Designing A Ministry Through Brainstorming
By Jill Briscoe
One of the most difficult aspects of women’s ministries is program planning. How do we get started? What kind of event should we feature? Who should we target? And who will help? These are just a few of the questions that arise when launching an effective women’s program. The “Designing a Ministry” principles outlined in chapter 2 can be used as a great brainstorming tool with small groups. We’ve used these principles to get the ideas flowing by asking our brainstorming groups to pretend that they must plan an entire event or program in only thirty minutes! This is not the only way to generate ideas, but hopefully it will provide a springboard from which you can launch your own unique approach.
Before you set your “brainstormers” in motion, make sure that you and your women have a firm understanding of the brainstorming concept. Brainstorming is a simple technique for quickly generating a long list of creative ideas. The goal in brainstorming is to generate numerous ideas or solutions to a problem by suspending criticism and evaluation until a later processing session. Share with your groups the following suggestions before turning them loose:
1. Accept and record all ideas
2. Do not comment on anyone else’s ideas
3. Make no judgments
4. Accept repeated ideas and do not draw attention to the fact that an idea has already been suggested
When planning programs and events, involve as many participants as possible. Because brainstorming spreads enthusiasm, initial planning should not be limited to an exclusive few.
Invite anyone and everyone to come and share their ideas and pray together about the future ministry or event. Bulletin announcements are usually not enough. Women are more likely to participate as you do some persuasive “shoulder tapping.” Spending time together first in fellowship at a coffee, light lunch, or potluck supper is a great way to encourage participation, and an effective way to help women relax and enjoy their time together.
After this time of fellowship, outline what you hope to accomplish and divide the women into groups of four to six, asking them to begin their small group time with about fifteen minutes of prayer for God’s guidance in their task. You might want to share some devotional thoughts first.
Next, pass out these four questions and ask the women to ponder them silently for five minutes or so, and record their answers.
1. As a Christian woman, what is your greatest personal need or area in which you would like to see yourself grow at the present time?
2. Identify the two most prevalent needs of your closest non-Christian friend.
3. Thinking about the women in our church, what concerns do you have for them, and which group of women in our church do you believe need immediate attention (e.g., singles, single moms, widows, working women, moms, empty nesters, missionaries)?
4. Identify a pressing need or issue your community is facing. How could a ministry of our church he problem?
Now ask the women to share their answers in the groups and to prioritize the needs they have identified, selecting one they wish to tackle. Explain that each group has the task of planning a new ministry or special event for the purpose of meeting the need the group has collectively selected. They are to accomplish this by using the four guidelines outlined under the “Designing a Ministry” section in chapter 2:
1. Decide on your purpose
2. Develop your program
3. Delegate responsibilities
4. Determine your calendar
The results can be a one-time happening or an ongoing program. The women are to pretend that they are the members of the committee that will pull it all together. Do not panic if they look at you and say, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
You will want to walk them through the outline and monitor their time by interrupting every six or seven minutes and moving the groups on to the next point of the outline. Remind them that since they make up the committee, each one must volunteer for a position or two. Ask them to begin by selecting a chairperson (perhaps the person who has the most red on) and a secretary (whoever has a birthday closest to April 1). The secretary records all ideas and takes the committee’s minutes. Allow thirty minutes for this exercise.
After the allotted time of brainstorming, ask each secretary to stand up and share aloud the ministry her group has brainstormed. Have her mention the need tackled, the method selected, the theme, program, and format, along with the date, and the committee positions each member assumed. Have a recorder volunteer to list each theme on a chalkboard or easel for all to see.
Women may surprise you with their inventiveness during this exercise. Jill and Beth used this method at a conference for pastor’s wives in South Africa. One group created an event for single parents in their church called “Flying Solo.” It was to be held on the church premises from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM on a Saturday. Programming was provided for the attendees’ children, rather than just baby-sitting services. A few months later this idea became a reality, and a keynote speaker and seminars addressed the needs of many single parents. The day was a significant milestone in the lives of single parents. In this case, a simple brainstorming session turned into a tremendous opportunity for ministry!
When the small groups are finished, you may be surprised to find a common thread running through their ideas. Prioritize them in categories such as the greatest need or the most feasible to attempt. Ask each group if they found an idea or two that they believed the Lord would have them accomplish in the coming year. Encourage group members to consider the importance of doing a few things well.
