Creativity fosters better leadership, problem solving and promotes teamwork.
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Not every church has a good process for working with their creative team, so how do we make sure our church has one? Aly LaBorde (Associaton of Related Churches) shares how to create (and maintain) healthy and sustainable processes with your creative team.
The content of this article is featured in an episode of the Yellowbox Creative Podcast, currently available through the following outlets:
Kevin: (00:09) Welcome to the Yellowbox podcast. I'm here, as always, with our good friend Trés. We're also here with our good friend Aly LaBorde from the Association of Related Churches. We are coming at you from Coastline Church in San Diego. We're hanging out with some friends for an ARC intensives.
Kevin: (00:29) Today, we're gonna be talking about the importance of process and planning, when it comes to creativity, and why it matters. It's something that Aly is passionate about; it's something that we're passionate about. We think that it makes a big difference in creativity in the local church from both a leadership perspective and a creative perspective. So we want to unpack that and talk a little bit about that with our friend and give you some insight.
Trés: (00:55) There are about a thousand things on a checklist for a church planter and they're in no particular order. And even if you put them in an order, they wouldn't necessarily happen in that order. Aly, you've gone around helping in assisting ARC churches in their ability to help equip and work with churches. Can you give us some insight on how process comes into play for launching a church?
Aly: (01:27) So being a “type A” person, I would say process is huge. It's one of my favorite things. I live and die by excel spreadsheets and all of the things that go along with that. But, I would also say, there's just as much importance in the spiritual aspect and knowing that what God is calling you to do. I'm a firm believer in: “if God is calling you to do something, there is a great process of how to get it done.” So you can only be as effective as your strategy allows to a certain degree. Obviously, there's things that the Holy Spirit can do that we can't and that will always be the case (hopefully that is never an issue for anybody!). But I also think that with great processes and strategy—we can more effectively support what God is trying to do through us.
Trés: (02:13) That is a great answer. Do you feel like it's something that is more common that people come into this idea of processes and systems? Like: do people come in thinking “I need a good process for this” or, do they come in like, “Alright. I'm ready. Let's go!”?
Aly: (02:28) I think most of the time people end up wanting to know what the strategy is. They know what God's called them to, but they don't know how to effectively do that. So, especially in what we do here, we know that God has called these couples to plant a church and we want to help support that in everything that we do. And that's why we exist. We are (by no means) perfect at it but, after 19 years, we have started to really see and develop some best practices on what has worked. I think a lot of the time people are like, “Well, I want to start a church but I have no idea where to even begin.” And that's exactly what we want to support. Again, we don't —by any means—say that we have it all figured out. There will always be shifting tides with the changes in culture that we always have to adapt to. But, at the same time, we want to help support (as best as we know how in) the God-given mission that these people have that are coming to us.
“If you're constantly putting out fires, there's only so long that your team can sustain that pace. You can't be healthy if you're always rushing, if you're always feeling stressed, if you're always trying to take care of things last minute.”
Kevin: (03:33) One of the things that we like to talk about at Yellowbox is a healthy creative process. If you're going to attract and retain creatives in your local church, it can't be “fly by the seam of your pants”all the time. Obviously ,there's fires that happen that we have to put out but (statistically speaking), if you're living in like constant firefighting mode—then you're going to have a really high turnover on your team. So Aly: what would you say to a pastor who is struggling to even understand the importance of a healthy creative process that works with their creative team? What would you say to someone to help give some insight and inspire them to think about that?
Aly: (04:25) I would echo what you said, Kevin. If you're constantly putting out fires, there's only so long that your team can sustain that pace. You can't be healthy if you're always rushing, if you're always feeling stressed, if you're always trying to take care of things last minute. But I would also say that for a lot of people, especially pastors, they tend to be a lot more creative. So it's very hard to take the time to stop, sit down, think through and process everything that you have in your mind (like the next sermon series artwork to look like and things like that). What I would encourage is, while that may be a challenge on some aspects of it to start to plan a couple months in advance, the further out the more runway that you can give your team—the better they can launch whatever it is that you're wanting them to do.
