breadth and brainstorming

Over the weekend, I wrote about the amazing opportunity many of us have to powerfully increase our college ministries’ effectiveness… simply by visiting with other college ministers in other places. I’m hoping to elaborate on HOW in the days to come – so stay tuned!

But I also wanted to remind us today why broadening our knowledge of others’ campus ministries – whether through site visits, phone conversations, gatherings of college ministers, etc. – can help expand our own creativity.

It’s a “rule” I’ve alluded to before, but I don’t know if I’ve ever spelled it out fully. Here’s the thesis:

Broad experience has an exponential effect on idea generation, not simply an additive effect.

Many of us may naturally assume that gaining new ideas happens by addition: I hear this new idea about Small Groups, for instance, and I add it to my arsenal of ideas. “Perhaps someday I’ll stumble upon something really awesome.”

But in my own experience (especially over the last few years), I feel like ideas have had much more than simply a cumulative effect. Instead, new ideas seems to spark multiple new ideas later. And the more college ministries I’ve encountered, the more I’m able to brainstorm… to the point that my brainstorms are rather typhoonish!

Here’s one theory on why this might be:

In the end, every “method” in college ministry is really a whole bunch of methods, a grouping of whos, whats, whens, and wheres that could each – theoretically, at least – be altered. So when we hear about a ministry handing out maps to freshmen, suddenly our brains are freed up just a little bit more along the “what” axis. But of course we don’t simply have the option of “hand out maps” or “hand out nothing.” We’ve suddenly got the chance to think about what would most serve the freshmen in our campus tribe – whether that’s maps, move-ins, massages, or mugs.

[I have not seen ministries give out massages. And honestly, I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody give out maps, at least not in the way I describe here. But like a bunch of the ideas I’ve posted on the blog, that bit of creativity was borne from seeing lots of other ministries do lots of other things… my point exactly.]

That’s a pretty concrete and simple example, but the same thing applies to any of our methods – because in reality, they’re entire bundles of ideas. How we do a New Student Orientation booth – that’s a bundle of ideas right there. So is our small group structure. And our recruiting. Our evangelism, too. So is our Large Group Meeting (it’s at least 49 ideas). Each method is a bundle of ideas.

And as we see other ministries do things in slightly different – or ridiculously different – ways, those bundles become a little more detached. We start to recognize how many little (and big) tweaks would could make. We get a little more room to play with. We use others’ ideas, but we also start thinking of new ideas we’ve never seen – because we’ve seen enough different options that we’ve got lots of room for creativity.

I don’t know how much this makes sense; I recognize I’m kind of riffing here. But one thing I can guess: If you haven’t taken the time to get to know several other college ministries – I mean really get to know them, without a major agenda going in (besides learning) or pinpointing only the items you care about… I bet this post will make much more sense after you do!


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  1. Thanks, Mr. Davis! Good eye there, too, to pick up the Stanford locale. Although the palm trees help narrow things down to a few states or so. Y’all’s campus does have a cool drive up to itself. It builds my anticipation every time I come. And then I get lost, too, trying to find that parking lot near the student center. But the drive up to the campus is cool!

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