How Has Creativity at Connexus Impacted You?

Outreach magazine contacted us a few weeks ago and is planning on featuring some of the creative elements we do in our weekend services at Connexus in an upcoming issue.  They’re interested in your reaction to our creative elements, and would especially love to see how they have impacted people who are new to church (although everyone’s welcome to jump in).

By creative elements, I mean the parts of the service that use visual props to demonstrate or illustrate the truth we’re talking about. 

Probably the most controversial element was our tattoo segment on Easter Sunday.  (People actually left Connexus over that one, but others loved it.)  Another interesting Sunday was when we talked about delayed gratification and sex and gave everyone chocolate that day to illustrate the point (remember we caught numerous people who couldn’t wait until after the service to eat their chocolate?)  And there have been other elements: ropes to illustrate eternity, wallet cards for doubt and forgiveness, headshavings, false medicine, handing out phone book pages for prayer and much more. 

Would love to know two things:

  1. How did you (and your friends) react to the tattoo segment?  Was it a bridge into the church for those who felt exluded?
  2. How have other creative elements spoken to you?

Obviously, we feel a bit passionately about using creative elements to illustrate truth. In case there’s anyone around who believes creative elements have no place in the church, before commenting, please read these texts.  Then you can comment!

Love to hear from you!

– Carey

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16 Comments

  1. Jen says, September 10, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Well, as far as the tattoos go, although I know that nowhere in the bible does it say "no tattoos at church", I felt that it may have been a bit over the edge. As much as it didn't bother me (and it truly didn't)I felt bad for others who may have been there for the first time. They really must have been thinking "What kind of a crazy church is this?" I wonder what we would do differently if every week we thought of the newcomers? I'm a believer now, not much can scare me away, but for the ones new to this or exploring their faith I would understand if they thought that it was a bit too much for them. Maybe that was something I would have considered more a year or two into it after we've built a name for ourselves. Let's break out more chocolate, though! :o)

  2. Tim L. Walker says, September 11, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Yeah, personally I found the tattoo thing a little "gimmicky," if you know what I mean. It felt really forced and obvious. The chocolate one was great, and it tied into the message really well. There's a fine line between using creative elements to get a point across and being gimmicky, and I'm afraid if we cross that line, people will begin to associate Connexus as "the church that did _____ in a service" instead of the church that is for regular people, or whatever we want people to think of when they think of Connexus. I think the tattooing and even the head shaving came off obviously as "shock value," and I think most people would see it as obvious gimmick or shock value, rather than a "creative element." I don't think we want Sunday morning to be a "show," and if we cross that line between creative elements and gimmick, I think people will begin to view it as such. In the short term, in may bring more people in to "see what crazy thing is happening at Connexus this week," but I think in the long term, the "over-the-top" gimmicks will turn people off Christianity – just in a different way traditional churches normally do.

  3. Sare says, September 11, 2008 at 1:27 am

    The tattoo thing.. blew me right out of the water. Growing up, I was always told "If you get tattoos and piercings, Jesus wont know who you are when you go to meet him" and even as a little kid when my mom asked if i wanted my ears pierced I was like NO! I dont want Jesus to be mad! ( I remember saying that in the Georgain Mall too) So the tattoo thing definatley shocked me, (and granny too!)
    The creativity that connexus has (having a church service in a movie theater is creative enough) draws peoples attention and curiousity. It got mine!
    woo.
    ps.. i was totally one of the people who ate the chocolate before the service was over.. upstreet makes you hungry! hah

  4. Joey says, September 11, 2008 at 6:18 am

    I liked the tattoo thing and up until now didn't realise that it had shocked and upset some. With tattoos being so common with youth and with us really being tattooed on God's heart I thought it was a very powerful image. We also sent the podcast to some nieces and nephews with tatoos who don't go to church. They thought it was great and it made them think about God differently. That they were not on the outside as much as they had thought.

    However, I totally agree we've got to be careful to engage people and use powerful images but not become gimmicky or do things for shock value. I would not want Connexus to become about that. Still, deciding that line is another matter.

    Because many of the creative things Trinity and now Connexus has done over the years have really stayed with me deep in my heart when actual words may have faded, images remained. For example, the Christmas eve at Trinity with Justin's story – that was WONDERFUL and I think of it very often and have told many about it and it has never failed to move them. Also the cafe and waiting for God, and that huge ugly tree which was unforgiveness in our lives.

  5. Carey Nieuwhof says, September 11, 2008 at 6:44 am

    Thanks for the feedback. Keep it coming. Trust me, I never realized how much some people don't like tattoos until we did the tattoo thing. But everyone is entitled to their opinion and I sincerely thank you for voicing them.

