Copying and the Creative Challenge

Copying and the Creative Challenge

Posted June 27, 2013 by Jerod Clark

A few weekends ago, my wife asked me if I was excited to go to her parent’s church. It was a bit of a loaded question. 

I’m sure I rolled my eyes or made some sort of noise of disapproval before I sarcastically said, “I always enjoy being at a service where it’s a bunch of strung together stolen elements from other churches.”

I suspect my wife wasn’t surprised by my response, but I was a little taken back by hers. As a former communications director, I assumed she sided with me about stealing something and claiming it as your own. Instead, she challenged me about why I was so snarkily bent out of shape.

Our conversation brought up the challenges and realities that face congregations of various sizes in all sorts of locations. 

The truth is, in most congregations, people don’t care if the content is stolen as long as they feel good. It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of the creative process. If your audience doesn’t care if you created it or stole it, what’s your motivation?

At my family’s church, when someone is raving over the service, I always feel compelled to share the fact it’s not an original idea of their specific church. When met by disbelief, I can usually find a YouTube video to prove my point. That doesn’t always go over well. But the conclusion almost always is something like, “Well, it doesn’t matter as long as people are coming to church and are engaged.”

After all, why should they care? Isn’t everything a copy of something else? Plenty of people have made the argument that there is no original idea. To some degree that’s true. But for me there’s a difference between directly copying and being inspired by something. How are you looking at an idea and working with it to fit your context?

I get why copying happens. Most churches don't have the resources to be anything other than a copy machine. Money is always tight and small staffs are stretched with the large amount of work they’re asked to do.

Yes, there is some truth to the belief that it takes a massive staff to free up time to allow for creativity. More importantly, for a church of any size, it takes a leadership culture that believes in taking time to think creatively. Even big churches, with large staffs, aren’t as innovative as they should be because it’s not a part of their staff DNA.

Even the popular church growth model of extending to multiple sites forces growing church staffs to spend time duplicating an experience and not creating something new.

To do ministry well, and to focus on quality, often times you have to be so narrowly focused you say no to good things. At times it’s good not to try to be everything to everyone. But as churches we face a problem with that too. If someone is told no, they move on. It’s not always bad. Some personalities are toxic to your culture. Although, if this happens a lot, as a church you get a reputation problem and you don't have someone to manage that bad reputation.

We don't have so many churches because they're all full. It's because there are so many differences.

Yet copying is one area where many churches find common ground. There’s a desire to be like the church down the street or across the county that’s had successful growth. 

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud all of the creative churches who have made it a ministry to share their ideas, graphics and more with other congregations. I love it when churches work together towards a greater mission. But even if you’re using templates, think about why you’re doing it.

If you copy, make sure it fits your church setting. Be true to who you are—don’t just do something because it’s cool.

Take the time to brainstorm. Work with other churches. See how you can be better together. The truth is, it will probably be more productive than meeting with an elder board where the topics are out of their wheelhouse and therefore get slowed down.

I understand there is a creativity conundrum. You have to find a balance with your church resources and the goals of where you want to be. But in all of it, don’t ever compromise who you are as a church. God has blessed you with something unique. Use it. Fine-tune what you see others doing instead of blindly copying. It will make you a stronger church.

Filed under: Communications, Creative Process

About the Author

Jerod Clark

Jerod joined ReFrame Media in 2007 and built Church Juice from scratch. He poured all his passion for branding, marketing, and messaging into the ministry, publishing e-books, blog posts, and speaking at conferences to help churches energize their communications. He also served as ReFrame’s in-house graphic designer. Before beginning his work at Church Juice, Jerod was a local TV news reporter. In 2016, Jerod stepped away from the ministry to pursue interests in marketing and communications on new horizons.

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Comments (6)

  • Tim Porter
    1:17 PM
    Thu, Jun 27, 2013

    How many churches have a truly unique mission statement?  (Not statement of missions).  Of those how many actually measure everything they do against that mission statement?  That’s what I thought.

  • Chris
    2:32 PM
    Thu, Jun 27, 2013

    I guess I hear what you are saying about copying, but my reality (and probably the reality for many other churches) finds it very hard to find the right people with the time to provide original, well designed content.  I am a volunteer and work the worship/sermon presentations as well as help with the website, and while I think I know good quality content when I see it, I struggle with having the time and the skills to create (from scratch) the kind of content that I would like to use in our worship/sermons and website (after all, I also have a full time job).

