I saw an ad recently that caught my attention. I watched it several times while I was streaming a TV show on Hulu and thought it was pretty amusing. The commercial was so entertaining that, of course, I wanted to share it with some friends a few days later. Except there was one problem—I couldn’t remember who or what the ad was for.

I headed to YouTube and started typing in some keywords of things I recalled from the ad and within a minute or so I found it. As I watched it through to the end and the product was revealed, I realized why I couldn’t remember. There seemed to be no connection between the creative, entertaining part of the ad and the actual product they were selling. What was meant to help sell a product took on a life of its own and it became the main message itself.

This happens all the time in advertising. I’m sure you can think of a few examples of your own. But unfortunately, if we’re not careful, this can also happen in our communication within the church. How can we keep our messages and projects on target so that our end result matches our original goal? Here are a couple things that can help.

Define the problem and goals clearly.

Essentially, every task you’re given as a church communicator is the result of a need or problem that requires a solution. For example, if you’re given the orders to create a new website for your church, it’s probably because there is something specific that’s not working about the current site. Or if you’re tasked with designing a new series graphic, it’s probably because your church needs a visual way to represent the sermon series. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

But oftentimes as creatives, we’ll take a problem that has a simple solution and use it as an opportunity to go overboard. The project becomes more about the creative ideas or pushing the envelope than about meeting the need or communicating the message. Of course, we want to be creative and find interesting ways to communicate, but there must be a balance. It’s far more important for your end result to be effective, than merely to be memorable.

It’s far more important for your end result to be effective, than merely to be memorable.

That’s why it’s so important at the start of the project to define the objectives before diving into the ideating process. So for the website example, you might be told, “We need a new site because no one can find the service times or information.” If that’s the only problem, the solution is fairly simple—make the service times easier to find. That would complete the project and make it a success. The hard part is in fighting the urge to totally redesign and rebuild the website. Although that might be more exciting, it’s probably not the best solution.

If we have clearly defined goals that we can refer back to at every step of the project, it’s easier to stay on track. We create more effectively when we’re focused on meeting the goal.

We create more effectively when we’re focused on meeting the goal.

Set constraints to help focus.

I’ve been in many sermon series creative meetings. I can remember times where the creativity was flowing among the group, but the ideas that were being produced were totally unrealistic for our church—or any church—to execute. People suggested things as if we had an unlimited amount of time, money, and volunteers. And most of these ideas were epic, but in the end, didn’t really communicate or support the message.

Having a set of clear constraints can help guide the brainstorming and creative process. Budget and time limitations are often set for us when we’re given a new project. But if they aren’t, we need to establish those right away. Try setting a few other limitations, especially if the task is routine or relatively small, so things don’t get out of hand. You can limit the time you set for brainstorming, or even the number of people who can contribute thoughts. The idea is not to limit creativity, but to stick within the guardrails of what’s doable and what accomplishes the specific goal.

We want people to remember the message, not the way we chose to communicate it.

Any time we’re given a task, there’s always the risk that we’ll lose the original focus and get wrapped up in the ideas we generate. We have to fight the urge to get lost in creative brilliance. We want people to remember the message, not the way we chose to communicate it. The sweet spot is when we find the right balance between creativity and solving the problem.