Leading your team to creatively plan so you can connect with new audiences this Christmas.

Church leaders often feel pressure to develop creative programming that makes a great impression for their new audiences during the Christmas season. We’ve developed a framework for leading your team through creative planning as well as ideas you can use or adapt that help connect the Christmas story to culture today!

The Challenge of Collaborative and Creative Planning

Have you ever been part of a creative planning meeting where you show up and either the leader lays down a formulated plan for the team to execute (not a lot of collaboration there!) or the team shows up and nobody really knows what you’re trying to accomplish?

It’s not easy to lead teams through collaborative, creative planning. Because there is rarely complete unanimity, we often want our ideas to be the ones that are chosen and, ultimately, there is a leader that has to make a call for anything to happen. 

All of these dynamics make it a challenging process, but it is important to prioritize true collaboration in your creative planning because using the talents of the entire team will always generate the best ideas, garner the greatest buy-in and ensure the best outcomes - it’s worth the hard work!

So where should you start? Here are some suggestions:

A framework for leading a team through creative planning

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but I would suggest that these six components must be in place to get the best outcomes.

Shared mission, vision and values
Your mission, vision and values are the filter through which you make decisions. They should be the why behind everything you do.

At Fishhook, one thing we love to do is remind ourselves often about our mission, vision and values. If you were to ask any person on the team what those are, we could tell you what we’re doing, where we’re going and what we care about - maybe not verbatim, but we’ll get to the same ideas. We talk about it often, so have these things internalized.

For your team, are you talking about these regularly? How do you let these direct why you would or wouldn’t do something?

Make sure these are top-of-mind and on the tip of your tongue in any planning and creating you’re doing as a team. They are the true north of your church and should be shared and understood by your team!

Shared Context
Whenever you begin a creative collaboration of any sort, there should be shared context. If you’re doing something brand new (never been done before), then maybe the context is simply a shared understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. For churches, Christmas planning has been going on for a long time, so that context should be around what has/hasn’t worked and why, what you’ve done in previous years, what things are non-negotiables, etc.

It would be worth spending a block of time at the beginning of your first creative meeting reviewing debriefs from the previous year or two to see where you’ve been, what has connected and what you may want to do differently. If you haven’t been debriefing, you should start doing that with everything! Here are some helpful debrief tips if you want somewhere to start.

Getting your team on the same page from the beginning of the process helps remove barriers from the jump!

Shared objectives and prompts (the agenda)
There is nothing more frustrating than being asked to be part of a creative planning meeting but not knowing what you’re trying to accomplish. Additionally, it’s really frustrating to come to a meeting with no agenda or direction to set you up for success.

Most people prefer some time to think and process individually before being asked to jump into a brainstorming session with a team, so if you’re the leader, plan ahead, set an agenda, provide clear prompts and give your team plenty of time to process individually before meeting.

Make it fun
Creative planning happens best in a fun, loose environment. If you can do this, you will always generate the best ideas. Get out of the board room with no windows and go somewhere with good lighting  and comfortable seating, bring in some snacks or a meal, play some music and develop some creative activities to help your team think out of the box.

Here are some ideas to try:

  • Add an idea:
    One exercise that’s really fun and generates a lot of great ideas is to have everybody respond to the prompt by writing or illustrating their answer on a piece of paper, then pass the paper to the right for the next person to add to your idea. Do this a few times for a couple minutes each, and you’ll be surprised how much more developed the ideas become! The fun part of this is that everybody’s idea gets celebrated and developed! Make sure to save any ideas that don’t get used for future planning.

  • Outside-the-box Questions:
    At Fishhook, we love to ask outside-the-box questions to help generate different ideas and perspectives on any given topic. Here are some you could try:
    • In one sentence, what Google review would we want our guests to leave about their experience at our Christmas services?
    • Draw a picture of a childhood toy that represents how you want people to feel when they leave our Christmas Eve experience.
  • Start with Chat GPT
    Oh, no he didn’t!

    Oh, yes I did.

