Facing and Overcoming Creative Ruts

graphicheaderWe have all been there, the creative rut. As a Graphic Designer working at a church, I know everything I am designing communicates something important. Whether a kid’s baptism event invite, or a directional sign for our new care ministry, I know God is doing something big all over our campus. Each project is a small part of making that happen. It can put some healthy pressure on the quality of these graphics, and how well I can visually communicate even the smallest thing. Sometimes, I just can’t come up with anything, or at least anything good. What I like to do when facing a creative rut, is lean on all the guidelines I have been building. Sometimes these are things I can do while in my rut, or things I need to consider as I start to put pen to paper, or image to document. I think these things could be helpful in different creative areas, if you place them in your context.

1. Listen to the heartbeat…

There is a lot that you can get out of listening to a leader’s passion about their ministry, or hearing stories about how and why someone was impacted by a specific ministry or event. When I first started, I tried to attend each ministry’s event to get a good feel of their inner-workings and purpose. It is hard to design for something you don’t understand. I assume it is hard to pick worship songs if you don’t understand that Sunday’s message, or choose a stage design when you don’t understand the series. All upbeat, energetic worship wouldn’t work on a heavy, contemplative message week, just like a bright, bubbly flyer wouldn’t make sense with a ministry that serves those who are grieving.

2. Watch out for the impact…

There is a kind of assurance when I can see that a printed item catches attention and interest, that means I designed the piece well. If the response is a lot of questions, that could indicate interest, but sometimes it means I did not communicate clearly enough. Interest is ideal, confusion is detrimental. Even more important than whether something looks or sounds great, is if it communicates well.

3. Take advantage of Candid Criticism…

As a member of the staff that isn’t featured publicly, I have a bit of an advantage as I meet new people and hear their stories. No one knows that I designed the invite card they are turning in their hand. People tend to be more honest when they don’t know you’re involved. Some of the best feedback I have gotten has been from the candid criticism of new guests. Being watchful and taking in candid feedback is important to staying relevant and innovative. Ask people who you know don’t mind hurting your feelings, or don’t know it impacts you at all.

4. Put as much good design in front of you as possible…

No matter where you go, there is good and bad design, you are inundated with it daily. There are billboards, logos, advertisements, packaging, banners, menus, email blasts, and more. As you go through your daily life, take stock of what was both aesthetically pleasing, and well communicated. If something is particularly bad, take stock of that as well, and lay out why. When I said “take stock” I meant keep these items if possible, take a picture, write a note. I am sure it is the same for other areas, keep great worship songs in stock, go to sites that have great sound and tech tips. Like it has been mentioned in a past post, PINTEREST! Pinterest.com has so many beautiful design ideas, and one great advantage is that these are constantly being found and updated. There are lots of design sites that can offer a similar wealth of ideas, take advantage.

As I take these actions, and keep the things I learn in mind, the quality of communication tends to improve and grow. When I get in a creative rut, it seems to simply be a need to recalibrate. By going back to these things, I can do just that.

What ways do you use to overcome that inevitable rut?

Weekend Rundown: You Asked For It Wk. 2 (Jan. 10th)

New Set (Using Modscenes.com)

Sometimes there is a moment for risky creativity. When that time arrives, make sure you remember this key principle:

Courage in your creativity should not alienate,
but elevate the space for God to speak.

This weekend we tackled a topic in our “You Asked For It” series rarely if, ever dealt with in the church. The question “Is suicide the unforgivable sin?” was selected by our church as one they would like to most ask God. Our best guess on the reason for this is the large amounts of Catholics who attend and would be wrestling with this question.

So how do you program a service around this difficult subject?

We started by having a conversation around creative courage.

Too often creativity functions OUTSIDE, ABOVE, or BELOW
the focus of the worship experience

Outside: Creatives pay little attention to the theme or the temperature of the church at the moment. Ideas are forced, irresponsible, or irrelevant to the context. The creativity may be stellar, but if it doesn’t communicate or it alienates, it falls short.