    But…the reality is, tons of unchurched people are inked. Food for thought: if many of us are that uncomfortable with tattoos, could that also mean that people with tattoos would be uncomfortable in our normal environment? The tattoo artist hadn't been in church for years, and for him, it was a really positive experience. Did the tattooing and the service serve as a bridge between our cultures?

    As the next set of comments come in, I'd love for you to dig a little deeper and ask why and how certain images spoke to you. If you liked the chocolate…why is that and how did it help you? If you liked the tattoo (or other images), what specifically did it do (forwarding the podcasts is a great example)?

    Thanks for the comments…let's hear some more.

  6. Linda says, September 11, 2008 at 7:11 am

    For me (being the "new" one to church), the tattooing service was my very first one. And to be honest, it really impacted me. I think it was the message, as opposed to the image of the tattoo, that you had said, about how God has imprinted our hearts, that I remember. How everyone has always felt that imprint, whether you have found God, or have always felt something missing in your life. I thought, "Wow, how does he know what I'm feeling?". Sure, the tattooing was certainly not what I thought church was going to be, but it was how you used the visual effects that got the message across.
    Regarding the other creative elements, well, I see them as just tools to help explain your point. I guess I'm not shocked by them, since having a church in a movie theater is already a different from what I thought church would be. I'm still coming back, so they must have some impact, right?
    And my husband said how he hasn't yet fallen asleep in church! Even with the comfy seats!

  7. Tim L. Walker says, September 11, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    To further clarify my comments – I don't have anything against tattoos at all. If the point was to show that Jesus doesn't care if you're inked or not (and I know that wasn't the intended point – at least not the main one), I think there were probably better, less-gimmicky ways to show that. Obviously different people will react in different ways to different creative elements, and there are obviously some people that appreciated the live tattooing. But for those that either didn't like it, or thought it was gimmicky, or thought it was unnecessary, was it worth it to turn some people off of the church? You can't please all the people all of the time, but I think walking as closely to that line between creative elements and shock-value gimmicks as we can will inevitably make Connexus more appealing to the most amount of people.

  8. Jayne says, September 11, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    I think the creative elements go a long way in "making it stick". Maybe people were turned off by the live tattooing but I bet they remember the message. Even if they never came back they still have that message imprinted on their heart & in their mind. The effects of a visual go much further than words alone. I think that's part of what makes Connexus unique; its ability to use culturally relevant creative elements as metaphors & illustrations to drive the message home. Connexus is not what you "expect" from church and to a lot of people, that's very appealing.

  9. JP says, September 11, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Although my personal preference would avoid tattoo ink applied to myself or one of my family members, I think the tattoo Sunday was a very important one. It drove home the fact that we are inked on God's heart to people who may not necessarily understand that concept. You can tell people that Jesus loves them but it doesn't give them a clear picture of what that means. The other thing that blew me away about that Sunday was Grove the artist. You know he listened to every word that came out about how much God loves us. This was the most creative way yet to get an un-churched person into church to listen to a service. My heart went out to him. Maybe because I've known a few people that were covered entirely with tattoo's and found that they were amazing people to talk to anyway. In fact most people that I run into that appear unsavory by our standards usually turn out to be very deep and heartfelt people who have a story all their own. Most of the ones I talk to are searching for something that will make them feel connected and whole. This kind of thing doesn't shock them, it enlightens them. It helps lead them in the direction that keeps them coming back to listen to the message of God's love.

    After all this is why we are here, to reach the lost.

    Go ahead be creative!

  10. Sare says, September 12, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Like Tim said, I have nothing wrong with tattoos… i mean, i even have one. im just saying that i was sooo shocked when it happened! BAM!
    I love the creative…ness (?) of connexus. its something that will stand out in my mind as I move on with my life, try out new churches, move places. Its been such a fantastic and remarkable experience and has brought me closer with God than ever before.

  11. Carey Nieuwhof says, September 12, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Guys…great discussion. Thank you for the different perspectives.

    I think there's a certain truth to the fact that because we did something like that tattoo, we are still able to talk about it six months later and the message that went with the image is still fresh enough to recall for some of us. Interesting.

    It's like the current 7/490 message which we've shrouded in "mystery". After week one, many people said "I figured that's what it was", which is great. The point is that because we used a different metaphor, it was a way to help people think differently, generate conversation, and teach a principle in a fresh way that is more memorable than if we didn't use a cryptic title.

    What do you think? Is that in itself a value? Does creativity and making it memorable have some inherent value (in that sense)?

    Loving the discussion!