    Have your team generate a prompt specific to their area of leadership and ask Chat GPT for some ideas. I’ve done this before and 99% of the time, I get something interesting but underdeveloped. It’s always an idea generator that you can then develop and personalize.
        Ask Chat things like: 
    • “I’m planning Christmas experiences for a local church, and I want to provide an amazing guest experience. What are some ideas for providing exceptional hospitality for guests in our lobby during our Christmas worship services?”
    • “I want to plan sermons based on things that matter most to people during the Christmas season. What are the most widely searched terms on Google that reflect the things that matter most to people during the holidays?”
    • “I am planning music for Christmas worship services at a local church, and I want to make sure that any guests who come know at least one song. What are the top 10 most well-known Christmas carols that we should use this season?”

Chat GPT is far from perfect, and most of the time, you have to ask follow-up questions to provide context and personalize responses, but it’s a really helpful tool to provide quick ideas and even some hard data to help you plan!

No bad ideas!
We’ve learned this since we were children, but make sure to foster space where this is experienced. Every idea has something to contribute. It comes from a person who thinks it would connect, so odds are, it will connect with somebody. Try to harvest every little piece of wisdom and creativity from every idea to help develop the ideas that end up being used.

If you’re able to develop an environment where every idea is heard and celebrated whether it’s ultimately used or not, you’ll develop more and better ideas regularly as a team!

Next steps – who is responsible for what and when is it due?
Many times, when you get into creative mode, it’s hard to know how to land the plane and take some steps. One thing we find is really helpful is we have a person assigned to taking notes in meetings who notes action items, tracks potential follow up questions and provides timelines for when things are due. Assign a person who is very organized and process driven to play this role on your team to help you stay organized and on track.

A pro-tip here is to have some things already defined before going into the meeting like when the next meeting is and have a timeline for what needs to be done and by when.

Christmas Theme Ideas for 2023

Many churches spin their wheels every year trying to come up with clever new ideas for the Christmas series. For many churches, this is simply for internal planning while others use this for their external messaging. Whatever approach you use, it is a good exercise to help you organize messaging, sermon planning, song selections, visual elements, hospitality experiences and many other things.

No matter your approach, it’s really important to keep in mind where the world and culture are to be able to present the solution of the Gospel to the lived experience of our day. What are the dynamics at play in the Christmas narrative that speak to what people are experiencing right now?

Here are some categories where you could start:

  • We may live in the most isolated and lonely time in the history of the world. People are desperate for connection, for belonging, to be seen, to feel known and accepted. The Christmas story tells us about a God who was relentless in pursuing us and inviting us in. He left a perfect heaven to live in a messed up world to bring us into relationship with him.

    Some themes that fit where our world is that for planning could be around pursuit, belonging, invitation or being known.
  • You only have to flip on the news for a few seconds to see that we live in deeply divided times. Pick a topic to verbalize an opinion or even an honest question about, and you will find opposition. The Gospel says that Jesus came and broke down the hostility that divides people. Christ brought together blue-collar fishermen, educated physicians, crooked tax collectors, exploited prostitutes, religious elites and social outcasts to show the world what the Kingdom of God really looks like full of diversity and healing.

    Some themes that speak to the pain in our world could be around unity, reconciliation or the Kingdom of God.
  • The world is moving at a frantic pace. Cultural trends, norms and values seem like they change with every passing season and it can be incredibly disorienting to navigate. The coming of Christ is a reminder that the everlasting God, the Alpha and Omega, the creator and sustainer of the world brings a timeless and stable foundation for life. When we feel disoriented by the world, Jesus provides solid ground to stand on.

    In the Christmas season, returning to the ancient themes of Advent (Joy, Peace, Hope, Love) will provide a grounding experience for your congregation and guests.

If you take anything from this, I hope you involve your team in the creative process, have fun together and be true to who you are as a church in whatever you plan. Your hard work matters and is making a difference in your community, and we’re praying for you and cheering you on!

If you want to talk more about planning well for the Christmas season, we’d love to connect!