Just days into coronavirus-spurred social distancing, we’re all adjusting to how it impacts our lives. Although we might be pressed to admit it, COVID-19 brings a culturally imposed Sabbath—a slower pace that many of us welcome. Our to-do lists are shrinking, our social calendar no longer owns us, and there are plenty of binge-worth shows on Netflix.
For some church leaders, the workflow hasn’t slowed down just yet. Adjusting worship and discipleship strategies to digital outlets is taxing. These logistical (and even theological) challenges have created a heavier workload. Our team at CDF Capital has engaged with hundreds of church leaders in recent days, helping them to meet threat head on.
Now, more than ever, we must create.
But I anticipate that, very soon, church leaders will have recaptured their rhythm and figured out how to keep ministry moving throughout this period of isolation. The American church was born out of adaptivity—we constantly figure out what it takes to spread the gospel and get things done. Solutions manufactured during this crisis will never feel completely natural, but they will fill the gap until normalcy returns.
If this virus continues to linger, church leaders will eventually have additional time on our hands. There’s a leadership adage that encourages us to “never waste a crisis.” Additionally, it’s said “necessity is the mother of invention.” We should take this to heart. Years from now this could be viewed as one of most innovative times in the history of the American church if merely we embrace the gift of time.
Now, more than ever, we must create.
Too often, the responsibilities of ministry prohibit us from devoting time to creativity. In our former lives, when “busy” was a badge of honor, we would emulate the successful solutions of other churches instead of looking inward toward creative solutions. But with our calendars cleared, ministry leaders will finally have the bandwidth to pause, imagine, and think.
Now is the perfect time to gather your team together and make stuff.
In my doctoral dissertation, I studied the theology and practice of creativity in the church. I discovered that there are environmental stimuli that lend themselves to maximizing creativity: space, proximity, diversity, and chaos. If I were to advise churches on how to maximize their creativity in a time such as this, I’d suggest seeking ways to utilize these components for ministry.
Location is a key stimulant in the creative process. The influence of space on creativity has long been overlooked, despite its powerful influence. Economist Alfred Marshall in 1890 made a correlation between space and creativity as he investigated how Italy was able to transition from a rural to industrial society. He ultimately attributed the growth to the development of clustered districts in the country. Innovation was spurred by location.
One of the benefits of this virus-induced seclusion is that we’re spending more time in our homes. As you’re adjusting to working at home, you might have discovered that there are few spaces in our houses conducive to creativity. It can be helpful to set aside an area in your house designed to spur focus and inspiration. It doesn’t have to be an entire room, but at the very least should be a space with pleasant lighting and minimal distractions. Before you try to get creative, set the scene for the work ahead.
American culture tends to value individual successes over communal ones. I predict that self-quarantine will reveal to us just how valuable being close to other people is to our productivity. In nearly all fields—whether business, the arts, or politics—proximity to key individuals is an indicator of future success; in essence, the closer we are to sharp minds, the easier it is to access their knowledge to maximize our own talents.
To be creative, you need to connect with people. Obviously, you won’t want to gather groups together in this time of distancing. Fortunately, there are endless technological options for setting up meetings online. If you plan on brainstorming ideas with a group, make sure there are only a handful of people. Smaller groups best empower people to share their thoughts and dreams. In pulling people together longing for a break from isolation, you’ll develop creative clusters where new ideas will be free to emerge.
Place and proximity are maximized when infused with a collection of varied voices. Though people gravitate toward homogeneity, embracing diversity allows us to contradict our natural tendencies by interacting with perspectives unlike our own. Author Jonah Lehrer refers to this idea as knowledge spillover. When people are exposed to views that differ from their own, they must attempt to integrate new content—a key ingredient to innovation.
You need a little chaos to truly create.
This stimulus is actually more accessible to church leaders in this time of seclusion: you now have access to diverse voices in your own church. Many professionals are temporarily working at home, so they may have the flexibility to take a break and contribute time to the church. With time on their hands, they’ll be more available to volunteer their expertise in helping ministry. Invite these professional to an online brainstorming session, expose your ministry staff to diverse thought, and it could ignite your team’s thinking.
Many leaders find that creativity is difficult to fabricate. My research revealed that a key reason behind this is that organizations are too structured in their problem solving. You need a little chaos to truly create. While chaos is often viewed as antithetical to goal-setting, organization, structure, and purpose, it actually serves as a driver to achieve them. So while our current challenge responding to this virus seems daunting, it could be viewed as serendipitous—a little chaos for our orderly world to help us create new solutions.
In considering this, I’ve been encouraged this week to see how some churches have already embraced creativity in this time of crisis; numerous ministry leaders have produced resources to shepherd people through a challenging time. But eventually American culture will transition into recovery mode. People will long to reconnect with their faith, especially as it is practiced in community with others. Perhaps this will require small group curriculum or events that highlight communal living. Resources to meet these needs will be in short supply. We must, then, harness the current chaos to create solutions not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.
In the 17th century, Isaac Newton utilized the social distancing of the bubonic plague to develop the origins of calculus and lay the foundations for his work in gravity. The very least we can do as church leaders is to pause to consider our future work in the gospel.
So my challenge to you: make something. Consider the strengths of your ministry and the opportunities that lie ahead. Where is the unique space that your church can fill coming out of this crisis? What can you build to address it?