Collect all the recorders’ notes and set a date when a chairperson and committee will go over and finalize the results of the brainstorming session. Some women will be so excited about the implementation of these new ideas that they will want to help carry them out. To help get them involved, pass around a signup sheet on which women can indicate their interest, noting their name, address, and phone number, along with the area in which they would like to serve.
Many women will experience a new sense of fulfillment in Christ when they participate in these brainstorming sessions as they realize how much they can do in God’s strength. Brainstorming should introduce them to fresh program ideas while promoting enthusiasm for trying something new and different. Most importantly, they should encourage a sense of ownership by lay women for these new ventures and help them to see themselves as an integral part of the ministry team.
Exposing The Creativity Myth
Women often believe they are not creative. Most likely that thought was spawned by Satan, the father of lies. Perhaps what these women don’t understand about creativity is that ideas come with practice. Thomas Edison said, “To have a good idea, have lots of them.”
In “Ten Proven Methods for Hatching Brilliant Ideas,” from the October 1985 Republic magazine, Robert Tucker states:
The notion that ideas pop out of anyone’s head fully developed and ready to be implemented makes for interesting mythology but it isn’t supported by research.
In reality, most of the ideas an innovator comes up with are never acted on, they’re REJECTED or evolve into better stronger ideas.
The fact is, you are probably generating more ideas than you give yourself credit for. Everybody has ideas. Everybody has a certain amount of good ones. But not everybody WORKS with those ideas in such a way as to create new opportunities and solve problems. That’s what sets innovators apart. They aren’t the least bit interested in just having ideas for the sake of having them. They look at ideas as future realities.
Several principles from this article can help women to sprout new ideas and encourage them to use their creativity for God.
To come up with a good idea we must take the risk of having many of our ideas rejected. Get into the habit of telling yourself, “I’ve got lots of ideas, but only a few really good ones.” Ask God to help you identify the really good ones. Challenge your leaders to risk a myriad of mediocre ideas in order to pursue those rare ideas that make all the brainstorming worthwhile. For if they never generate hundreds of mediocre ideas in the first place, their occasional strokes of brilliance will never be born.
Most Ideas Evolve!
This happens by adopting and adapting. Remember that Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Rarely do any of us come up with a completely original idea. Usually, we will build on someone else’s idea and make it our own or rework it to fit our situation.
A few years ago Elmbrook Women’s Ministries became troubled over the fact that one of our programs for women was dwindling in numbers. About that same time one of our missionaries returned home after serving for forty-two years in Africa. Our leadership was excited to learn that she had designed and written curriculum for a ministry called “Women of the Good News.” Over the years this ministry had exploded and multiplied from the original five women to more than six thousand. We adopted several ideas from this African ministry, changed elements to fit our own group, and the result was a unique program that strengthened many of our weaknesses. These are the steps we took.
1. We recognized a problem and the need for a solution.
2. We invited Jean to share her program with us.
3. A sub-committee met to pray and discuss this new information over a period of months.
Jean’s program slowly evolved into our own. The two programs shared both similarities and differences. This was just the boost our ministry needed.
Everybody Has Some Good Ideas
This principle is convincing, particularly because each of us is created in the image of God, the Supreme Creator, and it is his Spirit who resides in us. The Spirit was God’s creative agent in Genesis chapter 1. He lends us God’s creativity. When a problem in ministry comes up, ask God for his creativity and ideas to solve it.
We Must Work With Our Ideas
It takes prayer, hard work, and practice to come up with ideas. Musicians learn to play the piano with practice. Pastors learn to preach with practice. Sprouting new ideas takes practice, too. Every time someone asks you for a suggestion, try to think up ten instead of one. If a friend asks your suggestion for a gift for her father-in-law’s birthday, for example, try giving her ten ideas. If you make this a habit, your idea-ability will greatly improve. Soon it will drive you crazy because you won’t be able to turn your brain off!
Put Feet On Your Ideas
God gave us our imaginations to further his kingdom and to bring him glory. If we have an idea for ministry, we have a God given responsibility to see that it gets off the ground. If we absolutely cannot do it ourselves, we should at least drop the baited hook in the pond and see if someone else would like to nibble on it. God calls us not only to “dream dreams,” but also to do good works. We must do all we can to see that our God-given ideas become realities, which enhance the Gospel of Christ.
