10 Simple Tips for the Best Brainstorming Ever

Big Confession: I’ve never considered myself a very creative person.

I’m in awe of those who come up with new and creative ideas at the drop of a hat.  When starting out in ministry I felt like I needed to be the one who came up with the great ideas, and then I realized how misguided I was. I was always looking for the next youth ministry book or idea but then I found the a vast source of creative ideas…. my own group……

My Journey

I began to look around the youth leadership team and realized that I was surrounded by creative individuals who were passionate about Christ, the youth ministry and the students.  It’s important to tap into the creativity and the ideas of those who we work alongside.

Creativity is a vital part in youth ministry, we have an incredible and life changing message. There are times when we are looking for new ideas and strategies in order to reach teens with the gospel.  Using the creativity of other’s is a vital part of that.

It’s important to remember that tapping into people’s creativity requires brainstorming and brainstorming can either be a creative gold mine or a time wasting disaster.  Bringing your leadership together to come up with new ideas for your youth ministry is key for the ministry’s development.

Let’s look at tips to consider before you pull your team into a brainstorming session. Hopefully when these tips are applied, they can significantly increase productivity and the quality of results.

Here are 10 Tips that Will Make You a Brainstorm Genius

#1 Appoint a Facilitator

Assigning someone to guide the brainstorming session into a productive direction is an absolute must. Though the entire point involves the free flow of ideas, this can quickly get completely off track and out of control if not kept in check. The question is Who Should Be the Moderator? I would suggest that as the leader of the ministry you should be.  You know the ministry and hopefully is seen as an authoritative figure.

It’s important not to dominate the conversation or even present many ideas but instead steer the conversation.

As the conversation flows it should be manoeuvred in different directions, not forced.

It’s important that people to feel comfortable sharing ideas and not afraid to change the topic or say something unconventional.

#2 Set Goals

It’s important to present overview of what you are hoping to accomplish. Whatever your focus of the meeting is, make sure everyone knows.

Even if everyone present is familiar with it, the refresher is a good way to get their brains in the right place.

Never go into a brainstorming session without a clear idea of what you want out of it, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a phenomenal waste of time.

As you consider what you want to get out of the meeting, make sure the goals you set are very specific. You should be able to tell immediately after the session ends whether or not the goals you set out were met.

Be wary of vague overarching meanings such as “Create the best _______________ ever.” Instead concentrate on achievable and measurable goals.

#3 Set a Time Limit

Obviously, you’ll have to end the brainstorming meeting at some point. Set and announcing a time limit at the beginning of the session.

The significance of this is that it everyone knows that the goals that are set need  be met by a certain time.

If you’ve got a strong team, this will encourage them to stay on track and really crank out as many ideas as possible within the allocated time.

#4 Write Everything Down

Be prepared at the start of the meeting with notepads, stickies, and/or a whiteboard. Remember that every idea, good or bad should be briefly written. Never assume that you’ll remember the important things that were said. Write things out for people to see, as someone throws out an idea write it out so that people can see it.

Never assume that just because you were the originator of an idea that you’ll be the best person to bring it to life. It amazing to see how others can improve or rethink an idea that is given.

#5 Don’t Judge

This concept might be a bit overstated but it is absolutely essential to effective brainstorming.

At the beginning of the process you want to shoot for quantity over quality.

Rather than taking five minutes to discuss reasons why a particular idea is bad or good, just take every idea and move along.

Time isn’t the only factor in play here either; more importantly is the mood of the room.

An ideal brainstorming environment maximizes the number of ideas put forth by removing any peer pressure regarding the quality of the suggestions.

If someone in the group is too afraid to speak up for fear of rebuttal or rebuke, the entire session is compromised and productivity will suffer greatly.

There may be someone in your group that will make cutting comments or harsh criticisms about the ideas given by others.  As the leader there are a couple of choices you have: let them continue or to simply ask them to sit this one out.

There may be those who are just looking to build themselves up or have their own agenda.  (I have dealt with the later).

#6 Include the Outlandish

If you really want to see the value of brainstorming, don’t simply avoid unrealistic ideas, actually encourage them. Sometime the best ideas come from very bad one. Look for Inspiration in the Outlandish, examine what makes these ideas appealing and how you can strip away the unrealistic aspects until you come to something that holds some of the original idea but is actually achievable.

The end product may not be anywhere near the original, but it can be fun getting to the final outcome.

#7 Collaborate

As you start to narrow down your idea, be careful of looking at what’s in front of you in black and white terms. It’s not always the case that keeping one idea must means getting rid of another.  It’s important to step back and look at the Big Picture. Think of it like a puzzle, there may be pieces that don’t fit together, but in they have a part to pay in the over picture of the ministry.  Many times there is the possibility for creating collaboration among ideas that may seem far apart.

Hang all the suggestions up around the room where everyone can stand back and have a look at them as a set. Then discuss ways to combine entire ideas or to mix elements of two or more ideas to form a stronger one.

#8 Beware of Group Think

There’s a fine line between a team that productively cooperates and one that suffers from too much cooperation. As the moderator you should watch for signs of group think and steer the conversation accordingly.

What is Group Think?

Group think is something that happens in the decision making process that tries to remove conflict completely. It can be an attempt to avoid the frustrations of lengthy arguments or disagreements.  Groups with one predominantly vocal or influential member can very vulnerable to this behaviour as members may feel the need to agree with this person.

This can be a problem because while it’s great to have unity within the group, it shouldn’t be at the expense of critical thinking, creativity and ultimately, quality.

As group think increases, the quality and diversity of the ideas being presented sharply decreases.

So you may have to “Play the Devil’s Advocate”. If your group is suffering from extreme uniformity, try taking of the role of the devil’s advocate by asking tough questions and posing various options to ideas that are raised.  The point is to have people question the will of the majority.

#9 Include someone from outside the group

It may be helpful to the brainstorming session to include someone who is not part of the youth ministry.  This could be another pastor, board member, or member of the congregation. While this may seem strange, it can bring a different perspective into your meeting.

#10 Have fun!

Coming to a meeting can strike dread in most people, so as the leader make it enjoyable for your team.  The more you can make it enjoyable, the more creative your team may become.  Make sure the environment you have meeting in it comfortable.  You may want to meet somewhere other than the church, a home, cabin, or if your budget allows it a retreat center.  Play a game, something that will get the creative juices flowing.  Pictionary, Cranium, Balderdash, are all games that require creativity. Most importantly…have food.  I remember when leaders arrived to a brainstorming meeting to bowls of candies and chocolates.  There were smiles on every face!

What Works for You?

These are just a few ways to get your brainstorming session off to a good start. I’d love to hear some of your ideas. Leave a comment of send me a reply!

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Matt is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has over 20 years of student ministry experience all over the country. He has 3 kids. His 2 girls are in their teen years so he has lots of opportunity to put his student ministry years to good use at home everyday. He's completing a Masters in Adolescent and Family Counseling.