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Marcia McFee Dr. Marcia McFee
Dr. Marcia McFee is an author, Key Voice Blogger, worship designer and leader, professor, preacher and artist.

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Brainstorming 2/4: Bring on the Storms!

February 05, 2015
“And a great wind arose…” How many scripture stories contain this scenario? A storm begins to brew, disciples get scared out of their wits, Jesus rescues them, and somewhere in there is a lesson to be learned. Storms usually stir things up enough to get us out of our complacent ruts and make us look at life differently. In worship planning, how do we get out of the rut of what we’ve done before?  How do we tell these stories and teach these deeply important life lessons in ways that will wake us up anew to their transforming messages?

The storms I want to talk about in this article are brainstorms–some of the best (and most fun) storms I know. Like weather storms, sometimes our creative process needs a bit of “stirring up” in order for us to see new ways of telling an age-old story. This is what we are asked to do as we design worship based on a faith narrative that repeats itself in big ways yearly (you know, Christmas comes every year!).

The Storms of Life

I believe that our greatest asset is the “community of imaginations” that resides right within our worship team. Even if we are feeling a bit tired of the task of planning worship, there are techniques that can help us look at things from new angles. I’ve spent much time studying and trying out various creative techniques. I’ve learned a few things along the way that might encourage you to begin utilizing brainstorming as a step in your design process for a worship series or liturgical season.

Tips for Successful “Live” Group Brainstorming

There’s nothing like a group of people getting together and feeding off of each other’s ideas and energy to jumpstart the creation of a worship series. Preparation is so important in order to have a rewarding and productive session together. Preparation is good stewardship of our people resources. It isn’t enough to just invite people to sit around a table and “think” about what to do next season. Here are some things I’ve learned:

• Hold your brainstorming session in an informal space⎯not the church. When we keep the formal setting, brainstorming feels like a “meeting,” which is certainly not the kind of energy we want. Brainstorming is a party! You will need space to move around, a lighthearted feel, and, of course, food!

• Plan brainstorming sessions for a series/season way far in advance of the start date for that series. If we are too close, we are already stressed about getting some planning done and are less willing to entertain lots of ideas or things that might take more extensive preparation.

• Invite people who are not on the worship team. Infuse the group with three or four “fresh” faces to offer new perspectives. Seek out highly creative, fun, even whacky personalities that can help enliven the group. This may be the only role they play on the team, and that’s just fine!

• Establish a concrete starting place. I think the best way to come to the brainstorm session is with a title, a “theme” scripture and a two-three sentence synopsis of the main message. Here is an example:

Series Title:  “My God is a Rock” Thematic Scripture:  “The LORD lives! Bless God, my rock! Let the God of my salvation be lifted high!” Synopsis:  We will focus on the promises of God, the steadfast nature of God and how we, too, are called to be steadfast in our promises. We'll prepare ourselves for a new start in the Fall with some promises, as a church, to work toward fulfilling our missional goals and being a safe haven where all can know the sure foundation of God!

Ground-Rules for Group Brainstorming

Equally important for a successful and fun brainstorming session is for everyone to be “on the same page” about what a brainstorming session is and is not.  Here are some helpful ground-rules:

• Remember that everyone is creative, and each person’s perspective and experience is unique. This constitutes the greatest asset we have in finding ways to bring the Story alive–the “community of imaginations!”

• Welcome ideas without judgment (especially your own). A seemingly “corny” observation might actually be the catalyst for a deeply meaningful aspect of the season.

• Consider any possibilities. The extraordinary usually emerges from the ordinary. Become what I call a “metaphorager.” All we need do is open ourselves to holy surprise!

• Feed off of each other’s ideas. That’s what’s fun about doing this together! Offer any idea that comes to you, and play off others’ ideas.

• Explore several “right answers.” Don’t get too bogged down in one direction. Brainstorming is not a time to begin to figure out the “how” of ideas, only come up with lots of “whats.”

• Try not to make any decisions at the group brainstorm. This frees up the folks who can thwart free-flow idea-gathering by wanting to “get down to decisions.” My number one rule for team processes is to make decisions with a smaller number of people present!

• Notice your group’s energy and reaction to various ideas. When we “resonate” with something, we literally give off “paraverbals” like “ooo” or “aahhhh” or “a-ha!” These are good indications that the congregation might also connect to the idea or metaphor.

• Make sure you have people in place to capture ideas for further consideration later in the design process. We don’t want to lose anything, and even the greatest ideas sometimes slip our minds later.

• Trust the process...the Spirit is at work!

Start Making Plans

If you don’t currently include brainstorming as part of planning worship, look ahead to a season/series that is about 4 months away. Schedule a brainstorming party at least 8 weeks before the season begins. Think about who you could invite besides current worship team members, and get your theme, scripture, and synopsis ready.

Next week, I’ll share with you some brainstorming exercises that can help get your team started!
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