All good content needs a concept. It’s true for your documentary, your regular column which is coming due, your next sermon, or the brand you’re looking for to mark your new initiative.
A good concept is an iceberg of ideas. A good concept can spin off 8, 10, 12, 16 great themes. The more you look the more there are. In fact if you can’t think of 10 good themes for your concept, it probably isn’t strong enough. Of course you only want to go with the best 4-5 of these themes. You want to have some that hit the cutting room floor.
Here are three examples of concepts.
One. A missions pastor wanted to engage his congregation with 30 opportunities to serve over 30 days, each a simple and short way to help someone. He wanted to do it over the Lenten season which precedes Holy Week and Easter Sunday as a way to experience, in a small way, the same sort of sacrifice Jesus experienced. So the topic was mission, with many themes and applications, but it needed a concept. I suggested we turn typical understanding of Lent upside down. So we called it Eat the Chocolate. We handed out kisses with a link to a website embedded in the wrapping and said, this year, don’t give up chocolate for Lent. Go ahead and et the chocolate, and serve instead. With a fun concept driving it, the serving campaign took on new energy.
Two. Creativity isn’t a concept. It’s an attribute, a theory and unfortunately now a buzzword as well – unfortunately, too, because once something becomes a buzzword it’s on its way to parody and dismissal. I knew I couldn’t make “creativity” my book lead. Instead, I asked, who’s creative? Kids. Everybody knows it. If we could only be as creative as a child. So my book title became Think Like a Five Year Old. The topic is creativity, but the concept is childlike creative freedom. The themes? There are hundreds, from creative recovery to crazy things kids say to learning from kids to best practices to all sorts of applications in various endeavors and industries.
Three. At my new church, St. Andrew, we wanted to make a stewardship series with four themes (Worship, Connect, Serve and Give) , based on the theological idea that true stewardship is a whole life commitment and not a financial transaction. I’d been reading about Jesus calling the first disciples, from Luke 5, and as it so happened, the biblical story contained all four themes. After an unsuccessful night of fishing, Jesus gives Simon the counter-intuitive command to drop the nets in the deeper water. I called the resulting haul, and its life-changing consequences for Simon and his buddies, The Net Effect. The title fits the story, teases the consequences for Simon and for us, and hints at a financial tie-in. It also opens up a world of possible themes and extensions. What is the net effect for worship? For exploring deeper waters? For our relationships? For serving? For our financial life?
Okay, now the hard part.
Most phrases people use aren’t concepts.
A word or phrase, say like “dare to inspire”, especially if it’s buzzy or trendy or cliché, is not a concept. You need more than a phrase or a word, especially if the word is something that might show up in ad copy from 15 years ago.
Notice with these three concepts that they’re visual. This is hard for our Western-trained minds, because we tend to think in terms of scientific proofs and references. But if you can find a core image at the root of the topic, you’ll likely find a way to communicate it.
Look at the thing you’re working on right now. Is it a collection of buzzwords, or is it a concept? You have to dig deeper in order to get people to care about your good content. Study the examples above. If you don’t have a concept, people won’t connect with it, and if that’s the case then why bother spending your precious time on it?