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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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United Methodist Church


Brainstorming 4/4: Cleaning Up After the Storm

February 19, 2015
In this fourth and final article in my brainstorming series, we’ll discuss dealing with the aftermath—after the brainstorming party, what do you do with all the energy and ideas?

In the Worship Design Studio, the software Design App helps us move from broad to specific in the creative process. At, or after, the party, the “scribe” of the group (the one charged during the party to capture some of the ideas that fly around) creates a brainstorm note for each idea. At this point we aren’t worried about what service in the series each idea fits in… this is too much decision-making for this point in the process (although sometimes it is obvious and we notate that). Then the team takes the next couple of  weeks to add more ideas having been inspired by the energy created at the party. Creativity experts tell us that blasts of energy are good for idea-making. But time can also be our friend when it comes to envisioning more.

The Calm after the Storm

This “steeping” phase is really important for the brain. For me, steeping is like the calm after the storm. Stimulus is good for the brain, and you’ll get plenty of that at the brainstorm party. But the brain also does amazing things when it gets to “work in the background” of everyday life. Piquing curiosity at the party creates a frame–a kind of focus–in the consciousness, and you begin to see things through that frame or lens. 

I remember when I began to steep in the imagery for a big conference where the “anchor image” (the main metaphor) I was working with was a tree with the theme “A Future With Hope.” Having started my creative process far enough in advance, I had the luxury (actually, I would call this phase of the process a necessity), of allowing myself the time to move through the world and my other obligations with the tree image hanging out in the background. I began to see all kinds of amazing tables, bowls, platters, artwork made of wood that maintained the natural and wild “tree-ness” of the material. What came out of that was the idea to fashion a communion table out of a huge tree that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina (a recent occurrence at that time), making sure the base of it maintained its “tree-ness.” This ended up extending to the altar, pulpit, and font as well. It carried a powerful message of something beautiful arising from death and was one of the aspects of worship that captured the imagination of the gathered community the most.  Sometimes creativity happens in an “a-ha” moment, and sometimes ideas slowly creep into your consciousness and take up residence.

Clean-Up Grunt Work

Sometimes the next step after the brainstorm is simply grunt work. In the Worship Design Studio, I call this phase “resource gathering.” Resource gathering is part research and part list-making and simply requires putting one foot in front of the other in order to tease out, find out, and sift out more ideas. 

I love to research. If I’m brainstorming about a series called “My God is a Rock,” I’m going to begin to find out information about the geology in our area. This information might come from the Internet or perhaps from a conversation I might seek out with an expert in the congregation or community. I live in Tahoe. I have found out that the rock around here is formed both by ancient explosive volcanoes as well as slow-moving glacial ice. Isn’t that a bit like our experience of God? Sometimes we are inspired by big, dramatic “aha” moments, and sometimes spirituality comes through diligent, relentless practice. This connection might spur me to an idea about using lava rock and smooth river rocks at some point in the series as part of the visual arts or in some sort of ritual action response. As I make discoveries, I add them to the brainstorming board so that the whole team can see them. In the Design App in the Worship Design Studio, you can attach photos, audio files, YouTube and other weblinks to share with your team. The app also supports a Facebook-like comment feature for team members to bounce ideas off each other.

Resource gathering sometimes involves making lists. How many “rock” songs can you list? “My God is a Rock in a Weary Land,” “Lead Me to the Rock,” “Rock of Ages,” etc., etc. Going through song title indexes, looking at scads of creative commons license photos online of rocks, rocks, and more rocks, or combing books for poems about rocks, the earth, etc. are all good places to start. Like brainstorming, resource gathering is not a time for editing. The purpose of both of these parts of the process is to provide enough fodder so that when the time comes to choose resources for specific services in a series, we can make good choices with a balance of familiar and new.

Prepare for the Storm

Friends, I hope this four-article series on the first part of the creative process has inspired you to include the brainstorming process in your worship design. Too often, we start too late, and all we have time to do is “plug-n-play.” We don’t give ourselves the fun, the excitement, and the gentle brewing of ideas that will ultimately make the work we do more inspiring for us as well as the congregation. May you find joy and creativity in your worship planning this season. My prayers are with you on this journey.
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