Toxic people create toxic groups and quickly derail your mission. As leaders, we need to learn how to overcome a toxic group culture.

What do I mean?

A new student shows up to your group but never returns. A longtime student leaves. Both students say your group has too many cliques. 

There may be a lack of participation in games, activities, discussions, or events. 

Or no matter how much promotion you try and the amount of money you spend, you still cannot generate excitement. 

You may have an excellent mission statement, and your church may give you plenty of financial support. Your youth room may be the best in town. None of these things matter if you do not have something to guide the group culture in a positive direction.

At the root of the problem is this, without a mechanism to guide it, your group will become whatever the loudest voice desires.

A student decides they don’t like a game, guess what, no one will like the game.

Someone likes being the center of attention; they will make sure that your group revolves around them.

So how do we counter the loudest voices in the room and overcome a toxic group culture?


Core values are a set of beliefs that define how your group will act. They help you and your leadership team define what a person will experience when they participate with your group.

Your stated core values should be in every gathering of your people. Every core value, every time. No matter what your groups does. No matter where your group goes. Your core values will be present, and your group will stay consistent.

Core values are the number one weapon in combating a toxic culture and toxic people.

When someone is attempting to hijack your group, making it all about them, use your core values to steer them in the right direction. When you are training your student leaders about the significance of games, remind them about your core values.


Core values can be simple. In fact, simple is always better.

I suggest writing single words that are easily understood. Yes, you should define these words, but easily understandable words convey an easily understood message.

A few core values that I have used in the past have been words such as: relational, inclusive, enjoyable, trinity-Centered, and relevant.

When you write these words, think about what you desire for your group to become. 

Join a 3 month cohort.

What do you hope a new person will experience when they participate for the first time? What sort of group culture will attract people?  

Remember, it is important to keep your words simple. It is equally significant to limit your number of words. I would never write more than five values. 

Why no more than five values?

Core values are only as strong as they are known. 

You need your adult leaders, your student leaders, and even your regular attendees to know these words. The more people who know your values, the more likely they are to be emulated.

Your mission is important, and being properly supported matters. But the best mission and the most fully funded ministry can be sabotaged by a toxic culture. 

Don’t wait. Get your team together and develop core values. In the end, your group will be healthier, and your message made stronger.

Rev. Brian Lawson is the Director of Leadership Development and Client Services for YMI and has served in youth ministry since 2004. He also serves as a pastor in the Florida Conference of the UMC. Brian holds a Master of Ministry with a focus in organizational culture, team-based leadership, change, conflict, and peacemaking from Warner University. In addition to his degrees from Warner, he studied Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary. Click the social links below to engage with Brian.

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