it came from the cornfields (a brainstorming example)

In July, I have the neat chance to speak at a college ministry conference about brainstorming in campus ministry. It’s something I seem to have gained a knack for (it helps when you’ve seen a zillion ministries), and I’ve recognized principles that help brainstorming be more fruitful (even if someone hasn’t seen a zillion ministries).

One of those principles is thinking in the particular rather than the general. We often have an easier time discovering answers to a specific question, rather than blindly throwing idea-darts toward an amorphous or generic target. But this idea seems a little paradoxical – how can we get more ideas by limiting our questions? But we do.

I mentioned yesterday that this week’s Fridea was “original,” which only means I can’t recall seeing a ministry actually use this method. So I thought I’d share how that idea ame about, because it might provide an interesting method – or at least a training exercise – to help you and your team brainstorm all the better. (If you haven’t read this week’s Fridea, this won’t really make sense.)

Here’s how it went:

  1. As I struggled to think of a Fridea to write about, I decided to get particular with my brainstorming.
  2. My first thought was to ponder the needs of a specific region.
  3. The Midwest came to mind.
  4. So I remembered: The last time I was in Nebraska, a college minister told me that people in the Midwest seem to keep their spiritual lives rather private.
  5. So that led to pondering: How would I draw out spiritual attitudes or questions within an environment like that?
  6. I first thought of building an web page, where students could just post their spiritual questions anonymously.
  7. And using other methods I have seen on campus, that initial thought morphed into the even better idea of actually speaking to the issues that came up.
  8. Then, once I had the base idea, I recast it, considering various possibilities for each part of the method.

Until I thought of a particular question and audience, ideas were much harder to come by. It may be counterintuitive, but narrowing our scope seems to strengthen our imaginations. Think about reaching that student or that part of campus or that niche, and you might just come up with ideas that fit a broader audience.

And this Particularization Principle is one reason why determining your purposes first – a la Backwards College Ministry – actually makes brainstorming easier and more effective.


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