Content Creation 101

I work at Student Life.  We're a para-church youth ministry organization that primarily focuses on summer events and Bible study resources.  My job title at Student Life is Content Creator. When it comes to my job I'm often asked (even by people I work with on a daily basis) what exactly that means.  I've decided to take a few posts and try to explain.

Let me inform you right off the bat that there are a lot of things I do around here.  In fact, there's a new project we're working on that I'm getting to kinda lead (at least for right now), and it's pretty big.  But the main responsibility of my job is thematic development.

So, what is "thematic development."  Well, it's basically developing the general message that whatever we're doing is going to present to its audience.  So, whether we're doing a book, a Bible study, an event, a video, whatever, for the most part, they're going to hopefully "say" something.  I'm responsible for giving the direction for what they're going to say.  Thankfully I don't have to do this all by myself, but I've got to at least drive that particular bus.

So, let's take a for instance... our summer events.  Generally, all of our summer events carry the same message.  Now it will be presented in all kinds of different ways, video, stage, design, Bible study, magazine, etc, and each of these different mediums might not all present the whole of the message, but they will at least focus on a part.  There are other people in charge of each of these specific areas.  What I provide them is the overall content for the overall message.  That's what I create, hence me being a "Content Creator."

So, for next summer our theme is "Re," and it's all built around the verse Micah 6:8.  So, how did we get here?  Well, in order to answer that, let's go back to the beginning of the process.

The first event that is focused around the message of "Re" won't begin until May 29, 2010.  However, we traditionally release our dates for the next year on May 1 of the previous year.  That means we released information about 2010 summer events on May 1, 2009.  We always try to have the theme solidified by then.  What we mean is that on May 1 we try to have the word or phrase that's "going to appear on the t-shirt" and at least the verse or passage of Scripture that is providing the focus for that word or phrase.

In order to have that content for May 1, the process usually begins no later than around March 1.  The beginnings of the process often involves me doing one of two things, and possibly both.  Those are a) having a meeting with a big group of people to brainstorm ideas and/or b) emailing a big group of people to ask for those ideas.  Remarkably, few people actually offer many ideas.  We sometimes have a culture around here that is much more prone to react/evaluate/critique than to... well, let's just leave it at that.

The next thing I do is to begin to trim down those ideas and begin to try to hone in on three or four that I believe would work well for what we're doing.  Some factors I consider when trying to do so are...

  • What does the Bible say - It's actually pretty easy to just come up with some "theme" that sounds cool or trendy or relevant or whatever.  But if it's not first coming out of Scripture and serving to teach Truth and reveal who God is, then it's really not worth much.
  • What have we said before - We like to be original, at least we try to be.  We don't really like repeating ourselves too much (we've only done so twice, and both instances, I believe, were justified).  So, it's important to remember what we've said in our past, even all the way back to when SL first began.
  • What have we said recently - This is similar to the previous factor, but here's how it differs.  Often we can get stuck in the realm of one particular message.  Maybe we're not saying the exact same thing and repeating ourselves, but we're stuck in orbit around some central idea, expounding on various aspects of it.  Whenever I find that to be the case I have to consider whether a) we're stuck and need to move on, possibly in a drastically different direction or b) God might have us here for a reason so we can make sure we cover something He's wanting to say fully.  It's not always easy to make the call about which is the case.
  • What do teenagers need to hear - While we market our "product" (events and resources) to adults that work with teenagers (youth ministers, youth workers, Bible study teachers, parents, etc.), we create the "product" for teenagers.  There's a lot we can tell them, but, honestly, they don't need to hear all of it.  Hopefully they're going to walk with Christ their entire lives, so they've got that long to learn everything they need to know.  We have to answer what we discern they need in the now.  That doesn't mean that we don't speak to the past or the future.  Sometimes what they need in the now is to hear about those things as well.
  • What can we say well - We at Student Life have a certain personality and a certain culture.  It's not always easily definable, but we've got to know who we are.  When we do we can more readily understand what we are in a position to say.
  • What are other people saying - We don't always know this, at least what other people are going to be saying in a year.  But we can look at what others are currently saying or have said recently.  By others, I of course mean our friends and partners in youth ministry who do similar things to what we do.  We consider them less out of competition's sake and more from trying to avoid repeating their same message or invading their "turf."  That is, unless we believe they're getting it wrong and we need to do something in order to rectify that wrong.  This latter case has yet to happen.
  • Where is the Spirit leading - Ultimately this consideration is first and foremost and helps us answer the other factors.  Regardless of how cool it might seem or how great of an idea it might be, if the Spirit's not in it, we don't do it.  That's not always the easiest to discern, but the more we listen, the easier it becomes.

That's basically how the whole thing begins... Stay tuned to hear (or, rather, read) about what happens next.