  12. Amanda W says, September 12, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    The tattoo message had an awesome message and visual behind all the controversy, which unfortunately ended up taking the focus off the message about how God is always in our hearts just like a tattoo, forever. The visual of the tattoo being there FOREVER was great to follow up with teaching the youth later that night. Maybe a pre-taped interview at a tattoo parlor would have given the same visual with less controversy. Even having “Christian” musicians with tattooed sleeves bridges the gap for those who may feel excluded and even remind those of us more mainstream not to judge a book by its cover.
    The most remember able creative elements that I remember are: the Big Cross when we wrote down our sins we wanted forgiveness for. WOW Impactful. It meant so much to go through that process. Also the taped interviews (ie. Baptisms) or live interviews (i.e. Phil & Utta’s) – waterproof mascara a must! Hearing how God has changed their lives since accepting Christ as Saviour is so powerful. The Artist on stage, when we went up to the canvas and painted someone’s name we wanted to know Christ on the canvas, which then hung in the foyer for us to remember every week we saw it. The dramas, remember Mission Impossible or the Cave Men – hilarious and engaging. What about the interview with Tim the doctor and how science beliefs have changed over the decades. Even during worship sometimes when we would play the beautiful nature pictures of God’s creation behind the words, was sometimes moving and got you thinking of His Glory. In the youth program and a youth minister riding into VBC on a four wheeler caught the kids’ attention.
    Some of these elements were just plain humous, but a great way for us to minister to others in a non-threatening way, telling a friend about the drama at church and if the listener is ready relating the skit to the message.

  13. JP says, September 12, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Carey to answer your question, yes! Creativity is absolutely mandatory. I don't know the last time any of us has been to a traditional church but I would use it as an example of what I would consider a complete opposite to creativity. (sorry if I offend) Traditional church is more times than not the most non-creative environment that we could ever engage in. Non-creative, non-relevant and in turn becomes not memorable. Non-church goers can hardly wait to peel out of the parking lot to get themselves as far away as they can from that type of environment. We need to use creativity to create an impact full message that will be remembered long after they've left the building. For a non-church goer/member it's pretty much the only thing they have left at that point to hold onto. I think trying to make that piece as memorable as possible regardless of the shock value for the rest of us is very important. Amanda brings up some very memorable pieces as well that have been done in the past. We remember them because they too were very creative….keep it coming.

  14. Tim L. Walker says, September 12, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    So you think that being memorable is the key, then? What if people remember the over-the-top creative elements as that "church that tried too hard to be ____" and laugh about it in 6 months? Do we really want to turn the Sunday services into a gong show just so people remember it? (playing the devils' advocate a little here…)

    I think creative elements are a super important part of what we do at Connexus, but I fear if we put too much weight on that aspect of the service, and rely on it too heavily, it will lose its' impact. It'll make for a short term gain, and a long term loss…

  15. linda yates says, September 14, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    well this has stirred up alot of thoughts…no offense to others, but here's my thoughts… i must say Carey, that i think the creativity has inspired me! and brought one of my daughters to accept Christ! Been to those traditional churches in the past – and Andrew and i, were drawn to Connexus (Trinity) just 'cause of the "outside the box" thinking! and MUSIC!! . Our first impression of Trinity will never be forgotten by us or my girls… the band was rockin' that day and we went away thinking -"WOW! THIS IS CHURCH?" and we wanted to come Back!!! Tattoos, head shaving, Carey locked up in a box, Patrick the game show host, chairs turned the opposite way… etc all maybe shocking but, all really powerful! and certainly lines up with the Book club reading "The End of Religion" – Bruxy Cavey – just think how radical Jesus is in getting His point across at times.
    My thoughts on the tattoo definitely at the time was about reaching the artist! and the message he heard that day – POWERFUL seed planting!!! i think we need to stop thinking so much about ourselves and what we thought about the "gimmicks" and think about the way we are impacting others with that CREATIVITY! Afterall, the lost are just that, because of religion – let's step out of that religious box and turn some heads or shave them – whatever it takes – if it makes them think about Jesus and keeps them coming back – the increased number of new faces every week certainly speaks for that!!

  16. Joan says, September 15, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Wow! So much has been covered here so I won't bother repeating (all great stuff). I must add one comment though JP….I grew up quite faithfully in a non-creative, non-exciting (by today's standards) traditional church, but there is something to be said for it – God seems to be where the heart is. I love the creativity at Connexus, but God was very much apparent and real without it too. I don't think he only visited the "interesting" places. Every repetitive prayer, every standup/sit down that took place had impact on me. Maybe we really have to be "modern", relevant, and creative now to get people back to church and if that's the case, then I say go for it, but if some people still find God in traditional church then that's good too. I believe God will reach those that are seeking, in any way/place He chooses and no amount of creativity or boredom is going to interfere with God's plans.
    In the meantime, Carey, Connexus has most certainly furthered my journey and I love how God is moving there.

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