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Thinktank Rethunk

Adam Walsh

Don't do ministry alone! Tap the creative genius of a diverse (and possibly unlikely) mix of people, and your ministry will reap the rewards.

The head of maintenance from a local school district and his wife, mother of four, who built a library in her home and works with underprivileged kids...A Scottish, soccer-loving electrician, married to a violinist who plays for the local orchestra...A woman employed by the Department of Justice...The manager of a physician's office and her husband, who's a former real-estate appraiser with an outstanding singing voice...An immigrant from the Philippines who maintains the check-in system, and her husband...A stunning beauty who writes novels and makes me cookies...What could this diverse group possibly have in common? These men and women make up our ministry's Think Tank, without which I would be merely an ordinary children's pastor and my ministry would be an ordinary ministry.

A couple years ago, I began to notice creative potential in various leaders in our ministry and others throughout our church. Eventually, I decided to form a small group -- a Think Tank -- that would brainstorm ideas and ultimately feed children's ministry with a kind of creative contagiousness. The results have been extraordinary. Whether the ideas from the Think Tank are big (new programming) or small (rearranging our trash bins), all the ideas we've implemented have had a significant, positive impact. The Think Tank has improved our ministry. And best yet, the many unique, valuable, and creative ideas that have come from the Think Tank have overflowed beyond the children's ministry into other areas of church development and growth. Here's how it works.


A Think Tank is made up of creative people who'd like to help improve, strengthen, or support your ministry.

How do you find these people? Or, better yet, how do you identify a creative person? Would you know one if you saw one? Granted, it's easy to pick out the guy with the paintbrush in his hand, riding the unicycle while playing jazz riffs on the alto sax over 5/8 chord changes and label him "creative." But the parent who offers a quiet "thank you" for the Fridge Notes at pick-up time, but who secretly scrapbooks, hosts her own Etsy shop, and blogs daily? Now she's a little harder to spot.

I subscribe to the belief that everyone is creative in his or her own way. And, more importantly, everyone has opinions. Tapping into others' rich creativity and valuable insight takes patience, and honestly, a little detective work.

First? Look for passion. Passionate people will eventually get around to talking about what they're passionate about. Furthermore, passionate people look for ways to experience every facet of their interest. A golfer who's passionate about the sport will be able to tell you who won the Masters for the past five years as well as details about the latest graphite technology for drivers. So how does that translate to children's ministry?

This passionate golfer (we'll call him Hugo) may not be able to give you a Saturday workday, but Hugo can certainly organize a Father-Son Golf Outreach, where dads and kids are matched up with twosomes who don't attend your church. That experience, in turn, will likely get Hugo's creative juices flowing regarding what other outreaches he can help with. I've seen it happen. People who don't have a niche-maybe they can't sing a lick or don't want to get in front of people and teach-are now a vital and creative part of your ministry. It's a wonderful thing.

Second: Look for consistency. The people in our Think Tank are some of the most consistent people churchwide. Not specifically consistent in volunteering or leading, but consistent in attending. There are members of our Think Tank who aren't volunteering in children's ministry, and members who don't have children, but every member has a proven track record of reliability. This is crucial to your Think Tank.

Here's why: If they're coming to your church every week, they probably like it for some reason. And if they've been coming for a while, they've probably got ideas on how to shine it up a bit. The consistent ones will remain consistent-you don't have to train them into it or hope they suddenly see the value of attending every week. And if they're already involved in other aspects of your church and can't make the commitment to become a regular member of your Think Tank, use email to bring them into your dialogue. Our Think Tank has active members who've actually moved out of state but still pitch in their intelligent two cents over the Internet.

Third: Go Sean Spencer on 'em. If you've seen USA's Psych, you know what I'm talking about. Spencer pretends to be psychic, but he's actually just really observant. He pays attention to the littlest details and then pieces them together to solve the mystery. So gather your clues: Have a family art night. A family talent show. A moms' or dads' night for your mid-week program or Sunday morning service. Then keep your eyes open.

Become a sociologist. Watch how your subjects interact at a potluck. Great example: A family in our Think Tank consistently wins the Ultimate Fan prize at our Super Bowl party because they paint their faces, color their hair, and bring signs and inflatable chairs. Some might call them odd. I call them the kind of outlandish crazies you want in your group. They'll throw the box (that most people think inside of) into the recycling bin where it belongs.

