values have the potential to bring great clarity. For example, I talk a lot about storytelling, but how does a church know what stories to tell? When used right, values help you decide which stories matter.


Values Help You Know What Matters.

It’s hard to hear your own dialect, or to see in yourself what others see. Similarly, that which best matches who we are is sometimes hard to discern. This is where named values come in.

Values are the why underneath the work – the commonly understood dynamics that characterize the unique culture of any organization. They are guiding principles that drive a church’s internal conduct and its relationship with the world. Every community has some, but most are assumed and unseen.

A small town 4H club focuses on growing pigs but values a strong work ethic and the role of the family (which are not necessarily the same things you’d find in a large city coffeeshop).

A Silicon Valley start up writes code and publishes apps but values optimism, personal expression, and self-actualization.

Recognizing what’s assumed and hidden is how you begin to name values.


Values Help You Cut Through the Clutter.

One of the biggest problems in my professional setting and in most settings is difficulty understanding what to communicate and difficulty managing what people hear. Every piece of clutter screams for attention.

Instead of decluttering, most churches and organizations engage in interruption marketing. As the saying goes, when everyone’s shouting, no one is being heard.

Yet, if you’ve ever noticed, some people and organizations have a knack for whispering with great influence. They speak on the zeitgeist with knowledge and resonance. They make their people’s lives better in unexpected ways. These people don’t have to shout.

Most organizations have 3-6 values. Any less and you haven’t covered the bases; any more and you lose clarity.

Once you’ve found your values, what stories to tell and what stories to reduce or eliminate becomes clear.



Here are 6 Steps to Getting Rid of Clutter and Finding Clarity for Your Message.

Identifying core values and using them to make better decisions is how I have known what matters most at my church, Peachtree. Here’s how to find core values:

1. Look for positive attributes that matter to the community.

You don’t create core values, you discover them. They’re already there. They’re actually obvious, once you look for them.

I consulted with a church that ministers in a city in which nobody is from that city. Of roughly 2500 people in the church, 3 were born and raised in that town. Most are upwardly-mobile and lack family support. The church’s leadership knows this deeply, and even begins gatherings by saying, “Welcome Home.”

Yet this core value isn’t clearly visible in their communication.

You have to actually name the assumptions.

2. Look in the founder’s story.

Core values exist from the beginning. They’re in the founder’s story, and they never leave the DNA of the organization.

My church, Peachtree, began over a century ago with a vision from a couple who were coming home from the funeral of their young son. They saw neighborhood children playing, and realized the kids didn’t have a Sunday School to help them learn about Jesus.

A few years ago at Peachtree, we named three core values: intergenerational, thinking evangelical, and missional. It was only later that I realized that all three were already present in Peachtree’s founder’s story.

3. Look for antidotes to problems in the community.

Values should be framed against a community’s problems:

  • Home is a core value to a community that feels transient or unrooted.
  • Education is a core value to a community with low graduation rates.
  • Health is a core value to a self-destructive community.
  • True abundance is a core value to a consumeristic community.

4. Describe an image of success.

One church I consulted with put aside their existing list of values and just talked about people that they like to talk about when they talk about ministry at their church. Who do they point to and say, here’s what greatness / a win / success looks like?

As they talked, three core values emerged, each specific to their cultural context.

5. Once named, prioritize decisions on which stories to tell.

Stories that are rooted in core values just seem to fit. The programs they highlight sell themselves, so to speak.

They align with what the church is all about, because the people who are in the church care about those things already, and that’s why they’re there to begin with, because the church has been communicating those ideas from the start and that’s why they came.

If an event, ministry or program aligns with the values of the church, then it’s a great candidate for spending creative resources.

6. Reduce or even eliminate efforts that don’t reflect the values.

Once you have your values in place, the clutter – the messages that don’t fit well – become obvious.


How do you identify and use core values?


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).