4 creative exercises to do with your team that’ll help you refresh, revitalize, and reimagine your ministry
Back in the old days, the most popular way to get a new idea was to brainstorm. You sat at a table with a small group of people, then tried to solve a problem by squeezing as many ideas out of your head as possible.
There were rules to this barbaric torture procedure:
- Think up as many ideas as you can, no matter how dumb they are.
- Write them all down on a big sketch pad or whiteboard.
- Scratch out anything that anyone doesn’t like.
- Pick what’s left.
The problem with what we call “brainstorming” is that it’s more storm than brain. While it’s good to work our mental muscles, brainstorming serves mostly to drain our minds rather than maximize their potential. (Or didn’t you notice how exhausted you were the last time you did a brainstorm?)
It would be wrong to say brainstorming never works. But why go through a creative process that feels almost as painful as having a baby? Creativity offers a better way.
The Path to Something New
If you want to be an effective leader in ministry, creativity is an absolute must. It’s the only way to keep your ministry thriving into the future. (And unless you’re teaching the exact same Sunday school lessons you were taught as a kid, your children’s ministry is the beneficiary of a fair amount of innovation and fresh ideas.)
That’s how it is with just about anything in life.
If you want to bake a batch of your favorite cookies, you have to follow a recipe.
Want to perform “Amazing Grace” with a band? You have to follow the sheet music.
If you want to take a road trip from Boston to Los Angeles, you have to follow a map.
But if you want to invent an original dessert, compose a new song, or go somewhere no one has gone before, you need something else: creativity.
Children’s ministry (and, honestly, any church ministry) needs refreshing and revitalizing more than ever. While we all may agree that “Jesus is enough,” we still face the practical, weekly challenge of getting families to participate in church activities and getting kids to engage in Bible experiences. A healthy dose of creativity in our children’s ministries is essential to attracting and keeping people week after week.
The Biblical Case for Creativity
God is creativity’s biggest fan. (He invented it, after all.) The Bible makes a convincing case for creativity in worship, learning, and growing our faith. The very first time the Bible mentions God filling someone with the Spirit is in Exodus 31, where God empowered the artist and craftsman Bezalel to use his creativity to make a variety of beautiful objects, including the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.
The Bible is full of people engaged in activities that require creativity: color design (Exodus 25:1-5), fashion (Exodus 28:3-5), jewelry making (Exodus 28:17-21), sculpting (Numbers 21:8-9), weaving and embroidery (Exodus 35:35), poetry (Song of Solomon), dancing (1 Samuel 18:6-7), music (2 Samuel 6:5), metalsmithing (Isaiah 40:19), pottery (Jeremiah 18:3), carpentry (Matthew 13:55), painting (Jeremiah 22:14), and many more—not to mention basic things like relationships, travel, and problem-solving, which all require a significant amount of creativity in order to be successful. Proverbs 18:15 says, “Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.” And Jesus himself regularly surprised people with new thoughts, stories, and experiences. His disciples could always expect Jesus to do the unexpected.
Expect the Unexpected
So what exactly is creativity? It helps first to understand what creativity isn’t: It’s not formulas, instructions, or blueprints. While recipes are designed to give you the same results time after time, creativity gives you something new. Maps show us exactly where to go, but there’s no guide for blazing new trails.
The purpose of creativity is to produce something unprecedented or unexpected—to do something that hasn’t been done before. And if the intent of being creative is to make something surprising or original, then the creative process needs to have unpredictability built into it. If you know ahead of time what the result of your process is going to be, then it’s not creative—it’s formula. (Which is great for things needing consistency or efficiency.)
The following activities are designed to take you and your team to unexpected places. They also double as rather effective team-building exercises.
Creative Exercise 1: What Would Snoopy Do?
- markers and
- an easel pad or whiteboard
To break the ice, have each member of your team share a favorite fictional childhood character and what he or she likes most about that character. Keep a list of everyone’s favorites as you share. (If your team is larger than eight, form groups of three for this part.)
As a team, come up with a list of three to five aspects of your children’s ministry you’d like to explore, such as worship, Bible lessons, or how you handle kids’ questions. For each aspect, discuss the following questions as they might be answered by each fictional character you listed earlier.
- What would the character’s perspective be like when it comes to experiencing this aspect of your children’s ministry?
- What would the character like most about it? Is there something he or she would like the least?
