The second level of church organizational culture is espoused values. As the name implies, these are values that are stated verbally or in writing. Examples include mission statements, lists of core values, and goals. Preachers share espoused values all the time from the pulpit.
There are two things that are important to note about espoused values. One is that they may not reflect a church’s actual values. For example, a church may have the espoused value that staff must demonstrate “proven character and proven ministry,” when in reality talented staff members are allowed to run over people emotionally as long as the job gets done.
The second thing to know about espoused values is that there are actually two kinds: missional values and operational values. Missional values refer, not surprisingly, to the church’s mission or purpose. Almost every church espouses similar missional values; with only slight variation in wording, they typically include worship, fellowship, discipleship, social concern, evangelism, and sacrament.
However, a church’s culture also includes operational values, which are how a church approaches its missional values. Operational values can advance or thwart progress toward missional values. Examples of operational values include how a church handles conflict, how much loyalty is expected from the congregation, how open the church is to outsiders, how much innovation is valued, and whether staff members intentionally empower others to lead. A single church can have dozens of operational values.
Two churches in the same neighborhood could share the espoused, missional value of outreach. But if one church has the hidden operational value of fearing outsiders, the two churches will treat newcomers very differently. This hidden value may come out in unclear signage to help new people navigate the church or in no one welcoming them as they enter the building. Regardless, the message will be clear to visitors.
At the deepest level of church organizational culture, below the waterline, lie underlying assumptions. These are the real values, and they are linked to very strong emotions. In fact, these assumptions are so deeply rooted and so deeply held, that to act in a way contrary to them seems unthinkable. Because they are assumed at such a deep level, however, they are rarely articulated.