Aly: (05:08) And so they can work with you. If they don't get it right the first time when they create a design, it's not that you just have to stick with it because you don't have any other option since your timeline is so short. They have time, you can give feedback, they can make edits and they can adjust things so that you are, ultimately, happy with the final product, feel satisfied with what's going out your door and what you're presenting to the people in your church. But that only comes with a little bit of planning. And it is hard to shift from, “Okay, we're just trying to make it through” church planter mode. You're just trying to get to the next weekend and try to make things work. But at the same time, if you can start to make that shift, it really does help the team and you're gonna end up with a better final product and a much happier creative team. The team is there because they believe in what you're doing and they want to support that. But they can only support it depending on what you work with them on.
Kevin: (06:02) Yeah. I mean because Sunday's coming every week, right? You've got 52 weekends that happen every year.
Trés: (06:13) Thanks Aly. In your communications, are you talking to mostly pastors or teams?
Trés: (06:29) My husband and I, with what we do, talk with a lot of pastors because we attend a lot of conferences and things like that. At this point, my world is no longer working directly with pastors as they're launching churches. Occasionally it'll come up in conversations, but this is, it's a little bit more of what I used to do in the past a couple years ago.
Trés: (06:51) We built a process out and we build a structure for it. We say this is the best way to do it. Ultimately, we want the pastor and the team to apply it to their style. How does that process of ownership work?
Aly: (07:26) So are you talking ownership from the senior pastor's perspective or from a team perspective?
Trés: (07:30) I think either. I think that getting the process, should go through the pastor because they're where it ultimately stems from. But the team could say, “Hey, this is where it works from. This is what doesn't work on that.”
Aly: (07:46) Yeah. So, at launch, it may be difficult. You might not have somebody that's dedicated to graphic design or to any of the creative process necessarily. So that's a little different, especially if you're outsourcing it with another organization. But let's just say that if you do have a creative team. I think, yes, the pastor should own the majority of it. But I also think being flexible to what the creative side needs and what the people that are actually executing. They might say “Hey, my plate is full.”, ”I'm not fully dedicated to this staff.”, or “I'm not just doing artwork for one church so my schedule is going to fill up. So I need to know if you want a project. Let's reserve the time. Let's figure out what you want, but I need leeway up to a certain point.” And then the pastor also working with that to say, “Hey, this may work for my schedule, this may not. So I might need you to be a little bit flexible with that.” Ultimately I would say that in an ideal world, you have somebody on your team that's dedicated to just doing graphic design for your church. I would say that the pastor should sit down with them and say: “I want to pray and take time to hear from the Holy Spirit about what the next sermon series might be. And I want to make sure I'm hearing from God. I need this much time for that. I can only guarantee that I'm giving you my vision for that this far in advance. Can we fit a creative process? Does that work?”.
Aly: (09:25) And let's have that conversation back-and-forth to make sure that both parties are comfortable with what has been agreed to. And from that point, taking it in and making sure that each party is being held accountable to play their part. It's not a finger pointing game. It's not a, “You didn't get me this, so I can't do my job.” It's more like: “This week was a little different. You had a lot going on this week. So things got delayed. We will do our best to make up for it.” Grace on both sides, but also the effort to know that we're both supporting each other in this and we want it to be a mutually beneficial relationship at the end of the day where we're working together, not against each other. I would say grace and flexibility, but also accountability is always great.
Kevin: (10:20) One of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is that as someone who's trying to push a vision forward, a lot of times we understand the process because it seems necessary. But to some of us, maybe it feels like a burden. When I look at the scriptures, I see how God formed the universe. Like formed life. There was intentionality to the planning. There was intentionality in the process. And I think we get impatient in the planning and processes and we just want to get to the launch.
Kevin: (11:03) But the journey is a part of it too, right? The process isn't just mundane task lists you have to go through. It's actually where it comes to life; where the real creative vision is birthed and developed and starts to take root. So what would you say to someone who's struggling with creating a creative plan and process because it seems overburdening?
Aly: (11:32) Yeah. When you look at scripture we see that God sets boundaries on our lives and we may not enjoy having those boundaries, but they're there for a reason. You don't send your kid out to go bike riding without a helmet on. Helmets are obnoxious. Nobody wants to wear them, but they're for your benefit. So I think shifting the perspective on all of that to say, “Okay, yes, this is not what I would ideally like to do.” But at the same time, I know there is going to be a pay-off at the end and it's actually going to make us better as we continue to move forward. I think it's on the other side of things, it's also super difficult to retroactively implement a process.
