The term creative director is a bit of a misnomer. In most churches, it actually means trying to be as creative as possible while leadership shoots down most of your best ideas. At least that’s what I felt like when I worked at my church a few years ago.

So when my brother, who had been hired as the new college pastor, approached me with the idea to start a new ministry, I got excited. He gave me full liberty to be as creative as I wanted. That’s what I did.

This was going to be something Corpus Christi, Texas had never seen before. It was 50 minutes of pure awesome. We met in an old church building that we renovated with dimly glowing light bulbs. The stage design was a pulsing platform of light…and it wasn’t pulsing without purpose. Every second of the service had heavy beats providing the soundtrack for evening.

My band and I laid down an intense set of obscure indie Christian songs, then I hopped off the guitar and onto my synths and drums machines to live-mix beats and atmospheric sounds behind my brother’s message. He talked about what was going on in the world and how attendees could be a part of world change. Then he gave a message that fired people up to do something radical.

There was an energy and vibe that I’ve never experienced before and haven’t experienced since. It was incredible. Unfortunately, the ministry bombed. It was so unique that people didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t know how to tell their friends about it because they couldn’t describe it. And when they did try to describe it, it sounded weirder than it did intriguing to potential visitors.

We finally gave up and the college ministry sputtered out into nothingness.

I think I’ve learned some things since then that would have made the meetings a success. In fact, I think we could have kept the same vibe but done a few things to make this new thing work for the audience we were trying to reach. And that’s what this article is about: the few tweaks I wish I would have made.

This article is about the three keys to starting something new and giving it the best shot for success. Here’s what I’d recommend.

Find the Perceived Need

There’s a marketing principle that I see as a form of pure love. It’s to find the customer’s felt needs and find a way to meet those with a product. That’s what we failed to do. We created a cool product, but we didn’t connect it immediately with what the college kids on our town felt they needed.

First, figure out what the people you’re trying to reach need from your new thing. Note: that’s not the same as what you think they need. What they actually need and what they think they need are different things. Start from their perspective first. Meet that need first. Then fulfill their greater need after.

What they actually need and what they think they need are different things.

Get specific. If it’s a sermon series on relationships, don’t stop there. What is the need people have when it comes to relationships? It might be a few, so identify those. Then use those in your marketing.

Find the Expectations

Anytime someone goes to a new church, restaurant, or business, they have certain expectations. As a creative mind, it’s tempting to want people to approach with no expectations. That’s what I felt when I created that college ministry. I wanted it to be a complete surprise each week. But people did have expectations. And when we failed to meet those expectations as a baseline, they left feeling unsatisfied.

When we failed to meet those expectations as a baseline, they left feeling unsatisfied.

Discover what people expect, and if you’re giving something to them that they don’t expect, clarify this in your advertisements. Focus on what they will get from the new project. To be honest, you don’t really need to advertise anything other than the usual. People know what to expect from a sermon series or a church service or a youth group. Focus on what makes yours different.

If it’s something people never experienced, find something people can relate it to. Think Chipotle: As a new concept, they had to compare it to a Subway for burritos. It makes sense and helps ease some of the fear people might have from approaching such a new place.

We failed to do that with our cryptic invite-cards.

Find the Extras

Make sure you meet expectations. That’s the minimum. But don’t leave it there. Find a way to add extra things to your new venture.

This is what we’d call the “wow” factor.

You don’t have to do expensive things to create the wow factor. Going above and beyond the coffee and donuts might be a simple way to provide wow for a new church service. Bringing in a famous guest speaker to do a ten-minute TED talk on your series topic might be a way to provide wow for a new series.

Don’t advertise these extras. Don’t even hint at them. These are fun surprises for those who take the risk of investing in your new thing. And when you consistently add these wow moments to the new things you try, new things become easier and easier to advertise. When you consistently deliver excellence and wow, you’ll get that word-of-mouth promotion every church prays for.

When you consistently deliver excellence and wow, you’ll get that word-of-mouth promotion every church prays for.

To be honest, this is the one thing we excelled at in our college ministry. The whole thing was a wow. Unfortunately, we failed to do the first two things. And that’s where we missed the mark.

All of these things, when combined together, will make that new project accessible to people. It’ll make it something people are willing to try. And it’ll give you a better chance for success.

So go! Start that new sermon series, that new ministry, that new service, that new worship night… Start and do it with excellence.