In many ways, there’s no difference between being a “church creative” and a “creative.” Whether you’re serving a client or the congregation, there are still goals to reach and deadlines to be met. But, as you already know as a church creative, there’s a whole other set of criteria you need to meet in your world, namely a mission you were called to in the first place.
And these criteria tend to create constraints — whether that’s in the actual content, creative process, budget, or even perspective — that can be a drain on your creative well-being.
“The thing we’re called to is a huge blessing, but it can also be a huge source of frustration,” Elevation Church’s Junior Hernandez told us. “There are so many times where you’re trying to put a fresh vision in a fresh creative treatment over a story that people have heard so many times. It can be a lot.”
With these things in mind, we decided to have an honest conversation with Junior, as well as Producer Steven Lester, about their work at Elevation Church. They not only understand the value and purpose of their creativity, but they’ve also learned how to continually draw from the well of inspiration.
They shared all sorts of insights for church creatives at every level, which ultimately added up to a great primer on how to be an inspired church creative in general. So, take away some tangible advice from these leaders in church creativity, but more importantly, feed off of the passion and inspiration they find every day in their work.
Here are Steven and Junior on staying inspired.
Create with Purpose
Something we’ve learned is that creativity for creativity’s sake will only take you so far; eventually, that tank will run dry. A big part of our drive is knowing our work is actually making a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s a direct effect or something more indirect. This is what Junior found when his team adopted a model similar to advertising agencies.
Junior: Because we work off of an agency model, we actually develop these pitches knowing the needs for the weekend. We’ll go from developing the pitch to executing the pitch, then receiving feedback, and going into production mode.
Two or three years ago we made the decision that we wanted to have a vested interest in what our creative is doing. I think so many creatives in the church world say it’s an ‘us vs. them’ mentality and we realized that was very prevalent in our own language. We made a conscious decision to think of other ministries as our partners. We work with Elevation Worship. We work with our family ministries. We work with our youth department. We want to make sure we’re creating great content that doesn’t just check off the box of being creative. Art has to serve the vision.
I think the one thing that you can do is show consistency and focus on the partner or client you’re serving. So, in whatever way you can best serve the mission, do that. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to be consistent, be willing to compromise, and be willing to articulate your creative decisions. You have to have a strong ‘why’ and heart behind it. Otherwise, it’s just creative to be creative.
“We can sit on a Sunday and see this work that we poured over for weeks and see their reaction — the tears, the laughter — and be able to sit back and say, ‘This was a job well done.’”
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
So, once you’ve created effective work how do you know it’s actually being effective? Church creatives have a huge advantage over other creatives — your audience shows up every Sunday and you can see their reactions in real time. For many outside the church world, this is something they’ll never get to see outside of the comment section on Vimeo.
Steven: For us filmmakers, we sit there and look at the view count on Vimeo or Instagram just to watch it go up. But, I think we have a really cool opportunity because we can go to church and see that someone was affected by the video and ask them why. It’s something I probably don’t take advantage as much as I should, but I’ve had really great conversations in the past because one line in a video connects or we know should’ve cut something because it was confusing.
Junior: There are a lot of companies that create incredible content but they don’t necessarily get to see their audience react to it. For us, we can sit on a Sunday and see this work that we poured over for weeks and see their reaction — the tears, the laughter — and be able to sit back and say, “This was a job well done.” It’s such an interesting place in the creative world because a lot of people never get that.
Our affirmation comes from a different place than other creatives. So, when you’re seeing those reactions on a personal level, it’s hard to doubt yourself.
Follow Passion (and Passionate Leaders)
Obviously, you’ve come to the church because you’re passionate about the work, the message, and the culture behind it. Steven pointed out that he and his team can use this to their creative advantage, not only on a personal level but also when it comes to pitching your work and honing in on the next project — even for churches where the creative doesn’t hold a high priority.
Steven: I think passion is infectious. Whoever is your supervisor or whoever is leading the project can’t negate the fact that passion leads. It’s one thing to sit in front of a person and say, “Here’s what we’re doing. I hope you like it.” But, it’s another thing if I come in with a 20-page pitch deck and say, “Oh man, we’re going to shoot this music video in one take. We’re getting so excited.” Passion is just infectious. I think by owning each area as a creative team, it breeds passion and passion creates really great work.
Also, I think sometimes we think creativity has nothing to do with leadership. It’s all about how you’re viewing yourself. What things around you spark interest and what are you passionate about at your church? Find out what your leaders are passionate about and start asking questions.
If you’re in a culture that doesn’t have a natural avenue for creativity, I guarantee you can find something that your leaders are passionate about. So, it’s all about how you as a creative are connecting the dots to what your leadership is passionate about and how your creativity can serve that passion.
It’s about using the people around you as resources. As church creatives, we sometimes think we struggle with that alone. It’s something the whole industry struggles with — ‘how do I serve this client? How do I serve this soap company?’ People do it all the time. It’s just about shifting your perspective.
“I think passion is infectious. Whoever is your supervisor or whoever is leading the project can’t negate the fact that passion leads.”
Be the Bridge
In a way, church creatives are one of the best forms of outreach for a church because, ultimately, good work is good work. If you create compelling films that connect on a human level through solid storytelling, who’s to say someone needs to be sitting in church to appreciate it? By seeing yourself as a creative who works in the church — not necessarily a church creative — then you can begin to blur the lines between relevant content and church content.
Steven: I listened to a podcast with Joel Houston a while back and he said that as a church it’s sometimes hard to find something new because everything has been done under the sun. Our job is to find what is old and tainted and redeem it.
So, when we talk about whether or not we should watch the new Beyoncé documentary, we’re thinking, ‘of course we should.’ There’s art there. There’s beauty in the art of it. So, when we hear language like, “be in the world, not of the world,” it creates that “us vs. them” mentality and that’s just not what we live in today. We’re in this together. Our goal isn’t to separate each other. It’s to bridge the gap.
Junior: The focus for us is understanding that our work actually matters and we as creatives need to find a way to know where the world is and what’s happening right now. What are the trends? What’s the news that’s affecting people?
For us, we want to be the bridge to remind people that it doesn’t matter what they’ve done. It doesn’t matter what you did last night. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your past. The grace that surpasses all understanding will and can be held by you as well. My biggest call to why I create is to remind people that I am of the faith that is accepting of all people.
We’ve learned so much from these things that are of the world and we can bring pieces of it to our own creativity. The longer that I work here, the more I realize I can take any and every idea that comes to my mind and, as long as it can fit into the mission of the church, I can do it and you honestly can too.
See the Beauty of Staying
This is a more personal choice, but Junior pointed out something that really struck us, mainly because it’s so unexpected to hear from a young, influential creative. We’ll let him explain on this ending note.
Junior: I’ve been here for more than seven years now and it feels like that’s continuing to bless everything we touch. Obviously, there are ups and downs, but I think there’s also continuous growth. I think that’s the beauty of staying.
It’s so counter to our culture right now, even in the church creative world. So many people think, “I’ll be here for the next couple of years and then I’ll be off to the next thing.” I feel like Steven and I have been in this place where we’ve been here for so long that we’ve seen God do so much. We wouldn’t have experienced it if we were just here and there.
It may seem like an old mindset to stay in a job for a long time, but I believe that I’m called to do that and I love it. I love what comes with consistency because there’s trust and there’s also much more weight. But, the more you do it, the stronger you become in it.
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