- What’s one thing you might change for this area to have the best impact on the character?
- What makes the character’s experience different from that of all the other characters listed? After discussing all the characters, discuss the following questions as a team.
- How might these characters’ experiences in your children’s ministry be similar to those of the real kids in your church? How are they different?
- What things could you do differently in these various aspects of your children’s ministry to engage kids more effectively?
Creative Exercise 2: Infinite Alphabet Idea Generator
- 78 index cards,
This exercise puts the principles of randomness and unpredictability to work for you. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet can be arranged into countless nations, any other set of elements can be combined into a cast number of great ideas.
First, write down 26 physical features of your children’s ministry on 26 index cards (one feature per card). Physical features include things like windows, floor cushions, Bibles, chairs, goldfish crackers—just about anything you can find in your children’s ministry area. On the other side of each card, write one letter of the alphabet from A to Z.
Next, write 26 kinds of activities, events, or programs related to children’s ministry on 26 new cards (one per card). For example, you could write singing, communion, check-in, volunteer training, parent newsletters, or Bible lessons. On the other side of each card, write one letter of the alphabet from A to Z.
Now write 26 child-friendly spiritual topics (such as forgiveness, God’s love, or patience) on 26 more cards (one per card). Again, on the other side of each card, write one letter of the alphabet from A to Z.
You now have three sets of 26 cards—78 cards total. Each card should have a word or phrase on one side and a letter of the alphabet on the other. Keep each pile separate.
Creating New Experiences
On a sheet of paper, write 20 to 30 three-letter words.
With your team, go through your list of three-letter words one at a time, selecting a lettered card from each of the three piles. For example, if the word is “cat,” select the C card from one pile, the A card from the next pile, and the T card from the last pile.
The three cards will give you a combination of elements—one physical feature of your children’s ministry, one activity, and one spiritual topic. As a team, talk about how those three elements could be combined to create a new experience for your children’s ministry. It could be a lesson for the kids, a devotional activity for your volunteers, an outreach to parents in your community—anything. Write down your ideas.
After a few minutes, move on to your next three-letter word and new combination of elements. Repeat the exercise, mixing those new elements to generate some more ideas.
Some of the combinations won’t amount to anything interesting, and that’s okay. But some of the combinations will lead you to something unexpected and creative. This exercise is designed to open your eyes to fresh ideas and insights you wouldn’t have considered through your normal thought- generation process.
You can take this exercise further by thinking up your own variations of the card piles. All you need is more index cards! (Or if you’re feeling especially creative, something even more interesting than index cards.)
Creative Exercise 3: The Diffendoofer Church
- copy of the Dr. Seuss book Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
Have your team read aloud the book Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! twice—the first time just for fun, and the second time as if you’re reading about a church. Then discuss the following questions together.
- What kinds of subjects would a Diffendoofer children’s ministry teach?
- What kind of character traits would the leaders in a Diffendoofer church be known for? Do you think those traits would be suitable in a children’s ministry? Why or why not?
- Name some aspects of your church or children’s ministry that might be more likely to be found in Flobbertown.
- What specific qualities make a Diffendoofer church different from a Flobbertown church?
- In what ways could your children’s ministry be more Diffendoofer-like? In what ways could it be less like Flobbertown?
Creative Exercise 4: Wrap It Up
- roll of bulletin board paper,
- several large objects,
- colored markers
Find three large objects, such as a door, a television, and a refrigerator. Wrap each object with bulletin board paper in such a way that you can clearly identify the object after it’s wrapped.
As a team, take a few minutes to think of how each object might be a metaphor for your children’s ministry. For example, a door might symbolize hospitality, surprises, or salvation. Choose one metaphor for each object, and use a marker to write it in big letters at the top of each wrapped object.
Give team members each a colored marker, and have them take time to write questions on the large objects. For example, if your door symbolizes hospitality, you might write questions such as, “What are we doing to make every child feel welcome?” or “What things might make a child feel like an outsider in our children’s ministry?” Ask your team to be thoughtful, honest, and tough in their questions.
After writing all your questions on each object, take time as a team to thoughtfully answer each question, writing all your answers and potential solutions on the bulletin board paper.
Jeff White is an executive editor for Group, where he produces creative content for a variety of innovative resources including books, apps, mobile games, and ministry programs. He has written more than 20 books related to church ministry and faith development, including the Friends With God Story Bible.
For more great ideas like this in every issue, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!