Take a good look around at your next church board meeting. Listen to the questions and the comments. Look at the faces. More importantly, though, look at the body language.

What does it tell you?

If you’re like many church leaders, you might conclude it’s a pretty grim scene with a lot of crossed arms, rolled eyes, and tight jaws. The fact is, in most churches across North America, there’s a palpable lack of unity and trust. The “real world” is morphing into a future that’s leaving the church in the lurch and it doesn’t look like the tension is going to get any better tomorrow. Indeed, many folks are digging in deeper to keep what feels like their only bastion of sanity from toppling into chaos.

Sure, we can point to Easum’s famous “Crack in History” as the excuse for the erosion of unity, but that’s an excuse. The reality is, if a church has a healthy DNA embedded within it, there’s a high level of trust that makes navigate-able the bumps in the road, crevices on the climb, and even cracks in history. But embedding healthy DNA isn’t the same, nor as easy, as getting an inoculation, and it can be just about as painful.

There are six steps necessary to build trust in a congregation, but the reality is that step 1 is by far the most important, the most time consuming, and the one step that creates the foundation for the rest.

Step 1: Create a Christ-Centered Core

Without a core of practicing, sold-out-to-Jesus, out in the local mission field as the hands and feet of Christ, disciples, the “building of the house of the Lord” is for naught. Sadly, there are proportionately few churches in North America where a core such as this is practically functioning. Instead, virtually every church has a few core disciples, but most have been beaten spiritually senseless by Church Bullies and Church Terrorists.* Sadly, the spiritual core of many churches isn’t Christ-Centered, but Self-Centered and the Christ-Centered disciples wring their hands and try and stay out of harm’s way.

There are two ways to change this untenable situation. First, the leaders and the Christ-Centered disciples can put an end to tolerating Bullies and Terrorists by inviting them to leave (tactfully or not). This tactic is a bit like extracting an infected tooth. It’s an excruciatingly sharp pain that seems to last forever. However, in the end you get over it and realize you feel better pretty quickly. The second way to change the situation is for the leaders and Christ-Centered disciples to band together in order to expand their ranks through prayer, evangelism, more prayer, and a lot more evangelism until they can wrest the power from the Self-Centered Core. This is a kinder, gentler, way of doing the first, only it takes several years. This tactic is like trying to cure a disease by using alternative treatment programs. You’ll eat a lot of raw veggies, give up desserts, get poked with long twiddling needles, meditate on wellness, learn to endure discomfort for awhile, and after several years, hopefully, you’ll get well. Some people do. A bunch more don’t. Same with the church. Those that take the more gentler way too often surrender when the going gets tough…and it always gets tough when dealing with power issues in the church.

Either way you do it, a Christ-Centered Core is necessary for implanting healthy DNA in a church; DNA that creates an environment of trust.

Step 2: Know Your Mission

Most churches spend a lot of time trying to create their mission statement. Let me help you. The church only has one mission and Jesus is the one who gave it to us. You can word it a lot of different ways, you can expand it into multiple paragraphs, or even into a book, but there’s only one mission of the church: “Go ye therefore and make disciples of Jesus.” Now I’ll grant you there are multiple tasks to making effective disciples of Jesus Christ, but even these are limited. Word it how you may, there are essentially four tasks to disciple-making:

  • Invite (recruit, evangelize, etc.)
  • Grow (teach, indoctrinate, etc.)
  • Equip (train, disciple, etc.)
  • Send (Go!, Care, etc.)

However you do it, get your congregation to sign on to a well worded mission statement. And by the way, a well worded mission statement fits onto a bumper sticker and/or looks great on a t-shirt.

Step 3: Realize Your Ideal Values

Quick. How can you tell what’s really, really important to someone? Easy. Look at their checkbook and at their date book. You spend your money and your time on things you think are value-able. For instance, I say I value good health. If you look at my checkbook, you’ll see that every month I pay membership dues for a health club. However, if you look at my date book, you’ll see that I haven’t actually set foot in the club in, well, never mind. Let’s just say it’s been awhile. Well, the same goes for a church. If a church says that evangelism is one of their values, and yet they spend little of their money and even less of their time doing evangelism, then it’s not really one of their values.

That’s not to say that evangelism shouldn’t be one of your values if you discover that it hasn’t been a practiced value in the past. There are two kinds of values. Those we wish we practiced, sometimes called Ideal Values, and those we actually practice, sometimes called Realized Values. Clarifying a congregation’s values is critical in trust building. Your goal is to help your congregation (1) Discover its Realized Values; (2) Compare them to what their Ideal Values are; and (3) Help them make the transition from Ideal to Realized.

The key to clarifying a congregation’s values comes with congregational conversations—not you and they, but they and they. Especially the “theys” that are digging their heels in. If you can help the congregation, the whole congregation, to see their Realized and to adopt common Ideal Values, then the process of trust building is half done.

