3 Keys to Creativity
I’m not the most creative person in the world. In fact, a good chunk of the ideas I do have are… shall we say… ‘borrowed’. And you know what? I’m OK with that. There’s a lot of pressure in ministry, especially youth ministry, to be creative. To come up with crazy games, poignant messages, unique programming, cool set designs, big event ideas, and on and on and on.
Here’s the thing, what Solomon said all those years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes still applies today:
It’s all be done before. You can’t reinvent the wheel. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to innovate in our ministries. Do that, for sure! But, don’t put the pressure on yourself to come up with every idea from scratch. A great quote I heard once says this:
“The secret to creativity is hiding your sources”
No, I’m not going to tell you who said it :)
Even though I’m not the most creative person in the world I still have a huge stock pile of ideas to try out. Below are a few tips for getting ideas, saving them, and trying them out.
LISTEN AND LEARN
The single biggest source of creativity I have is talking to other youth pastors. Almost any time I get together with another youth pastor I ask about what their program looks like, what events they’ve tried out, how they do small groups, whatever. For one thing, I am actually interested in understanding their ministry. But, I’m also hunting for ideas.
The next biggest source is online communities of youth workers (FEB Youth Pastors, Download Youth Ministry Community, Stuff You Can Use, etc). Youth Pastors are great about sharing ideas and information. Sure, sometimes my Facebook feed gets clogged up with posts that I don’t care much about but it’s worth it for the gold that I find in there from time to time. Even if you’re not big on social media, those groups - and others like them - are an invaluable source of ideas.
STEAL AND STORE
Once you have sources for ideas you’ve got to actually capture them. How many times have you found yourself struggling to remember that great idea you had/heard/talked about a while back? It used to happen to me all the time… still does. But, I put a simple system in place to help avoid it. I’ve got a folder on my desktop simply called ‘Ideas’. In it are a series of documents for different categories - game ideas, videos, message ideas, illustrations, books to read, etc, etc. When I come across an idea I like I steal it immediately - download it, copy the link, write it down, whatever, and then store it in that file. I make a regular habit out of opening my Ideas file to remind myself of what’s in there and it’s the first place I go when I’m looking for ideas.
Storing ideas is critical because sometimes the great idea you find won’t work just yet. It might be an event you’d love to do but don’t have the resources for. Perhaps it’s a sermon series that just doesn’t fit in this year’s plans. Good ideas are worth holding on to and worth waiting for the best time to use. I’ve sat on some great ideas for years at a time waiting for the right opportunity to use them.
TEST AND TOSS
Finally, to be creative in ministry we have to be willing to test and toss ideas.
Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. It may have sounded awesome in your head or looked great in the video you saw; but, for whatever reason, it flops for you. When testing out a small idea - like say, a new game - it’s usually a good call to have a back up in place just in case things bomb. If it’s a bigger idea - like a programming change - try testing it before a permanent launch. Tell your people that you’ve got a new idea you want to try. Explain the rationale, give it a timeline, and invite feedback along the way. Let your people know that if it sucks you’ll toss it.
We’re in the midst of testing out a change in our small group ministry right now, actually. I explained the reasoning for the test with our leaders and when they were on board we explained it to the students. We put a timeline on it and promised to ask them for their input before we decide if we will implement it permanently. It’s a win on a few fronts:
- It lowers the risk on me if the idea fails - because I said it’s only a test!
- my leaders and students know they have input and feel more invested because of it.
- If the idea fails and I toss it - it actually builds trust because I’m following through on what I said I would do. A potential loss becomes a win!
In case you’re wondering, the idea - doing small groups at the beginning of our program instead of the end - is going OK so far. Not terrible, but not a big win over what we were doing previously. So, there’s a decent chance we’ll toss it at the end of the test period.
Creativity is vitally important in ministry, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the original source for every good idea. Hunt down good ideas by listening to and learning from others, store them until the right time, and don’t be afraid to test ideas out and toss them if they fail.