    With your response to visiting your in-laws’ church, I shudder to think what you would think of a service at my church.  I use templates (not “stolen”), graphics obtained from other generous churches, and other sources - so not much of it is original.  But I always use it in a way that I think matches the personality of our church and always with a goal of giving glory to God.  In the end, if we are doing all this for the right reason, does it really matter if the content isn’t original (or “stolen”, as you like to call it).

  • Jerod Clark
    3:45 PM
    Thu, Jun 27, 2013

    Chris…I think you made a key point in your comment.  You use resources that match the personality of your church.  There is nothing wrong with buying graphics or using stuff from free sources. 

    The point I was trying to make is so many churches don’t take the time to think through what fits with their congregation.  Instead they just pick things willy nilly or do something because it seems cool.

    I really look at this as primer post.  There is a creativity conundrum in churches and I truly understand there are struggles on all sides. 

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Eric Cepin
    7:06 PM
    Fri, Jul 5, 2013

    I am a pastor of a small church in Tucson Az.  We are about 110 soaking wet, but we have 4 bands that lead the community in singing, all of our graphics for the music we sing are design by those who attend the church, 75 or so of the 100 songs we use in worship were written by musicians in the church,  we have written all of our own small group and missional community materials, our kid’s ministries were designed from the ground up by the parents in the community.  Not to brag, but we even designed our website from the ground up. It was one of the most trafficked church websites until Facebook took off.  Volunteering isn’t a problem.  Most of the church volunteers for nursery, kids Min., church cleaning, cooking (we feed everyone each week) etc. 
    We have a simple motto that is spoken often - We are Unhindered by quality control.  People are given the opportunity to practice on us.  Now that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in doing things well, because we do.  We send our musicians to music lessons.  We train our teachers and Nursery workers.  But we believe that discipleship happens on the Job.  We also believe that God is Creative and that as image-bears we should reflex God in the world by being creative in the way we worship Him. 

    I repeatedly challenge churches to ween themselves off the latest worship song-biblestudy-kidsministry curriculum-prefab website-12 step program-and do the hard work of reinventing the wheel.


  • Aaron Scantlen
    9:44 AM
    Tue, May 2, 2017

    Eric - It’s amazing that you have found so many creative and gifted people in your “small” church (it’s actually above the average church which is 85). I have been in ministry in churches that were 20-40, 80, 400, and 1000. I had over 6 drummers at the church of 400. I have 0-1 at the church of 1000. At the church of 20-40, we had a bunch of musicians so we always had a worship team, but nothing for kids. That’s just one brief example. When you have people who are willing and at least moderately gifted in an area, you should wholeheartedly equip them and empower them. But sometimes, you just don’t have ANYONE who knows how to do a video or a great graphic for a sermon series.

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use resources in areas that you need help. I have the luxury now of being paid to do creative things, which allows me the time to make original things. But if you don’t, we unfortunately live in a world where people won’t hear the message of Christ if it is done with bad graphic design and low quality videos. So we are forced to get elements from other churches and from website templates. As you say Jerod, we should NEVER just use something to use something. It has to fit our soil and context and focus of our church. We HAVE to be creative about how we are reaching our area and our church family. But I would LOVE it if people used my songs or graphics to further the kingdom! I think we have looked far to much like the world when it comes to monetizing materials used for spreading the gospel. I totally understand that there is a balance, because my album was expensive to produce and creativity has a cost involved. But there is a balance somewhere.

    So, BE CREATIVE where you can! But don’t expect things that are unrealistic of the gifts you have in your church.

  • Adam Ranck
    9:25 AM
    Wed, May 3, 2017

    I appreciate your boldness to speak on this. Like people before me similarly mentioned, I’m in a place where I’m serving 400 people regularly on a small staff, and I oversee several ministries (administration, assimilation, communications) including every aspect of design within our community, like the website, Social Media, Graphic Design, Sunday slides, room/stage design and more. What happens is if I spend time on creating original graphics, I sacrifice it in other areas, and I would rather invest personally and deeply with people who visit us or serve at our church.

    The major importance I read from your article is no matter what we do, do it with purpose and intentionality. We are slowly conforming our designs, both digitally and physically, to match who we believe our community is .. which we see as grass-roots and community/people focused. We sometimes do original work, but other times use open source materials. It depends on what focus is needed at the time.

    Even with that said, I do know a couple people I could consider passing the design to who may have a little more time than me to create. Just like any disciple/mentoring process, it’ll be very heavy on the front end to train and give vision for what we want to do, but it could pay off.

    The importance is that we take the time to think about what we want to do, and not just do what we see others doing or copy without thought. Intentionality goes a long way.

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