Caution: Avoid Negative People When Sprouting New Ideas!
Tucker says that “In their initial stages, ideas are seeds. They need nurture and encouragement to grow and mature. They definitely need to be examined and evaluated, but gently, not harshly.” In our women’s ministries we must try hard to be open to new ideas and examine our own hearts to ensure that they are not overly critical. Sometimes the first reaction to something new is, “Oh, that will never work because … ” or “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Instead of premature negativism, work hard to try and see the adventure in exploring new ideas optimistically. It is rewarding to help women get their ideas off the ground!
Building On Your Greatest Resource
The key to “Start with What You’ve Got” is simply this: build your ministry on the foundation God has already provided for you, the women in your church. Ministry must be designed according to your own women’s specific characteristics and needs. Only as you uncover these qualities will you be able to design a women’s ministry that is relevant and appropriate for your particular church and community. Intentionally designing your programs around women’s needs will give your ministry the right foundation. Involving your women in the data-gathering, goal-setting, program-building, and brainstorming processes will insure that your ministry has the support and leadership it needs.
In our next chapter you will see how a small church, using the principles outlined in this chapter, started a women’s ministry from scratch.
1. Is your approach to brainstorming exclusive or inclusive?
2. Are you and your committee members personally inviting at two to three new women to your brainstorming meetings?
3. Are new ideas easily accepted by your committee?
4. What steps will you take to help your leadership recognize and develop their creativity?
5. Have you inventoried your God-given resources?
Perspective: Are You a Doer or a Dreamer?
Brainstorming may be the most wonderful thing in the world for you, or it may be sheer misery. “My problem is I have a very small brain,” a woman told me once. “We are supposed to sit in a circle and come up with original, creative ideas, and I find my brain cells go into shock. I can’t think of a thing to say. Then I feel stupid and wish I’d never come. Often I excuse myself and go and get the coffee and refreshments ready. ”
The woman who told me about this experience was in leadership in her women’s ministry. This exacerbated her concern.
“If I’m a leader, then I should be able to think of creative, innovative ideas, shouldn’t I?” she asked me.
“Not necessarily,” I answered her. “Some do that better than others. We have dreamers among us who can dream up all sorts of wonderful things at a moment’s notice, and others who have nightmares about doing so.
“By the way,” I added, “how was the coffee?”
“What?” she replied, with a confused look.
“How was the coffee you went out to make?” I pursued.
“Fine,” she answered, obviously wondering why I had asked such an off-the-wall question. “That’s my thing.”
“Ah,” I smiled, “I thought so. I can promise you there would be a woman sitting in that brainstorming circle who, in between flashes of inspired ideas, was thinking to herself, ‘Oh dear, I hope they don’t ask me to go and make the coffee. I never know how much to use because I’m such a klutz in the kitchen.'”
She laughed as she got the point.
I am not suggesting that we only do the things we enjoy doing, are talented at, or are spiritually gifted for. In the course of ministry there are plans and programs that leaders must plan and program, and there are practical tasks that need to be done with the same sense of high and holy calling as any other task. Many times we do not have the privilege of only doing the so-called spiritual things or practical duties that must be accomplished for a ministry. Perhaps we find ourselves with too few helpers and leaders and we must wear hats that do not naturally and easily fit. It is often in the course of filling unnatural roles that unknown gifts are discovered.
I think of my own writing skills that I was totally unaware of. As I found myself needing to multiply leaders, I appointed three helpers to facilitate small group discussions. “We can’t teach,” they told me. “I don’t expect you to,” I soothed them. “I’ll draw up a worksheet to help you guide a discussion time after my lecture.” “We’ll try,” they gallantly offered. And so we began a grand experiment together, during which one of those group facilitators found out that she could teach, and I discovered I could write!
The secret is seeing a need, being willing to serve the Lord and people, and getting going. In the course of serving, gifts we love to use will be developed, untapped talents will surface, and most important of all, the job, whatever it is, will get done!
This article “Designing a Ministry Through Brainstorming” by Jill Briscoe is excerpted from the book Designing Effective Women’s Ministries.