The creative team at Champions Centre started planning for their 2015 Easter services in February. Their team dynamic is such that they can’t do the six-months out thing. They work at a fast pace and try to make each weekend service pretty big. So normally, they’re planning more like four months out, with their Team Conference planning being the exception.
When they began talking through Easter, though, they didn’t know what their pastor would be talking about. Pastor Kevin Gerald is very spontaneous. They’ve tried (or he has) over the years to get more locked down and create a better fluidity between the creative elements and his message. But it just isn’t him. And they’ve been able to work with that and relax into the rhythm of what that looks like for their team.
Fortunately, Sue Zimmerman, their Director of Creatives, can act as a bridge between the creative team and their pastor. She works closely with him by also being on the message planning team. Thus, she can listen to Pastor Kevin throughout the year and pick up on things he says. She files certain thing or areas of interest away that she feels might be a good fit for different services. Then, when it’s time visit Easter planning, she can remind him of things he said: “I wonder if this might be a good fit for Easter.”
Then as the message planning team meets to talk through stories, Scriptures, and creative idea support, she’s able to tell her pastor what they’re working on for the Easter service. Sometimes that gives Pastor Kevin a chance to speak into the process more, or at other times he might get inspired by the creative idea and let that influence his message.
Usually, the message planning team works 3-4 weeks out, so that gives the team enough time to tweak their ideas if there are ways to better support Pastor Kevin’s direction.
They’ve found, from a creative perspective, that they can’t wait for their pastor to drive everything. He expects them to be headed down the road on their own.
Of course, those who work in churches and know some of the harsh realities of ministry are probably asking, “But what if your pastor derails your idea because he or she doesn’t like it?”
They’ve experienced that before. There have been times their pastor hears about what they’re planning halfway through the process and says he doesn’t like it. But they’ve made peace with the fact that that could happen. Any leader, at some point, has to make the decision to move forward with planning, knowing that the plan could shift along the way.
Fortunately, they’ve never experienced the situation of having their pastor ask them to scrap everything they’re working on. More often, he’ll look at the pieces on the table and then give his feedback on things to tweak.
Everyone has a different relationship with their pastor. There are different trust levels. A newer creative director might want to elicit more feedback along the way. But a seasoned director who has years with their pastor, like Sue does, is able to move forward with more confidence – knowing more about their pastor’s likes and dislikes. You just always have to be willing to adjust at the last minute if something needs to change.
In preliminary meetings, the focus is all about gathering different ideas: songs, something from the Grammys, other creative elements… Anything they feel could create an exciting and relevant presentation for Easter. From there, Sue guides the conversation. But she learned a long time ago that she gets the best ideas work from her people when she allows them to talk through the ideas on the table. A lot of ideas tend to eliminate themselves. And then when there are only a couple of strong contenders left on the table, Sue steps in to help define the process.
- Can we make this a reality?
- Is this within our scope?
- Our budget?
Sue relies on her team to answer those questions, especially if they’re sold on it. She’ll ask them to bring back numbers, what it will take for lighting, projection, staging, construction team… If her team is sold on an idea, they’ll move heaven and earth to make it a reality. That’s why she often relies on the team to come to a creative consensus instead of making all the decisions herself. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to say, “This is what we’re going to do whether you like it or not.” Buy-in is key.
They’re a collaborative team. If the team is split, Sue will make the decision. Otherwise it’s all about consensus.
The cool thing about this type of approach is that it bleeds across department boundaries. The worship team, for instance, is just as in on this as the rest of the teams. So it’s never just the media team putting something together – even though they were a huge part of Easter 2015. But it’s all teams collaborating together, adding to the final product – not taking away.
The collaboration is what made the Easter experience so awesome. But they collaborate like that each weekend. They want to make each weekend feel like an Easter weekend. And that takes working together to make it all happen.