Creative Process: Soaking it all in

Originally posted at: youthspecialties.com/blog

Teaching teenagers how to follow Jesus can take every innovative bone in your body. In order to stay focused on this task, it’s important to develop a creative process discipline. Developing a discipline—even the discipline of creativity—can bear fruit in ministry.

Creative processes often start with brainstorming or dreaming. These are important steps, but I would encourage you to begin with soaking instead. Don’t worry—soaking isn’t sitting in a bathtub, waiting for inspiration to hit as you turn into a shriveled prune. On the contrary, the process is quite active. The goal of soaking is to saturate your brain with new ideas. To accomplish this, you consume and observe lots of content in many areas in order to inspire great ideas.

Many youth workers just wait for the perfect idea to come to them, but in my experience, very little of the creative process should rely on these aha moments. In his 2012 TED TALK, Kirby Ferguson identified the basic elements of creativity as copytransform, and combine. Kirby argued that every idea is a rip-off, modified version, or mash-up of ideas that came before. He explained that creativity doesn’t come from within—it comes from the outside, through interaction with things that already exist. This is very freeing, because by soaking in great youth ministry content, you can copy, transform, and combine those ideas to get some really unique concepts.

The first step in soaking is to identify the topic you’re trying to generate ideas for—perhaps you’re looking for ideas for Sunday school curriculum, new games for a summer camp, or a unique event for a lock-in. The second step is to make time in your schedule to wander, daydream, and explore without shirking your other youth ministry responsibilities. The final step is to dive in and start soaking. There really isn’t a wrong way to soak as long as you’re filling your head with possibly related content. I emphasize possibly, because you never know what direction you might end up going. Don’t worry if it’s wrong or right—just keep going.

It’s important that while you’re soaking you record things that capture your attention. Jotting notes in your notebook, creating a Pinterest board, logging ideas on a wiki, or snapping a few pictures on your phone can create a treasure trove of inspiration for later on.

For me, soaking often looks like

  1. surfing the youth ministry blogosphere,
  2. Googling image searches of related topics,
  3. reading a current-events magazine such as Time or Newsweek,
  4. strolling the toy aisle,
  5. exploring the weird things carried at surplus stores,
  6. flipping through catalogs for both the mundane and the bizarre,
  7. catching up on posts in one of the great youth-min Facebook communities,
  8. thumbing through old 1970s youth ministry books,
  9. visiting amusement parks and other local entertainment attractions,
  10. scrolling though Pinterest,
  11. spending time studying the Bible,
  12. scouting out the “what’s hot” aisle at the bookstore,
  13. picking the brain of a colleague or mentor,
  14. touring the hardware store, or
  15. researching the website of an inflatable fun rental company.

After a few of these sessions, you’ll be ready to continue on the creative process journey. If you’re looking for further reading on what to do next in the creative process, I highly recommend C. McNair Wilson’s HATCH!: BRAINSTORMING SECRETS OF A THEME PARK DESIGNER. The process of soaking will give your brain kindling to light the fire of creativity once you begin brainstorming!