This is the story of how our creative team tried to ride a manatee to the moon.
The assignment was simple: a short promo illustrating the multisite model of our church. We have had multiple campuses for more than a decade, but there were so many new people coming that it was an appropriate time for a reminder of how this whole “one church, multiple locations” thing works.
It seemed like a no-brainer. So we assigned the piece to one of our most talented filmmakers with one charge: don’t make it boring. I remembered saying as I sat in his office, “This one is all you. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.” Two weeks later, I came across a screen grab of the final shot of the video, and there it was.
An Eagle Scout, riding a manatee, in outer space.
I asked what I was seeing. “It’s the final shot of the multisite video,” I was told.
Immediately we called the creative team together. What happened? The need was for a simple informational video. How did the Eagle Scout appear? When did manatees gain the capacity for interstellar travel? And what does any of this have to do with multi-campus churches?
Somehow, the explanation kind of made sense. Multisite is an idea that is old hat to those of us on staff. We’ve had multiple locations for over a decade, so it seemed almost silly to have to explain it on such a basic level. To the creative team, the facts were obvious, and to an artist, obvious often equals boring.
So they made it not boring.
How many times do we do this in our church communication? Our message is the greatest message in the world, but it’s the same every week. Those of us that have been doing it for a while have probably all had those moments where we’ve questioned if there’s any new way to say it. We feel the need to dress it up with creativity under the guise of making it more accessible. But really, if we’re honest with ourselves, I bet many of us would admit we’re actually making it more accessible to ourselves.
When you say the same thing over and over, you want to say it in new ways. And this is fine. There’s a reason the psalmist wrote “sing to him a new song” in Psalm 33. God made us creative beings; we are creations intended to create. Those of us working as church creatives feel that it’s our calling. But when we create strictly from the perspective of our own experience, we risk alienating those who need our insight the most.
Many researchers refer to this as “The Curse of Knowledge” (the book “Made to Stick” goes into great detail on this). Basically, our brains have become efficient at not spending time on things that we already know. This allows us to concentrate on things we want to learn. It’s helpful because we’re able to ideate more efficiently. But it also causes us to leave out fundamental facts when communicating to others who are less informed.
This can play out in your church in many different ways:
- Teaching a high-minded concept like Grace in your kids ministry, but leaving out the fundamentals of who Jesus is.
- Creating a worship experience that focuses on bells and whistles like lights, smoke, or lasers, to the point that people no longer focus on the content of the songs.
- Thinking that every video announcement has to be funny instead of being clear.
- Putting an Eagle Scout on a Manatee in space instead of just explaining that a church can have many locations.
We are all driven to create “new songs.” It’s why we do what we do. We honor God when we come up with new ways to share his glory. But when we focus more energy on being “creative” than being “true,” we miss the mark completely. We may as well pack up our Manatees and go home, because we’re just doing more harm than good.
Now whenever I am working with a creative team on a project, I evaluate the direction with three basic questions.
Is it true?
Is our concept consistent with the message we are trying to convey?
Is it clear?
Does the concept unambiguously communicate the intended message?
Is it fresh?
Does our approach appeal to people in a memorable way that makes them glad they heard it?
Successful creative work fulfills all three of these questions. Fulfilling one or two creates confusion. If it’s just true and clear, it may be boring. True and fresh can be exciting, but might not leave people with the impression you want to make. Clear and fresh without being true…well, that’s just wrong.
So stop being so unbelievably creative. Focus on the truth, and the new songs will come.