Above: Creatives prioritize their art above the rest of the worship experience. That moment is propped up and overshadows the more important aspects of the message / theme that day. The “Ahhh” factor may be high, but the “Ah Hah” moment will be missed.

Below: Creatives put too little effort into enhancing the theme. They lean too quickly into easy routes (often called “low hanging fruit”) and don’t spend time discovering the last 10%. As a result, the creative is worthless and pointless.

For this suicide focused weekend, this perspective became important. Our desire was for the creativity to operate THROUGH the theme and worship experience.

We did not want to shoot below and leave our communicator on an island to handle the difficult subject. Our first decision was to NOT avoid, but lean into the subject matter. In conversation with our main communicator, we knew the question itself would be the first portion of the message, but the rest would focus on 1) those contemplating suicide and 3) those who have been impacted by someone’s suicide.

With this in mind, we decided to make it personal. Very personal.

We did this in two specific ways:

First, we contacted Holly Chamberlain who had attended our church and tragically her 15 yr. old son had taken his life two years prior. She had been working as an advocate to help others avoid this same path. After explaining to her the direction, she agreed to share her story, her struggles, and the hope she was living in every day. Initially the plan was to do a full live interview, but as we processed (over a period of days) a last minute decision was made to film and edit the first part of her journey covering the actual events surrounding the suicide. This would allow the live interview to follow and focus on “life after death”.

We try to avoid these last minute projects when we can through planning, but often times the “Third Way” wins out and our team (in this case Dave Cowan) leans in and makes it happen. As it played out, we couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. It allowed us to cover the “brutal” aspects of the story in an edited fashion.

Here’s the video:

Secondly, we selected a song to put a period on the moment. The song was Never Too Late by Three Days Grace. How did we find it? Just lots of leaning into various sources and listening to lots of music. The song has a subtle hope to it, but hits the subject head on. Our choices was to do the song in an acoustic fashion in order to lessen the “in your face” effect and keep people in the moment. This song would follow our live interview segment.  The lyrics spoke directly to the reality of suicide and the plea from a friend in an effort to save someone close to them.

The flow went from message, to the video, into a live interview that we transitioned to as an “interview set”. From there we finished the moment with the special song.

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Live Clip of Song from Service

Note: We pre-rehearsed the interview on Saturday following our music rehearsal. This was very important and is a must to make sure that it happens in a reasonable amount of time while still covering the important topics. The rehearsal allowed us to establish key talking points, flow and conclusion. It is a must and can be done while still maintaining the authenticity of the moment.

In the end, the reaction and moment was strong. Lots of powerful conversations in the lobby and throughout There was space for God to move wherever someone found themselves relative to this topic. The message leaned hard into hard and grace. The personal, poignant elements worked alongside the message to enlarge the impact.


  1. Don’t be afraid to lean into the hard topics.
  2. Keep the emotional journey of your audience in mind as you build the service
  3. Keep God in the middle of all the moments…especially the difficult ones.
  4. Possible hard, emotional moments are best dealt with on video so as to not unintentionally distract or sabotage the power of the moment

Don’t be afraid to lean into risk at key moments. But do it prayerfully and purposefully.

Entire Service on Video

Sunday Set List:

Let It Be Known


Give Me Faith

One Thing Remains

Run Sheet:

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Art Meets Digital: The Story Behind Our Christmas Service Graphic

LIH_16x92Series graphics are something we do all the time. Normally we are working our standard digital graphic creation process to arrive at a effective, finished piece. However, when discussions began around our Christmas Eve Services and having local artist Jennifer Main do a live painting, we decided to take a different AND difficult approach for our graphic and marketing. This was a big deal because the nature of this service means our deliverables will be extensive and large INCLUDING a billboard size banner on our building facing busy traffic. This graphic needs to be strong.

The decision was made to incorporate elements of the live painting into the main graphic look for promotion and marketing. Conversations began with Jennifer (our artist) about our Christmas theme and she began the process of finding inspiration to communicate this theme in 7 minutes. This early version would drive our final graphic.

