To Create or Copy?

February 26, 2009 by

It’s a huge question among churches. One side says, “Now now, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” The other side says, “But it’s about artistic integrity and beauty, man!” When it comes down to it, you could also argue in terms of stewardship. After all, creation is pretty doggone expensive. But then again, you could argue in terms of integrity. We have a responsibility to explore the creativity God has given us, and copying is just plain wrong.

In other words, the argument could go on forever.

Recently, Tim Stevens took the position of “Create if you can, and creatively copy if you can’t.” He argues that:

You can be innovative without being original. Sometimes the most innovative idea for your church or your community is something that was borrowed from somewhere else. That is okay, because being original is overrated …

… It is 2009, and there are amazing resources available to you. Most our ideas come from taking someone else’s idea and making it work for us. We Grangerize it. That is, we make it work for our culture, and that is okay with us. We truly do not care whether what we do is original or not–we just care if it works. If it is effective, who cares whether we got the idea from a church in Tupelo or off of YouTube? If we can use the idea to impact our community, why does it matter if it is an already-been-used idea from or Willow Creek?

[Note: And just to be clear, borrowing someone else’s idea and building on it does not mean stealing their work. It’s OK to be inspired by someone else’s work. It’s not OK to steal their work.]

He does also mention that he fully supports creativity, newness and pushing the limits, but it’s just unreasonable to expect that we can always do those things. So when we can’t, it’s all right to recycle.

Joshua Blankenship wrote a piece for Collide magazine called “Frankendesign” a few months back that takes the position of creativity as a necessity and responsibility. It’s a great read if you want to get the opposing side of the argument. He posits:

“Good enough” is often just that to us–as if God is only concerned with truth and justice, not beauty and craftsmanship. These passive, lazy art and design practices will consistently produce immature artists and designers who are incapable of creating compelling work. They will likely only produce sub-standard works while trying to play cultural catch-up with the rest of the world.

So what do you think, is it a-OK to go with the reduce, reuse and recycle method for your church? Or should you go the extra mile to develop a standard and culture of creativity?

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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6 Responses to “To Create or Copy?”

  • Jarrod
    February 26, 2009

    Another article was recently written for Collide and discusses what is needed in order to create individual and communal rhythms for creativity.
    Oh ya, I wrote that. :)
    I would agree with Blankenship. Let’s take the time to learn where our unique creativity lies and refuse “good enough” photocopies of popculture.

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  • Andrew VanderPloeg
    February 26, 2009

    I believe there is a happy medium. I’m BIG on the idea that we need to give our best to God and that involves producing the highest quality communications, services, etc…, that we can. I think in an ideal world, original content is part of that.

    But practically, the majority of churches and ministries out there are drawing on a small pool of talent and asking them to keep pushing out high-quality design, communications, music, drama, etc…, on a weekly (or even more frequent basis) and it simply isn’t realistic. Taking content from somewhere else and doing your best to reproduce it with the best quality you can (or bringing your own flavor to it), is therefore, necessary.

    And to be clear, copying an idea or concept and making it your own can be done in a high quality manner. One of the biggest Christian blogs on the Net, Stuff Christians Like, has had the charge levelled against it that it’s simply a copy of the concept from the successful book and blog, “Stuff White People Like”. Even if it is, that doesn’t nullify the fact that what Jon Acuff writes on SCL is high-quality content. It is high quality, and that’s why it’s grown so quickly.

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  • Ryan
    February 26, 2009

    I’m a designer/creative director/marketer for a mega church in central Florida. So my comments are mainly focused on the creative and advertising perspective.
    There comes a point where original is the only way to go because it is the only thing that is applicable to our brand/image. Other times, copying and editing works due to time and money.
    I would ask what is your expected ROI (return on investment). If your ROI is high then spend the money and time for original ideas, artwork, etc keeping in mind what is known to be proven. If ROI is relatively low then copy and amend.
    I use stock more than I like, but it still works. I use popular trends because that’s what people perceive as relevant. But once those trends and stock become normal, over done or create the perception of completely copying and just trying to be like everyone else, it’s time to spend the resources to be original.
    Hopefully, that doesn’t happen here much. Yea, I’m working on ways to survey that.

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  • ryan guard
    February 27, 2009

    Steve Carter, who was leading the students ministries at Mars Hill in Michigan (but is now at Rock Harbor in California) did a 5-part series on his blog that connects with this topic. He asked whether or not it was ok for people to copy/paste other people’s sermons. Some great dialogue went down that you might enjoy reading…

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  • Dave
    March 1, 2009

    I’m of the opinion that it all depends on the purpose of what you’re doing it for. I mean, a large majority of tomorrows ideas will be a mashup of todays. There’s nothing new under the sun so to speak.
    It’s when things are done without a deep purpose behind them that things start to get messed up, because creativity becomes nothing more than the latest trend + photoshop + istock formula. It doesn’t communicate the gospel, or express the life of the church in an authentic manner, and it devalues the gifts of people who are creative – and i’ve seen that happen in small churches and large ones.
    .. but that’s a whole topic of discussion all in itself.

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  • Hal
    March 2, 2009

    Stevens says, “Most our ideas come from taking someone else’s idea and making it work for us. We Grangerize it. That is, we make it work for our culture, and that is okay with us.”
    The BIG problem I have with this statement is it seems to hinge on the definition of “our culture” as being the church. If we are truly concerned about people who don’t live in our little bubble, then rationale utterly falls apart. Borrowing ideas from popular brands, trends, or culture and just making it work for our culture” (a la most Christian t-shirts) communicates to non-believers that Christians are incapable of an original thought, and our best efforts come off as nothing more than lampooning popular culture. That may be “okay with us,” but it isn’t okay with many others. It creates a real credibility for us with the non-believing culture.

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