How To Lead A Creative Team Brainstorm

Over the last number of years I’ve have had the privilege of leading creatives.  Truth be told, I am not a “true” creative in the “I-retreat-to-my-inner-world-because-the-world-does-not-understand-me” sorta way.  But I still love to create, design and craft ideas that point others to Jesus.  

One of my favorite things to do with creatives is brainstorm.  Creative brainstorms are a great way to uncover fresh ideas, promote team ownership and give your broader team(s) a voice into service design.  Perhaps you work at a large church where your broader team includes production and communication departments.  Maybe you are at a smaller church and your broader team is you, your spouse and two couples down the road who occasionally help out.  Regardless of the size of team you have, here’s some ideas on how to mobilize your crew and lead a creative brainstorm that uncovers your next best ideas.

  1. Consider inviting different types of people into your brainstorm group.  One of the things that makes us unique are the perspectives we bring to the table.  Perspective is largely shaped by life experiences.  Opening up the brainstorming circle to include people unlike you, from different walks of life, means different ideas and perspectives.  Consider what other voices you can invite to your brainstorm.  Variety is the spice of life and the more varied the group, the more varied the ideas will be. 

  2. Environment matters.  Some of the most productive brainstorms I’ve been a part of have been outside of the office.  There’s something that shifts and that is helpful to the creative process when we change our external surroundings.  If not a full-blown retreat consider a nearby park or someone’s home or backyard – anything to switch things up.  Choose a place where you can feel comfortable, relaxed and at ease.

  3. Be mindful of how many people to include.  Creative brainstorms can become ineffective when there’s “too many cooks in the kitchen”.  At some of the larger churches I’ve worked for, we’ve intentionally made mixed brainstorm groups with representation from our communications, production and worship teams.  But we’ve limited the group size to 4-5 people.  This enables everyone (including the introverts) to have a voice and express their ideas freely.

  4. Put someone administrative in each group.  In addition to keeping the members of your group varied, identify someone to be a scribe who can capture and organize the brainstorming content.  I usually send each brainstorming team away with large 3M sticky notes and a set of markers.  There’s something helpful to the creative process when you have to write out an idea.  Writing out an idea brings it into existence and will help spur on helpful discussion to shape, craft and develop it into the best it can be.

  5. Give yourself time.  You can’t rush a creative brainstorm.  The best ideas often come from bunny trails and you need to afford your team time to take them.  I usually schedule at least two hours when I lead a creative brainstorm.  This includes time at the end to re-gather (if you have a larger group) and share the best ideas.  Bringing ideas to the larger group and noting how others respond will help determine which ones to move forward with.

  6. Think in buckets.  Most of the brainstorms that I lead are related to service planning.  Casting vision using buckets gives your team a helpful infrastructure to organize their thoughts as they capture them.  I usually give all five buckets to each team, freeing them to brainstorm in areas both familiar and unfamiliar to them.  I include with each bucket a description and a directing question to prompt discussion.

a) Programming – Songs and service elements
—> What do we want people to experience?
b) Environment – Church decor, vibe and feel
—> What do we want people to feel?
c) Marketing and Advertising – Promotional materials
—> How do we want to grab people’s attention?
d) Production — Stage design and lighting
—> What do we want people to sense?
e) Media – Video, slides and graphic design
—> What creative language does our audience speak?

My experience, especially when you open a brainstorm to include non-creatives, is that many people do not understand the unwritten ground rules of effective brainstorming.  I always make time to cast vision and clarity to set each brainstorm up for success.  Here’s some guidelines you may want to consider:

  1. Language and response fuels brainstorms.  If you are a “how” person, your sacrifice will be to hold back and simply “play in the sandbox”.  “How” people are important to the process but the first stage of creative brainstorms are not about the “how”, they’re all about dreaming up the “what”.

  2. No idea is a bad idea.  This is the mantra to adopt during a creative brainstorm.  It doesn’t matter how crazy the ideas is.  Often a crazy idea leads to a conceivable one.  If you think it, don’t be afraid to share it.  That’s what brainstorms are all about.

  3. Learn the language of brainstorming. The words we use during a creative brainstorm can either pour gas or water on the ideas the ‘spark’ during your brainstorm. How you behave in the brainstorming room is critical to your success. Here’s some suggestions to help keep the creative juices flowing:

When presenting an idea consider using sentences that start with…

“What if…“
“Imagine this…“
“Picture this….“
“I wonder if…“
“This might sound crazy but…“

When responding to ideas avoid sentences that start with…

“I don’t think…”
“I’m not sure how…”
“That’s not gonna work here…“
“I just can’t see it…”
“We’ve never done it like that before…”

Remind your team that your first brainstorm is all about dreaming up what could be. You can schedule additional brainstorms later to address the “how” and delegate tasks to team members. I often remind the group that their participation in a creative brainstorm may be a growth opportunity where they need to exercise self-control, less they be a wet-blanket on their groups ideas!

I always encourage everyone to be “maybe” people. “Maybe” is a great response to an idea that’s not your cup of tea or that you may be unsure of. It’s a neutral word that doesn’t put water on the fires of creativity.

What’s Next?

So you’ve had your first creative brainstorm.  Where do you go from here?  

Typically I will gather everyone up (if you have multiple groups) and have them present their ideas.  If you don’t have multiple groups, consider presenting your ideas to those who are in authority over you (pastors, leadership team, elders etc.)  I am always paying attention to how the room responds in these moments.  There’s clarity in the counsel of many and if the idea is convincing to others in a larger group, there’s a chance that it may be one worth using.

I never end a creative brainstorm meeting without casting vision for next steps.  If you have multiple teams, you probably need to have a smaller meeting with your creative team leaders to narrow down the best ideas.  Give the larger team a time-frame on when they’ll hear back from you and schedule a second brainstorm to present the winning ideas and brainstorm “how” you plan to execute them.

Ending with group prayer is a great way to promote unity, especially if you are bringing together departments that typically don’t work together.  

Leading an effective brainstorm will not only mobilize your team(s) but help take the creativity of your department to the next level.  The subject matter we handle ought never to be boring.  How we express our worship of the Most High tells others what to think of Him.  Step-up and wrestle down those fresh ideas with the community God has provided.  Psalm 133 says God adds His blessing anytime we bring people together to dwell (and brainstorm!) in unity.

Raise the flag and lead your team well – your best ideas are just a brainstorm away!


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