3 Creative Ways to Kill Creativity and How to Get It Back

Sometimes you have to stifle your responses so that you don't stifle your staff's creativity.
Sometimes you have to stifle your responses so that you don't stifle your staff's creativity. (iStock photo )

Leading teams of volunteers and staff can be an exercise in mental yoga. It stretches me so much further than I think I'm capable. Rarely do I walk away from a conversation or meeting feeling anything less than challenged and stretched.

This is great, but not easy.

I'm surrounded by extraordinarily sharp people who love the church and want to see it succeed. They see the gaps and have thoughts and ideas to fill them.

Most of the time I find myself fighting to maintain a posture of openness as I "field" all their ideas. I want their ideas. I need their ideas. If there is anything I've learned in the past 15 years of ministry ... I don't have the answer for everything!

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I need their insights, thoughts, and creativity in order to foster environments where kids and adults encounter and grow in their relationship with Christ.

In fact, there are three creativity-killer responses I have to stifle in order to foster a culture of creativity within volunteers and staff.

Creativity Killers

1. "Been there, done that." I'm embarrassed to admit that I've had such an attitude. The idea that it's already been done ... we already tried that ... that's not a new idea ... etc. This mentality can shut down ideation before it begins.

If I want to foster a culture of creativity, it's helpful to allow some not-so-great ideas flourish into better ideas.

I'm not suggesting that we throw experience and wisdom out the window for the sake of fostering creative thought. Our past experiences can help us avoid future mistakes. However, immediately responding to a thought with the "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" mentality only communicates one thing to the originator.

2. "Not enough ____" mentality. I'm so guilty of falling into the "not enough" thought process. It's a dangerous loop that's tough to break free from. You can fill in the blank however you choose ... the mentality is the same. Each idea is arrested with the same response.

  • We can't do that because there aren't enough volunteers.
  • We can't do that because there isn't enough budget.
  • We can't do that because there isn't enough support.

The "not enough" trap can keep you from allowing ideas to grow into something that attracts more volunteers, fits in your budget or garners greater support.

I'm not suggesting that allowing someone space and time to put their idea into action will magically reproduce volunteers, increase budgets or give you more favor with your leadership. I'm just suggesting that there are more helpful responses to your perceived limitations or constraints.

The "not enough _____" response communicates one thing to the originator.

3. Poorly timed "How?" I'm notorious for shutting down an idea or creative thought with this most powerful showstopper.


It isn't that "how?" is a bad question. It's a great question. But timing is everything. When we ask the question "How?" is critical to the development of the idea. Too early and it aborts the ideation process and leaves you with a team member mentally vowing to horde their thoughts in the future.

Unfortunately, the poorly timed "How?" response can inadvertently communicate 'no' to the originator.

If our goal is to foster a creative environment where so-so ideas flourish into great ideas, how do we overcome these ideation showstoppers?

Here are a few techniques and postures we can adopt that create room for ideas to grow and mature.

Creativity Builders

1. Understand divergence and convergence. This is a tool I love using in teaching contexts. It's a skill I'm still learning to navigate in my day-to-day interactions. Where I use it well, it's a game changer. Divergence (by definition) means to move apart in different directions. As it relates to ideation, divergence is the act of allowing many different ideas to branch off, one from the other, in a variety of directions.

For some this can feel like rabbit trails. But there is actual value in allowing ideas and thoughts to ramble out. Like slinging mud on the walls ... you just want to see what sticks.

Convergence moves in the opposite direction. Convergence is the act of bringing things together. Refocusing. Great brainstorming sessions begin with divergence and end with convergence. Divergence says "anything goes!" Convergence says "now what can we do?" Divergence creates options, no matter how crazy. Convergence chooses from this pool of options to execute.

When I'm listening to someone's idea, there are ways I can respond that help them to diverge on their thinking a little more. Maybe I mention a factor that may conflict with their original idea but invite them to explore ways around that. For example, when a volunteer suggests that we require all parents of school age kids to serve in Elementary environments, I'm guilty of replying, "Been there, Done that!" My response goes a long way toward shutting down that idea along with a multitude of other ideas that might have merit.

Instead, what if my response is, "I like the way you're thinking. The goal is to increase our team. And parents are a great resource. Let me build on that. Is it possible to create a serving pathway for parents that aren't 'wired' well for teaching kids?" (Though I would have a ton more qualifiers to that type of recruiting approach, this is only the beginning of the conversation. The goal is to keep the flow of ideas coming.) 

The point is ... there are ways we can respond that steer the idea process without killing it.

2. Power of limited resources. We can view our limited resources so negatively. It really gets a bad wrap.

By "resources" I'm referring to the limited budget, volunteer team, time and space every ministry leader encounters. I've known one ministry leader out of thousands that says, "I have more budget dollars than I can spend." (I did apologize after kicking him in the shins. That was rude. But dang, people.)

The rest of us have limited resources that can trap us in the "not enough _____" mentality.

The only way I've found to work through this one is to present the limitations ... not as showstoppers but as opportunities to explore. The idea might require more volunteers than your ministry can yield initially. But could the team be built over time?

The idea might not fit within your current budget, or could you make the idea happen using fewer dollars? Are there benefactors, donations, or other ways to reallocate funds to make it happen?

Though the process requires more thought and planning, it holds potential for greater ideas to emerge and the end product be better than imagined.

3. Think wow, not how. I learned this from Andy Stanley at the 2015 Leadercast event. When you encounter an idea, think "Wow!" not "How?" You can "how" an idea too early and kill something that could potentially help you. Instead, consider responding with a "Wow!" Affirm the originator and help them focus their idea to move in the right direction.

I wrote more about Andy's talk at Leadercast here. Hop over and learn more.

All in all I'm challenged by these attitudes. If my desire is to truly derive all that our volunteers and staff have to offer, then fostering these postures in my life isn't an option. It's a necessity.

Gina McClain is a speaker, writer and children's ministry director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. For the original article, visit ginamcclain.com.

For the original article, visit ginamcclain.com.

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