Aly: (12:21) Growing up, I remember we would do something and my parents would say, “That's not a good idea. Let's make a rule about that.” But I've done it before. Like why can't I continue to do it this way? And so you're fighting the familiarity of it all. And so to fight what's familiar and to shift that culture and perspective is so much harder than if you put it in place right away. And then in church planting, you're doing this before you really have a team in place. You're in the perfect position to set it up to where it's going to benefit the church the most. It's ultimately not about you. It's about the church and the people that are coming in and how well we serve them. So as a church planter, you're right at the very genesis of it all. You can set up the right processes for the church and the people coming in those doors so that you can serve them from the get-go rather than retroactively figuring out why “that didn't go so well this Sunday.”
Trés: (13:23) That's another thing too because of how frequently decisions have to be made. These are key decisions to make for the organization and it's just Wednesday. I didn't expect to have to do this today. What's going on?
Kevin: (13:38) Haven't even had my coffee yet and, nowadays, decisions are hitting me in the face.
Aly: (13:42) I would add to that: you have so many decisions that are coming up (left and right) that aren't part of your typical weekly process. Say you do a sermon series for four weeks. Once a month you're going to have to sit down and come up with a new sermon series and create a checklist, so that, you're not forgetting something to give to the creative team. That's going to serve what you're trying to accomplish for the church. Make sure that you have stuff in place so you don't have to try and pull from out of thin air what you need to get done (in the midst of all of the other unexpected things). So set down the expected things, what you're working within, and then, you have more free time to deal with the unexpected things.
Kevin: (14:30) That was really good. We're always telling people, who were filling out that creative forms of project briefs, “Mark out time to do this.” It's that last check item on your end is your day and you're gonna try to blow through it in five minutes, and you're not really giving the creative team or the creative process the your best time. It's an after-thought when it should be a boundary. I like what you said earlier about boundaries: God does create boundaries for us, for our safety and for our protection. I think that applies in this. This is a boundary that we're going to set for our organization to adopt a healthy, creative process so that we can attract and retain creatives. This allows our vision to creatively thrive so that we can communicate the gospel in a way that goes much further.
“...for those type A people out there: loosen up a little bit. It's not always easy, but loosen up. Go with the flow a little bit more. And for the creatives out there: understand that the process is there and the people that are trying to make the process work is there for you, to benefit you and for a reason.”
Aly: (15:26) And I would even say with that: Yes, you need to set out time to be creative and to come up with the idea that you want to pitch to the team. But, even within that, allow for some give and take. I'm not saying that you need to change your whole vision—but allow for the creative team to ask questions so that they can have better understanding of it. Questions can be frustrating and annoying when you're just trying to get tasks accomplished. But the questions will ultimately help bring them clarity. So again, they can better serve you. So if it feels like they're asking stupid questions, they're probably not that stupid to them. They're probably really important so they can gather a better perspective of what they're working on.
Trés: (16:06) Helping the church planter is a huge part of what Yellowbox has been able to be a part of and it's because of ARC. And that creative side is only growing in the church. It's something we've recognized. This is why trying to identify a process is huge. Are there any last things—any little golden nuggets—that would inspire or equip someone who is trying to develop a healthy process?
Aly: (16:39) Yeah! As a type A person—I am all about process and order and structure for everything. So speaking from the creative side: it's a little more difficult for me because I don't always understand it. But I would just say again, coming from a type A person: we ask what we ask for a reason and we need structure to operate well (just as much as on a more creative side of things). You need that space to create and get away and hear from God and develop these ideas. The structure people, the people that are gonna keep everything working in motion for you, They need that just as much. It can be hard to find that sweet spot in the middle, but continue to work with grace to make it the best thing that you possibly can. And for those type A people out there: loosen up a little bit. It's not always easy, but loosen up. Go with the flow a little bit more. And for the creatives out there: understand that the process is there and the people that are trying to make the process work is there for you, to benefit you and for a reason.
Trés: (17:43) Perfect. That was really good. Again, thank you for your time. It's been so great to be here at this intensive.
Aly: (17:50) Thank you guys so much for the opportunity. It's been fun and we love having you guys around. It's always a blast.
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