Step 4: Discern Your Vision

I hear a lot about visioning these days. Far too often, the visions I hear sound a lot more like what we used to call mission statements rather than a vision statement.

A vision is a picture of what would happen if your congregation actually achieved its mission. Effective vision statements look down the road five to ten years. So, if your mission is to “Make Disciples Who Make Disciples in Schenectady,” then your vision would reflect what your community, your church, or both would be like in, say, five years.

Your vision statement could be a sentence. It could an image. It could even be a song. But whatever it is, it paints a picture that’s real and memorable and motivational to the congregation. Schenectady’s vision could be, “To overflow our buildings and pour out into the streets with families who are experiencing the healing power and the wholeness of Jesus Christ.” Notice, this vision is actually measurable. How will they know if they’re achieving their mission? Their church buildings will be full of families. And when the buildings are full, it will be time for a new vision…perhaps one that paints the image of a new building.

A clear vision is critical to a trusting church. When everyone in the congregation simply “Knows” what everyone is pulling for, the trust level just naturally begins to rise.

Step 5: State Your Beliefs

Let me begin this step by admitting I’m a member of a denomination that doesn’t embrace the creeds. Indeed, if you ask three of our church members what the fundamental beliefs of their church is, you’ll probably get four different answers.

With that being said, there really is something to the saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The fact is, most churches, even those in denominations that have fuzzy doctrines, have a core set of beliefs that most everyone can agree upon.

Notice I said most. The point of this exercise isn’t to please every single person. It’s to name and claim what the congregation believes. Some of you reading this will shrug and say, “We simply embrace the Apostle’s Creed.” Good for you. And your congregation believes the Bible is (a) The Infallible Word of God; (b) Authoritative for All Matters of Faith; (c) A Good Book; or (d) A Fairy Tale? You see, the Apostle’s Creed doesn’t quite cover what could be one of the most critical issues in trust building. If the congregation doesn’t really know what others’ core beliefs are, trust just isn’t going to happen.

Now, this isn’t the time for a new systematic theology. It’s not even time for a summative paper. But it is the time to state your core beliefs.

Step 6: State Your Expected Behaviors

For me, this is where the rubber hits the road. Christianity has too long been practiced as a list of beliefs and it’s time for practicing disciples of Jesus Christ to step up and say, “This is what a Christian does (or does not) do.” We’re not talking about dancing or playing Gin Rummy. We’re talking about how Christians behave themselves.

Have you ever taken a look at the One-Anothers of the New Testament? There are just over forty of them, if you count the Each-Others and One-to-Anothers as well. These behaviors are there to teach us how we’re to treat our fellow Christians. Oh sure, we’re supposed to love everybody, but if you look through the One-Anothers, you’ll discover there are a lot of them that pertain only to how we’re to treat each other. In fact, Paul goes so far as to remind us how to treat one another “and everyone else” (1 Thes 5:15). Now, I have a theory. If every Christian treated one another according to the One-Anothers, our churches would be filled to overflowing. But let’s face it, we don’t really treat one another very well.

Which is why it’s important to state the congregation’s expected behaviors. Again, this is a congregational exercise that must be done if it’s going to be effective. We all have some expectations of what a Christian is supposed to look like, but we don’t all agree on exactly what that means. But when a congregation comes to a concordance, then they have something on which to build trust on.

For instance, if a congregation decides their expected behaviors include “Respect of One-Another,” then we should be able to expect respectfulness in our interactions, even when we disagree. Of course, this isn’t going to always be the case, so it’s important to include an Excuse Me Clause in the list of expected behaviors. The Excuse Me Clause simply states, “If I cannot live up to the expected behaviors at any time, I will excuse myself—or I will be excused—so that I may regain my composure, repent, and be reconciled.” And then it’s up to the Christ-Centered Core and the leadership (who had better be a part of that core) to gently, but firmly, exercise the Excuse Me Clause when needed. And the truth is, in general, when the Excuse Me Clause is necessarily exercised, it will nearly always be with a Church Bully or a Church Terrorist who needs to be removed anyway.

When the members of a congregation know how they will be treated by each other and by those in leadership, trust soars, but only if those who misbehave are held accountable.

So, that’s it. Congregational Trust Building 101. Create a Christ-Centered Core, develop your congregation’s DNA (MV2B2—Mission, Values, Vision, Beliefs, and Behaviors), and hold the congregation’s membership accountable for those behaviors, and you’ll discover the crossed arms, rolled eyes, and tight jaws begin to relax.

* A Church Bully is someone who has managed to parlay significant power in a congregation and wields that power inappropriately to accomplish their own ends. A Church Terrorist is someone who is quick to dole out threats to get their own way: “If you don’t _______ then I’ll ______” (leave, withdraw my financial support, get you fired, etc.).