Getting Away to Find New Ideas

Anthony Miller took his creative teams to the beach last month. It wasn’t for fun, though. Really. Miller, pastor of communications at Saddleback Church based in Lake Forest, California, sees nature as a starting point for idea-making.

“God is the God of creation, so in our creative process we seek him there,” says Miller, who oversees all messaging and design for the megachurch, which serves 30,000 people weekly at 18 campuses on four continents.

Saddleback’s source of inspiration is not looking at what other churches do or what’s happening in the marketplace, he says. In Miller’s communications strategy, seeking the Holy Spirit’s input comes first.

Each member of the strategy team and the creative team is expected to spend time in “individual ideation” during off-site retreats, soaking up God’s Word even while soaking up sunshine. Then they come together for some collective brainstorming.

“Our starting place in the church and in our communications is always the question, ‘How can we serve people in their pain?’ Then we come together and put what each of us has come up with on the wall and start brainstorming.”

They look for common themes. Then they debate and discuss until two or three concepts seem strongest. The next step is to ask, “What is the story here that God is trying to tell our church?” Only after they decide on the story do they focus on the visual communication of the message—its style.

“I always tell my teams, style is shallow, story is deep,” says Miller.

Miller applies the three-S ideation process—strategy, story, style—to every project, whether it’s starting a new ministry, announcing a new sermon series, promoting the next big holiday or launching a yearlong campaign.

“Both the strategy team and the creative team must work together to produce something persuasive as well as attractive,” Miller says. “As the church, we need to get people’s attention and engage them to take action. Just getting their attention won’t cut it. We are called to make disciples, which means we teach them to go and do.”

Anita K. Palmer
Anita K. Palmer

Anita K. Palmer is an Outreach magazine contributing editor.