Have you ever been at the ice cream shop and felt that nagging tension in the back of your head? Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough looks perfect, but that Peach also looks real good, but then again there’s always Coffee, or Mint Chocolate Chip, or Strawberry, or any of the million other flavors available.

How can you possibly choose between all of these awesome flavors?

I believe this is the same problem we face when we’re in a creative planning meeting. The meeting is the ice cream shop and all of our great service element ideas are the flavors.

We can’t have all the flavors at once or we’d get sick, or I guess in this metaphor have a really weird, disjointed, super long service. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

As leaders, our role in the creative process is to be the one who decides which of the great ideas needs to be used over the others. How do you pick the best idea out of a bunch of great ideas?

I have 4 tips I want to share with you to help you become more comfortable with your creative decision-making. But lets make two assumptions first.

First, you need to make sure you have a healthy collaborative brainstorming process. I suggest doing this in rounds.

Round 1: Any idea gets considered. There are no bad ideas.
Round 2: Cut that list in half, and be ruthless.
Round 3: Let everyone pick their “Have to Do” ideas—the ones they think need to happen.

After these 3 rounds, you’ll have a great pool of the best ideas your team can come up with. You can always include a few extra that you think have extra merit that weren’t included or ones your pastor is keen on, so that nothing is excluded just because of a process.

Second, you need to understand that your real goal is to pick the best idea for the situation and not the most popular idea. Creative planning shouldn’t simply be a democracy. Someone needs to steward the vision for the gathering, and that probably needs to be you.

Your real goal is to pick the best idea for the situation and not the most popular idea.

Yes, you need to take input from smart people around you, but don’t fall into the trap that just because everyone voted for an idea it means you have to do it. There may be someone who can/should veto you (for instance, for me it’s our lead pastor), but it is your responsibility to pick the best idea for the moment.

You should also communicate this with your team upfront. As you’re forming your team, let them know that this is a collaborative process, but that you are ultimately responsible for making that final decision. This way, there’s no confusion as to how the best idea is chosen from the great ideas.

Now that you’ve got a group of great ideas, how can you choose the best? Here are 4 tips for learning to choose the best ideas for your church:

1. Know Your Church

If you don’t know your church, you won’t be able to program effectively for them. What things work well with them? What things help them respond? How do certain elements cause them to respond?

If you don’t know your church, you won’t be able to program effectively for them.

I don’t think you should only do the greatest hits over and over again (I mean, you can only do Cardboard Testimonies so many times), but it’s helpful to know that a powerful song with a media element resonates with your church.

It’s also important to be mindful of the rhythms of your church. Maybe you don’t want to do a huge opener 3 weeks in a row, or don’t do a big offering element in back-to-back weeks, or maybe you do! The goal here is to have a sense of the pulse of your church and to program accordingly.

2. Know Your Series

Understanding the heartbeat of the series you’re programming for is also really important. If you know the look, the feel, the purpose, and the intent for your series, you’re much more likely to program elements that not only elevate the series, but also help people connect even more intuitively.

I’m a big proponent of something called a series brief to get clarity around your series planning. Using a series brief allows you to map out the intentions and expressed themes of any series your church is going to do.

If anything, the series brief gives you the final piece of criteria that any idea must pass through. You ask yourself: Does this idea help us convey or achieve the theme, look, feel, or purpose of this series? If yes, you’re probably heading in the right direction. If no, maybe there’s a better idea.

3. Know Your Messages

Knowing your series is helpful for overall cohesiveness, but understanding the message for the morning will help you discern which of your great ideas is best for that specific morning. This can help you understand how an element might or might not fit on any Sunday and what kind of elements you need to be looking at for that gathering.

The message brief within the series brief will help you have a lot of clarity for that specific gathering. Being able to pass ideas through the application or bottom line for the morning can help you identify which ideas might fit best in that moment.

4. Know Your Team

Finally, you need to know your team and what they are capable of pulling off. This isn’t to slight your team; this is about understanding your team well enough that you can set them up to win with great ideas. Some creative ideas may simply be beyond the reach of your team…at least right now.

If there is an idea you want to do that seems like it might be too much for your team but is still worth pursuing, modify it. Tweak it, break it, shift it, and mold it to fit your church and your team. Find a way to play into your team’s strengths and set them up to win with an excellent idea.

Find a way to play into your team’s strengths and set them up to win with an excellent idea.

Following these four steps will help you pare down your ideas until the best one wins. And after all, isn’t that what we all want to happen?