She sent us a couple different options and the team settled on a one “look” that would work well. From there the project was handed to our graphic artist. And the process began.

Here were are three main values when creating this promotional graphic:

  1. The graphic must effectively communicate.
  2. The graphic must be able to be modified to fit the 20-25 deliverables required for our numerous marketing and promotional purposes
  3. The graphic must stay true to the original artwork.

Initially we had to go back to Jennifer to have her “cut apart” her painting into the various key pieces. It was important for Jennifer to send us the highest quality image of the chosen design. Our graphic artist then edited all of the elements of the design so they could be moved and adjusted freely based on the different deliverables we were creating. Alongside this  a high quality image of the background was used as a foundation for all of our deliverables.

As you can see in the pictures, we did not use the painted “Love is Here” on the deliverables. Unfortunately, it was unusable because of the fusion of digital text and painted art. (digital text next to the painted “Love is Here”). Instead we  finding a font that worked better for our uses.

Example of one of the elements we cut out of the graphic:

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Main Advertisement Graphic:


Invitation Card: 

LIH invite

It was a great project and stretched our team to make the elements come together and work to communicate our message while integrating the digital form and art form. Great learnings in this process.

5 Resolutions To Kick Off Your Creative Team’s New Year Right

New-Years-Resolutions-Poll-So you want to be more effective at communicating truth this year? You desire to creative compelling environments and worship experiences where people connect with God? Are you tired of the same old last minute ideas? Worn out from standing in the room on weekends wondering how things could be different if you just had a little more time to nail it down?

Well… perhaps there is some resolve you can make with your team to change that in 2016.

Here’s 5 Quick Resolves for 2016:

Consistent Creative Gatherings: Pick a day. Pick a time. Pick a location. Prepare ahead for the gathering. Set it in stone. No, really, deep in concrete. Let your team know that it is a priority and treat it as such. You determine the best time, but we have found the middle of the week to work well. Remember – this is not a logistics meeting, it is about collaborating, planning, dreaming, and wrestling with ideas. Very little actual execution should happen here. That’s for another gathering with the team that owns these elements. This gathering is mine for the moments that God is inspiring within you.

And then each week protect that gathering. Try it for 3 months. 60 minutes minimum, 2 hours maximum. If you’re leading the meeting, come prepared with clear themes and important information on each of the upcoming weekends. And then…create. Let the ideas fly.

Discover the Last 10% : Sometimes we can get lost looking for the big idea or the huge moment. Those are great, but we have found some of our most powerful, poignant moments are just simple enhancements or additions. One of our regular disciplines is to pour over the run sheet for our worship experience and look for where that last 10% can be added. For example, is there a visual additional/enhancement you can make to a worship tune you have sung multiple times? Is there a stage arrangement for a song that can focus the congregation more or signal a change in mood?

Pay attention. Don’t miss those moments. In the hecticness, be aware of these opportunities. Those small shifts can be that last “10%” that takes an ordinary moment and connects it with

Force Your Way Forward : Wherever and whenever your consistent creative gatherings are happening, drive the conversations 4-6 weeks out. And you will have to drive it there. This is not something that will happen naturally. Trust me. You will sit down and have every good intention to get there, but the urgency of what’s next will steer and steal your conversations from the future to the pressing present. 60 minutes later you will walk away wondering what happened.

Each week in our gatherings we are committed to touching on the future. Nothing has to be locked in, in fact, most of the time it isn’t. But as we lay in random ideas we know they are going to continue to be tweaked and changed so it breeds excellence and genuine impact. If you are spending all your time spinning your wheels about the present, resolve to aggressively force the conversation down the road.

Regain Some Perspective: It happens every weekend. You have a call time (show up) for your production team and a volunteer comes rolling in a few minutes late and looking pretty worn out.  You’re irritated, but somehow force a smile as they shuffle to their assigned position for the day so we can make OUR worship experience happen.

