How can you help your church live out its values?

This is the second in a short(ish) series on values and how you can help your church live out of them. In my last post I said I believed that values were more important than vision. But if so, how can you build a church around a set of values?

So, as a church you take time out as a PCC or staff or elders or whatever your structure is and you come up with a series of values that you believe in. They’re great and everyone says that they think the same. Good values are recognised and appreciated by others and can help a church to flourish. But the question comes, how do we ensure that they are a reality in our lives and in the life of the church?

Some churches do it by preaching a series on them. Others put it on their website and put it into their welcome pack. Some decide and announce them to the church and assume that they will just happen – by some sort of osmosis – and become embedded into the life of the church.

But the thing about values is that we need to own them and live them out. So how do we really and effectively do that? How do you know if your church is living out of the values that it says that it espouses? I mean you can get an idea. If you have “love one another” as one of them how do you really help people to live out this value?

I very much believe that it is possible for a church to begin to live out and encourage their values. Does this mean that everyone will always get it right? No,  of course not, we are human! But it will mean that a church can generally live out its values more than is sometimes realised.

There are a number of steps that a church that wishes to agree a set of values can do to help.

The first step is a crucial one. Instead of agreeing a set of values with little discussion and by edict or agreed amongst a small group (such as your elders or PCC or similar) they need a wider airing. They need discussion and the ability of people to question and test and feedback about them.

At Springfield, we set about a year long consultation to look at the values we were proposing. This included a church weekend away with presentations on them and small group discussion, a six month preaching series (with homegroups discussing questions arising each week), an evening  Q&A, a leaders away day and a number of PCC meetings. For us we were looking at introducing cell groups and the values for cell are essential for doing cell properly.

This long-term discussion and feedback and testing ensures that we can say “It seems right to us and the Holy Spirit”. People will work at values that they personally own and the time taken in preparation was and is crucial for that. As well as that, new people coming in can see that our values are core to who we wish to be. It’s easy to come from another church and wish to re-create things that you liked and project onto your new church those wants and needs. A good set of values encapsulates what your church stands for and ensures that you aren’t blown backwards and forwards. It allows newcomers a chance to decide whether these values are ones that they too can own.

The next step is communication. Communication about the values are so important. Communication comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It comes  in sermon series. The key is that we regularly teach about our church values. They may be mixed up in other ways but they come up time and again and this is deliberate. We have an easy to remember A-E of the values we hold at Springfield. Communication at all levels and in multiple ways is a great way of helping people to hear the values.

But above all the way that we communicate and help the church to embed the values is through our small group system. This, for me, is the vital way that we have seen them embedded. It is in the small groups as people discuss and look to grow then the values should support that. That means that people will see the value of them and use them and work out what they mean for them. We welcome and love the different groups and how they work out the values but the fundamentals are shared between them all. There is then an impact on the wider church. As a value takes root then we see that value expressed in all we do. We see our ministries infected with the values that we hold dear.

Taking the values through the small group system does mean that it may seem to take longer but we then see them embedded and owned and reflected through the church. It means that people, as they have learnt to believe in them want to see them working in their own lives and the life of the church. As I said in the last post

We do what we value and value what we do

What it also means is that because of our values we have a way of deciding what we won’t do – which can be just as important as to what we will do. A small example: we have an annual event that we call Feast in the Field which we have about 600 people come to. When we first started it some people wanted to have food provided by stalls etc. We agreed we didn’t want to do this as we wanted people to sit and chat to each other – our key driver for the event was about creating community and we felt providing food stalls would make it into a fete where people would wander around and not sit and chat and get to know other people. So, all we do for that event is checked against our value of creating community and whether what we do takes us further in that direction or detracts from it.

Values can be embedded by wide consultation, good communication and embedding in the life of the small groups. It’s all common sense stuff. Next post will start looking at the marks of individual values we hold. If you have a different set of values then you may need to go through a process of how you could encapsulate your values in the life of your church.

Other posts in the series:

Vision and Values
Embedding the Values – All Involved

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