You may not need money to be creative, but you do need some elbow grease.
I grew up in a creative home with a limited budget, which caused us to find uses for everything: silver spray paint and toilet paper rolls (jet packs), cardboard (backdrops for Peter Rabbit, Space, and Dinosaur birthday parties), milk crates (molds for snow forts), an unused mattress (an indoor slide), and the library (free entertainment). To me, creativity was never a question of money. It meant some hard work, an occasional late night, and an ability to envision something that wasn’t yet there. It entailed looking at a thing, like the mattress or milk crate, and seeing possibilities.
What is Creativity?
Webster defines “creativity” as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Its synonyms include “inventiveness,” “imagination,” “innovation,” and “originality.” I like some of the synonyms. Creativity requires inventiveness and regular exercise of the imagination muscles.
I’m not so sure about the actual definition. I think everyone is creative, albeit in various ways, and it doesn’t always take place with “the production of an artistic work.” My brother, for example, is a coastal engineer and highly creative. (He always says he isn’t. I beg to differ.)
He sees the world differently from me. Because of that, he comes up with solutions I’d never dream of. He speaks about his realm, and when I hear his passion for physics and water samples, I realize he’s not so different from me. He sounds exactly like I do when I talk about creativity and faith or literature.
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” -Charles Mingus
I think the variety is a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everybody were creative in the same way. We aren’t. God made us to reflect his beauty in myriad ways. (John Piper would say we’re prisms of grace.) Some of us do that through math and science or social media. Others take up a paintbrush and paint a mural in the children’s nursery or turn extra-large, black plastic bags into a big fish.
Creativity in the Church
If my definition of creativity is used, that means any church, large or small, can be creative. The budget doesn’t matter. (Time often does.) What matters is looking at the “loaves and fishes” available and multiplying them.
Plus, constraints unleash creativity. I’ll give an example: the church I attended in grad school. We were a church plant, meaning we had a budget of next to nothing. That didn’t stop the creativity from flowing. My pastor hailed from a graphic design background, so he thought visually. He used object lessons in almost all his sermons and occasionally printed take-home items. (I still have my “Plant Your Hope in Jesus” card. It hangs on the refrigerator.)
“I’m a big believer in creating parameters for creativity. I think parameters make people more creative. So that starts with my budgets.” -Jason Blum
He also encouraged people to get involved, especially the artists. He desired to hear poems and see sketches. His energy was so infectious that I created an “intern” position and worked with him to finalize a logo and connection card. It was, to put it politely, creativity on the leanest of budgets.
Creativity and Constraints
The thing about budget and time constraints is that they force adjustments in perspective. They prompt the church communicator to ask, “What can I do in this amount of time? How can I create content and stay within the budget? What can I do with the people and content I already have?”
Those questions usually lead to solid answers and game plans. If you have limited time, you scale back the creative. You can deliver fast, good, or cheap, but you rarely can accomplish all three.
“If you want creativity, take a zero off your budget.” -Jaime Lerner
If the question is one of budget and resources, you look for more affordable options and alternative solutions. Maybe you have to cut the dry ice and lights at the youth group event, but kids don’t remember those things anyway. They recall the youth group leader who gave them a hug when they desperately needed it or said some phrase that changes how they think about high school and college. If you can’t have the dry ice—and maybe even if you can—you should focus on equipping the leaders with the materials they need to impact kids.
And resources… the church brims with untapped talent. You just need to bang on a few doors and start asking questions. Somebody has the talent you need or knows a somebody who does. You do not have to be Superman. When you work or volunteer in a church, you belong to a community, and communities work together. They share the load. When they do, creativity (and laughter and tears) abounds.
Looking for some inspiration and how-to’s on creativity? Check out these other posts:
- 52 Ways to Reinvigorate Your Creativity
- Bono on Honest Creativity in Church
- Blaine Hogan on Creativity
- How to Think Creatively to Solve Problems
- Creative Event Promotions
And, if you’re looking for other ways to be creative on a shoestring budget, check out Courageous Storytellers, an online community with resources, webinars, and articles for church communicators.