What you probably don’t know is that same guy pulled a 10 hr shift the day before. He rolled into his house around 7 pm, perhaps played with his kids for a few minutes, then had a late dinner with his wife, before dozing off on the couch while watching the late SportsCenter. So when his alarm went off at 6:15 am because he had hit “Accept” on Planning Center four weeks prior, he may have been less than enthused. That’s why he’s a few minutes late and crushing a massive coffee to wake up.

It’s OK. Get over it. Before you make that speech about this being MORE important than anything they have done all week…check yourself. Maybe instead of a speech, the best thing you can do at that moment is saunter over to where they are, have a quiet conversation about their week, ask them how they are doing, and affirm them like crazy for being there. And then make a mental note to send them a personal thank you this week with a small gift card enclosed.

It is possible to have High Expectation and Low Aggravation. Your team has lived with these ideas for weeks, crafted the service and thought through every detail. It will take a few moments at least for your key volunteers to get up to speed. Don’t expect them to grab a hold of the big vision for that service immediately. Trust that as it plays out, during your run through or as the first service actually happens, they will embrace it.

You’re welcome.

Before You Create, Critique: Part of the creative process is to always pause and re-visit previous elements, transitions, flow and any other parts of your worship experience. As we press towards, what’s next it can be dangerous to avoid what’s passed. It will be important for this to be an open conversation laced with honesty and covered with grace. This is where the sensitivity of your team or at least individuals on your team can rise to the surface. Don’t let that stop you. It is only through a brutal, thorough evaluation of what you are doing that things can rise to the next level. In conversations with the majority of churches, they tend to evaluate their weekend services from more of a positive perspective than is reality. Their inability to speak candidly about their elements and the execution of them will limit future growth and impact. Perhaps as the new year begins, take some time to evaluate.

One of the best ways to do this is a tool called the Four Helpfuls. Pretty basic. Pretty powerful. Four questions:

  • What is right that needs to be amplified?
  • What is wrong that needs to be fixed?
  • What is missing that needs to be added?
  • What is confused that needs to be clarified?

Once you have populated those answers (and this should take some time), identify the low-hanging fruit. These are basic items that don’t need more discussion, but just need an owner because they can be fixed immediately. From there, evaluate the deeper issues and create a plan to begin to tackle them.

When was the last time you evaluated your weekend services?
What is your greatest fear about asking these questions?
Is evaluation a regular routine in your creative process?How can 2016 look different for your team in this area?

You Asked For It: Wk 1 (Jan. 3rd)

We kicked off a new 5-week series to open the New Year. We choose to go in a bit of a different direction, but based on our sense of where we were as a church and as a culture, we went for it. Little did we know how difficult a series like this would be to ACTUALLY create worship experiences around those topics.

(BTW: Important question to be constantly asking. Merely plugging in series that you dream up or someone else inspires you to is not going to be as effective or impacting)

A survey was sent out in early December with 30 potential questions people may have for God. We asked hundreds of to choose the Top 5 Questions they would like to ask God. Throughout the month of January we will be working through them from #5 – #1. We are not revealing them beforehand, but moving through them one by one.

Today’s question was “What about those who have never heard about Jesus?” We choose to focus on setting up the series as a pre-message moment. In the midst of Star Wars mania, we used a Youtube clip as a father shows his son the original Star Wars for the first time and the viewing is filled with questions.

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We clipped the video and added setup text at beginning front and our series logo at the end.

The conclusion of the message pointed people towards the truth that most important thing was what they do with what they know about Jesus.  We capped the song off with a post-message song from Hillsongs “No Other Name”. The band did an acoustic version of the song and used a lyric loop with environments to accompany the song. This would be an example of what we call “the last 10%”. Song was solid as it was, but our intent was to discover simple, subtle ways for the song to move on people’s hearts at a deeper level.  Even though we have done the song as a regular part of worship in the past, by reshaping the presentation it took on new life. It’s something we have constant conversations around.

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(Lyric Video)

No Other Name (Hillsongs)
Note: We did radio version. Lyric video is set to 74 bpm on click.

Sunday Set List:

Unstoppable God

Christ Is Enough

Holy Spirit

Special: No Other Name

Lord I Need You

Run Sheet:

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