Creativity or Gimmick?

A year-and-a-half ago I came back from a three month sabbatical fired up and ready to try out all kinds of new and creative ideas. One of the things I did while I was away was study creativity and the creative process. It was interesting, freeing, and inspiring.

Upon my return we formed a Creative Team at our church. It was the first time in the 80 plus year history of the church it had such a thing. A great group of people got together to plan and execute series’, graphics, visuals, art, and other creative ways to bring “stickiness” to the weekly message and provide ways for it to be remembered throughout the week.

It was an exciting time for me. I felt challenged and rejuvenated. The Creative Team loved planning and executing their ideas. All was going well.

…Or so I thought.

Then someone told me that what we were doing was just “gimmick.” The argument was made that the Creative Team’s efforts were taking away from the Gospel more than enhancing it.

It was a minority comment, and almost an aside, but it nonetheless took the wind out of me. So much sincere time and effort had gone into the planning process and execution of themes.  Now it seemed as though it was a great deal of effort for little return.

I thought many appreciated what was being done. Now I wasn’t sure.

I wondered just what is the dividing line between creativity and gimmick. I’m still wrestling with it. I understand that the Word of God itself is creative, living, and active. The Spirit works in and through the Word.

But I also believe that Christians are both sinners and saints. It is my belief that the “sinner” needs branches of creativity. As they float down the river of the week, perilously headed toward the deadly waterfall, they grab hold of those branches to keep faith afloat.

So help me out.

What do you believe is the fine line that divides creativity from gimmick?

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14 thoughts on “Creativity or Gimmick?

  1. Motivation and Transparency

    I think if your motivations is to trick someone into doing something you want them to do, that is a gimmick. But if you motivation is to reveal a truth or to bring about a change and you are transparent about it- that is authentic creativity.

    • I agree with you and think that's true. However, in my case the motivation and transparency were there, but someone (from their perspective) saw it as gimmick. Hmmm.

  2. This is a topic I deal with on a daily basis. Here's where some of my wrestling has led me:

    Begin with prayer. "Thy will be done" is a prayer God honors with a smile. Nest all of your creative thinking in that prayer. Come back to it repeatedly (like using shampoo: kneel, pray, repeat …).

    Thank God continually for the gift of your creativity. Doing so recognizes creativity as an undeserved gift and helps to eliminate ego and pride from the equation. Ego is "The Gimmick Monster's" favorite food.

    Be grounded in the Word. This, of course, is a lifelong process. (Dad once said that by the time a pastor has a working mental concordance it's unfortunately time for him to retire.) If your grounded in the message, you've got a defense in court—if folks complain, you can quote chapter and verse. More importantly, God's Word is so rich and life-changingly deep, the message can't really be overpowered by "the gimmick."

    Be pragmatic, by which I mean it helps to keep testing the balance between message and creativity. I compare it to advertisements. How many times have you LOVED a commercial … only to realize you have no memory of what was being advertised. The perfect commercial is the one that wakes you up to listen (through humor, emotional tug, graphic design, whatever it is that catches you up) and opens your eyes to the product. "Where's the beef" cries out "eat at Wendy's." Clydesdales make me thirsty for icy AB products. But I honestly can't remember which wireless company keeps asking "can you hear me now?" Is it Verizon? AT&T? Seek out feedback from your congregation. Ask what jumped out at them in worship. Then ask the tough question: do you remember THE POINT?

    Finally, trust your instincts. If your praying in God's will and working in his Word, your instincts are going to be trustworthy.

    And thank heaven that David had a creative impulse. Otherwise the 23rd Psalm would simply read, "God provides for me. Always has, always will." And who wants that read at their deathbed? No … I want to lounge in the pasture … to drink from the goblet … to hear the click and clack of staff on stone … to watch the Carpenter frame the add-on bedroom in God's eternal mansion.



    • What a wonderful and thoughtful reply. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience! LOVE your dad's thought about the "mental concordance." How true! It's tough to fight discouragement, but you have provided the tools to do so. Thank you so much.

  3. "and they heard the Gospel in their own language" Acts 2:11. I think you put it beautifully when you talked about us as sinners needing branches of creativity. It's a new age and our "language" is technology and creativity and new ideas. To me a gimmick is more of an advertisement. If we are trying to sell our church with these things that is where we can go wrong. But if we are trying to reach people, that is creativity.

  4. If it creates a shock factor it is a gimmick. That much I know. As far a creative goes, you will never get 100% agreement on that. I've been told all my life how wonderfully creative Sondheim is; quite frankly I can't stand his work.

    • So anything with "shock factor" is gimmick and not creativity? I'm not sure I completely agree.

      I'm also chuckling about your Sondheim comment: I can see what you mean…and I certainly prefer others to him…but I DO think he is creative.

  5. Everyone is different. A congregation is a community nestled within a greater (in scope) community. Nothing you do will reach or stick with everyone. Some things will stick with some people other things with others. Peter, Paul, nor any others including Jesus himself ever reached every person they spoke to. Yet God calls witnesses from all walks of life, with different talents abilities to reach as may as possible. So it seems best to do all within our ability to reach all we are sent to.

    I will agree with the idea of motivation being the difference between gimmick and creativity. Your best efforts wont touch every single person the same. In this day of mass media we are used to being "sold". So thank the person who only sees gimmick for still coming for the message, and encourage them to still come for that. Also still maintain the creative ideas to continue to reach those who are touched by it.

    That's my take on it anyway, hope some part helps you in some way.

  6. I can't believe that I have grown up to be a stodgy middle-aged Lutheran who declared the Matins from the LSB was the way God intended us to worship. : )

    I am at times leery of church services which seem more like entertainment hours. But Ashlyn really gave me a new perspective: “and they heard the Gospel in their own language” Acts 2:11.

    Some people will see it a gimmick. If in your heart you know it's being creative and trying to reach people from a new angle, then it's the right thing for you to do.

    • No, Alane! You?! A stodgy Lutheran??? I agree that church is not for entertainment. However, I do think there is a side of each of us in this internet 2.0 world that tunes in and out of things very quickly. My goal is always to make the Gospel more "sticky."

  7. As one of the members of your creative team… I believe that our creative sessions were guided by the Holy Spirit. We brought interesting, creative, exciting and different ways to hear God's word.

    Like Alane said and others who have posted, some people will see it as a gimmick, but we know that we were guided by the Holy Spirit.