Find out which one of your kids has the mom who makes the best diorama at school. Find the dad who built the kickin' tree house with a zip line. Halloween is a great time to pay attention…homemade costumes? Faces that look professionally decorated? Get their number. Stat.


Step one: Meet.

Step two: Bring food, talk, write down ideas.

Step three: Rinse and repeat.

The people of your Think Tank will want to be heard. So listen. Take notes. Don't judge their ideas, and don't think you can do it better -- because you can't. Trust me, you'll want to pipe in with your ideas because you think you can add something…but don't. Let their ideas breathe. I consider myself pretty creative, but my best, most affordably effective ministry ideas came from other people.

Don't limit your Think Tank to only your area of ministry, either. You can take a portion of your time together to hit on a key area of your ministry, but let creativity have its way, and let it take you where you need to go. We've planned outreaches, reorganized the church basement, even gone as far as talking about home improvement projects for church families, none of which has to do exclusively with children's ministry.

Bottom line? Listen. Soak. Smile. And write down everything.


One single idea you've actually thought through, planned out, performed, and followed up on is worth about 1,000 ideas on paper. In our Think Tank, we come up with anywhere between 10 and 50 incredible ideas; but there's just no way we can get them all done. Put all of the scribbles in a pile, and decide (as the fearless leader) which are the top three to five ideas. From there, whittle down even further. If it's as simple as adding a few recycling bins to the hallway or moving your signs to a different space in the lobby, there aren't many details to sweat. But if it's coordinating a churchwide family outreach, it'll take more lead time. Here are other points to remember.

Overestimate time. Always, always overestimate how much time it'll take to do something. If you think you can repaint the preschool rooms in a weekend, plan for three.

Reduce your "should've-dones." Once you select the idea or ideas, set up specific times on the calendar to get them done. There's nothing worse than an idea left on paper. It turns into a "should've-done" really quickly...and that breeds regret (which is lethal to your Think Tank).

Honor the dead. Once the idea has lived and died, hold a brief ceremony and honor the dead by talking about it. Maybe it should remain in the pine box...but chances are, if your Think Tank generated the idea, you'll want to break it out the next year. Revisit the pros and cons of any idea that's been "executed," and evaluate whether it's worthy of new life.


Your Think Tank should only have one main rule, borrowed from theatrical improvisation: No denial. What this means is, any idea, any thought, any note, any cartoon, any napkin doodle, any half-sentence...Any and all are fair game. You have no way of knowing where the next golden idea will come from -- so work under the assumption that all ideas are good ones...or at least can be built into good ones.

The creative geniuses at PIXAR call this "plusing." Let's say I have a concept for an outreach, and someone else in the Think Tank grabs it and "pluses" it, adding to it to make it more effective and less costly. Someone else grabs it after it's been "plused," "pluses" it again, and finds an easier way to add volunteers. Now the original idea is more effective, more affordable, and run by more volunteers. This might go on for a good half hour, until you have a solid, doable, attainable, follow-up-able idea that'll include families, outreach, and training all in one.

Now for the minus: You may find that your Think Tank has been infiltrated by a Negative Nellie. The one who leans toward "We've done that" or "How in the world are we going to pay for that?" This kind of negativity can kill the room. This person must have all unanchored projectiles in the room thrown at him or her immediately. Pillows or even the socks from the Fan Technique* will suffice.

Seriously, though, start each meeting with the pre-emptive reminder that there are no bad ideas. Your enthusiasm and passion are infectious, and people will see how serious you are about the success of your ministry.

You may also find that your Think Tank evolves into something more than an idea generator; our group brings meals to each other after births and surgeries, goes to movies together, and as of the writing of this article, is planning a cookout for all of our families and kids.

So enjoy the journey! If God wanted us to come up with everything ourselves, he wouldn't have plopped all these wonderfully creative people in our churches. Remember, the greatest inventions, ideas, and advances all start with the same question: "What if…"

Plus a few socks in the fan.

Adam Walsh is the children's pastor at Faith Center Church in Rockford, Illinois.

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