I recently heard an interview with George Lois, who helped revolutionize the advertising world in the 1950s. His innovations transformed advertising and made several of his clients into household names. I found his comments about creativity both interesting and applicable to modern congregational life.
Lois’ defining statement claims creativity can solve almost any problem: “The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. And I really believe that. What I try to teach young people, or anybody in any creative field, is that every idea should seemingly be outrageous.”
His thoughts resonate with what we are learning about congregations that not only survive but thrive in the 21st century. Let’s think about two of them.
“The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”
Every congregation must manage the polarity of traditional habits and originality. We live somewhere along a continuum between the two. Habits are both gift and curse to the follower of Christ. Our habits define us and give our life structure and depth. Conversely, our habits can blind us to new thoughts and growth that require a break in our routines.
Congregations desperately need to provide an anchor in the lives of people who find themselves caught up in overwhelming change. Having a place that worships an unchanging God and stands as a reminder of what really matters is a fine role for a church.
However, worshiping an unchanging God does not mean congregations are to worship an unchanging methodology. Those that do are cursed by sameness. Such congregations are apt to be trapped in habitual and robotic planning, repetitious events and a sameness that deadens and does disservice to our God, who is the author of creativity and originality.
Healthy congregations engage the part of their brain God intended to be used for creativity and originality. They do not disdain new ideas because they are new but filter them through the truth of Scripture and the Spirit of Christ.
Creativity and originality sadly are lacking in too many congregations who have come to equate only the habitual with the holy. Nature teaches us God is the source of an amazing diversity that defines everything, from people to plants to planets. Why don’t our churches embody more of this aspect of God?
How is your congregation doing at managing the polarities of creativity and habit?
“Every idea should seemingly be outrageous.”
Likewise, most congregations need to be introduced to some aspect of seeming “outrageousness.” Far too many of us equate different with bad, and so do our churches. Notice that the qualifier for outrageous is “seemingly.” Some of the most meaningful and memorable moments in our lives start out seemingly outrageous:
“Let’s get married.”
“We’re going to have twins!”
“What if we relocated our church?”
“I think God is calling us to Haiti.”
In the Bible, God repeatedly shows up with outrageous ideas and invites his people to live into them:
“Leave the land you know for a land I will show you.”
“Place the baby in a basket.”
“Cross the Red Sea.”
“Leave your job and follow me.”
“Pray for those who persecute you.”
The list is endless. We serve an outrageous God who invites us into seemingly outrageous acts of faith and service.
Appreciative inquiry is a powerful, strength-based tool that enables a congregation to think strategically about their future. As part of a process of planning, we invite a congregation to imagine and create provocative propositions. In the exercise, members of the congregation are invited to imagine a future possible only if God intervenes. The idea is to break out of our limited imaginations and dream God-sized dreams.
The results are nearly always inspiring and energizing. People begin to break out of the meaningless repetition that weighs them down and begin to glimpse the future God has in mind for them. The ideas seemingly are outrageous, but as we unpack them, they become innovative and inspiring catalysts for change.
Finding that sweet spot between outrageous and walking by faith is a very spiritual place for God’s people to be. How is your congregation doing with that balance?
It bears remembering that simply being creative and changing for the sake of change or just being outrageous are no guarantee of being in alignment with God’s dream for you or your congregation. However, doing so in the process of seeking to be faithful to the call to bring God’s kingdom to earth is an important component of a healthy congregation.
When we engage our creativity and fold in a sense of audacity and boldness, then we are becoming more like the early church than we may know. When that happens, we have a chance not only to survive, but to thrive.
Bill Wilson is director of the Center for Healthy Churches.