When was the last time you had a good idea? Some people are good at ideas. They think of a good idea every hour of the day. Others might feel like their reservoir of ideas has run dry. In our churches it might feel easy to have loads of good ideas; but are they simply that? Do they just remain merely ideas? Maybe they are never even given a voice, maybe they are left hanging in the air, maybe they are squashed by a louder voice. It is a real challenge to turn a good idea into something that actually happens. How do we work out which ideas are the ones which will enthuse us? How do we discern which ideas our community will love? How do we transform a good idea into something which leads to spiritual and numerical growth? Perhaps we all know the frustration of our fantastic theoretical idea never having the public exposure it deserves…
I’ve had some great ideas over the years. I have often thought it would be a fantastic idea to combine the function of a washing machine and a dishwasher into one unit…. I’ll probably sit on that idea for quite a while. Equally silly is my idea of expanding the range of assistance animals for the deaf and blind – I think I’d choose a ‘guide chimpanzee’. I realise that idea must stay where it is – in a Monty Python-esque parallel universe.
So, we can usually acknowledge when an idea is rubbish. In fact, it could be true to say that most ideas stay on the shelf, never to be implemented. It is very possible that this is because they are the bad ones… But, how do we uncover the gems? How do we ensure that the good ideas stick? How do we give life to a good and positive notion, concept or belief? Let us turn to our churches and explore how a good idea can be an essential in our mission and community interaction.
Whilst making the following comments, I am aware that the key good idea for mission, is to put God before everything we do. We need to pray. We need to tell people about Jesus. We want to show people that following God is OK. God’s all-ecompassing forgiveness, love, grace and mercy, in and through what Jesus has done for us and the ongoing indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the key good idea. I do get that, and in a way, this foundational good idea underpins everything we do as Christians in our mission and community work. That said, here is some (hopefully) pragmatic comment on how to develop good ideas to carry into our church life.
Who can provide a good idea ? Very often, the best ideas for mission and outreach do not come from church leaders or vicar-types.
It’s sometimes hard for those in such roles to admit this, but a sound theological and spiritual education doesn’t immediately confer an ability to relate effectively with the community they abide in. A good idea can come from anywhere or from anyone.
So, what is the key point here for identifying where a good idea will come from? Let us listen to one another. If you are a leader in a church – talk to those around you. Listen to them. Carefully. Ask the younger members of your church what they think is a good idea for mission. Listen to them. Carefully. Ask the older people – their experience is vital! In fact, ask everyone.. ask the local shopkeepers, ask your local headteachers, ask your local councillors, ask the staff in local businesses, ask the people in the street.
But what shall we ask them? Here are some ideas of questions… you might just get some good ideas in response…
- What is the best thing in your community?
- What are you passionate about?
- What would you like the church to do in the community?
- How do you spend your leisure time?
- Is there anything missing from your local community?
- What do you think is the most important area for growth in the church?
If you are able to ask questions, then don’t forget to collate the answers together and get a diverse group of people to look at them and work out what are the most prominent themes in the answers. And don’t be surprised if the best answers come from unexpected places or people!
When do good ideas get implemented? When a list of good ideas (see Appendix One) is being discussed, how do we discern which ones to put into action? This is the really tricky bit. It is where many churches stall and become overwhelmed by the task at hand. These are some of the traps we fall into as churches:
- Trying all the ideas at once – this rarely works, and can often lead to exhaustion, negativity and a feeling that nothing can ever get done. Trying to deliver on six good ideas, when resources are stretched can be counter-productive. Why not spread six good ideas over a couple of years? Or longer? Perhaps we sometimes need to wait. To assess our resources, so that one or two good ideas can be done well.
- Filing the ideas away – sometimes there are so many ideas generated, that we just roll up the big sheet of paper, tidy the post-its away, file the notes neatly in our study, because we cannot face the task of discernment and implementation. If we have asked people for their opinion and their ideas, we must do our best to process them to the point of some kind of action. So.. pray that somebody will volunteer to work through the ideas and collate the information, so it can be easily presented and seen.
- Waiting for the right time – this sounds good in theory, but can lead to an endless procrastination.. Give the best idea a go! Find a completer-finisher and get them on board. Talk to people, get them enthused and take some action!
‘I will never say the word procrastinate again, I’ll never see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed’ (Flansburgh and Linnell 1990)
How do we get good ideas that work? It might sound straightforward, but the answer to this question is simple. As churches we are guilty of over-complicating things. We have our foundational mission, we know what we are trying to achieve. We might even have several good ideas to choose from. We can have everything in place: a good idea, a good team, the perfect timing, sound finances and the Holy Spirit with us, yet sometimes it still doesn’t work!
In Christian mission our task is to keep praying, to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, to keep the message of Jesus at the front of all we do. Everything else can just be a load of good ideas. Let’s work together and pray that we will see our churches grow. May we all find our role in the God’s mission in our communities and this week especially thank God for those who create the ideas that transform our church life together..
Appendix One – A list of good ideas
- Clear up the litter in your community
- Start a regular, clean, family comedy night
- Put some encouraging messages on your noticeboard
- Hold a youth talent night
- Have a regular team at your local pub’s quiz night
- Hold a thank you/celebration event for your local shopkeepers
- Dog-walking club
- Organise a community recipe book