Next to the love of God, I’m not sure there is a more universal thing in the history of our world than story.
For thousands and thousands of years, human beings have told stories to entertain and pass on vital information from generation to generation.
The Bible itself is a collection of stories passed down through the generations.
As human beings, we are seemingly hardwired to love a good story. When our brain is introduced to a story, it immediately pays attention.
As ResourceUMC notes in their article Easy steps for telling your church’s story, “when you listen to or read a well-told story, part of your brain responds as if you were literally inside the story.”
This is called “narrative transportation.”
When our brain encounters a story problem, we almost automatically insert ourselves into the story as if we were a part of it.
Consider your favorite book, TV show, or movie. The storylines in those productions hook you and leave you in anticipation of how the story will unfold and eventually end. It leaves you on the edge of your seat. You live vicariously through the protagonist in the story.
Even our local and national news uses story to lure us in to watch their broadcasts or read their articles. A great headline, or teaser heading into a commercial break, presents a story problem and opens a story loop in our brain that leaves us almost NEEDING to know how the story ends.
So, we wait out the commercials or click that link to read the article.
How Can Your Church Use Story to Reach Your Mission Field?
So, as churches, how do we utilize this amazing storytelling tool to better reach our communities?
There are two ways to use storytelling as a church. Both are good; one is pure gold.
Here is what you’ll get in the rest of this article.
- Telling Your Church’s Stories
- Inviting Your Mission Field Into a Story
- How to Invite your Mission Field Into a Story Using Your Church’s Stories
- The Elements of Storytelling You Need to Know and Use to Tell a Good Story
- The Difference Between a Narrative and a Good Story
Telling Your Church’s Stories
Everyone loves a good story, and we all love to tell our own stories. Telling the stories of our churches has a place in great church communications.
Your church undoubtedly has years, maybe decades, of amazing stories of transformation. People have encountered God through your ministries, and their lives have been transformed. Your church’s work in your community and world has transformed countless lives.
Those are great stories to tell!
Everyone loves a good story of transformation. If our churches have done their jobs in our community and world, we should have plenty of them.
The stories we tell from our church show people our church is vibrant and alive. They show that people are transformed as part of our community. They show that God is at work in and through our people.
No one wants to attend a church that isn’t contributing to the life transformation of its people and its neighbors. Especially those who don’t know God or have long since left the church—the “Nones and Dones,” as they are referred to sometimes.
By telling compelling stories of the life transformation that has taken place through your church, you show a glimpse of what life could be like for others who participate in your church community.
The stories we tell about our churches are important in our communications and ministry strategies. However, they are NOT the most important stories we tell. They are simply a piece of the puzzle.
Inviting Your Mission Field Into a Story
While telling your church’s stories is a great way to show the vitality of your congregation, there is a better way to draw in your mission field.
Whether you consider your mission field your neighbors in your immediate community, an audience of online worshippers, or a village on another continent your church serves through international missions, there is a better way to engage them than telling your own church stories.
Instead of telling a story, invite your mission field into a story of their own transformation with your church as their guide.
You see, we are all the hero in our own life story. We see the world through the lens of our own two eyes.
We’re not looking for another hero in the story; we’re looking for a guide who understands us and can help us overcome our problems and lead us to success.
Your mission field wants to win the day in their own story
As a church, if you do the work to deeply understand the problems your mission field are experiencing and how those problems make them feel, you can effectively invite them into a story of their own transformation.
As a Certified StoryBrand Guide, this is the work I do every day for churches, nonprofits, and businesses around the country.
I help them identify their audience (mission field for churches), and the problem they’re experiencing, and then help them show that audience how my client steps into their story, gives them a plan to overcome their problems, and guides them to success.
When your mission field lands on your website, a social media post, or hears you speak, and they see themself in the story, THAT is when narrative transportation occurs.
How do you help someone see themself in the story you are telling?
Talk about their problems.
A story doesn’t get started until the protagonist encounters a problem that puts a gap between them and the object of their desire or need.
Whether it’s church communications or a Coke commercial, we listen when our brain notices someone talking about a problem we have.
So, when our website, social media, sermons, and everything else continually touch on the problems our mission field are experiencing, they’re more likely to listen.
How to Invite Your Mission Field Into a Story Using Your Church’s Stories
Telling your church’s stories and inviting your mission field into a story are essential tools for engaging the people you are called to serve.
However, if you can master the art of combining these two, you’ll see your church communications reach new levels.
Start by inviting your mission field into a story of their own transformation
Your mission field doesn’t want to hear about your church right away. When you dive right into your own stories, you make the story about your church. The story shouldn’t be about your church; it should be about the human beings within your mission field.
So, start by inviting your mission field into a story by addressing the real problems they experience. Talk about their problems and how it makes them feel.
Once you’ve got their attention from addressing their problem, you can tell a relevant story of how your church helped someone else overcome that problem.
Tell the story. Better yet, have the person who experienced the transformation tell the story. Set the story up and then let that person give their own testimonial.
So, now you know the importance of telling your church stories and inviting your mission field into a story and how to combine them for maximum impact, but…
How do you actually tell a good story?
The great thing about storytelling is that it is an art form that has existed for thousands of years. Over time, key elements of great stories have become standard.
These storytelling elements are so standard that when they are not included in a story, the audience tends to get confused and lose interest.
However, when these elements are included in a story, attention is captured, clarity is achieved, and your story embeds itself into the minds of the listener.
The Seven Key Elements of Storytelling to Help You Tell Great Stories
In great novels and screenplays, there are a few dozen elements of storytelling that great storytellers use. For our purposes here, we will condense that down to just seven key storytelling elements.
These elements of storytelling are laid out in the book, Building a StoryBrand, by Donald Miller (New York Times bestselling author of Blue Like Jazz for you early 2000s Christian memoir lovers).
Here are the seven key elements of storytelling and questions you can ask yourself to determine what you need to say to invite your mission field into a story.
For our purposes here, the people in your mission field will be the “Character” in the story, and your church will be the “Guide.”
+ A Character Wants Something
What do the people in your mission field want related to your church?
They might want a lot of things in general, but when it comes to things your church can help them achieve, what do they want?
+ But, They Encounter a Problem
What is preventing your mission field from achieving what they want? How does that make them feel? Why is it just plain wrong that they can’t get what they want?
+ Then, The Character Meets a Guide (YOU!)
Every good story has a guide (think of Yoda in Star Wars). Someone who has been there before understands what the character is going through and can help them overcome their problem and achieve success.
The Guide presents itself with two main qualities
Empathy: How do you know or understand what the people in your mission field are going through? How can you feel their pain and show empathy toward them?
Authority: How can you let the people in your mission field know that you have overcome this problem before (personally or for others) and can help them do the same?
+ Who Gives Them a Plan
No one trusts a guide without a plan! Think about it. If you hired a fishing guide to help you catch some huge fish on a Great Lakes fishing expedition and they say, “Well, I’ve never done this before; we’ll just roam around until we find some fish!” You would jump out of the boat.
The same goes for your church and your mission field. They want to know you have a clear plan to help them overcome a problem and guide them to success.
The best way to show them you have a clear plan is to lay it out for them. What 3-4 steps will you guide them through to help them go from where they are now to where they wish they could be?
If you can outline a simple plan, they will trust you WAY more than if you don’t.
+ And Calls Them to Action
People go where you tell them to go…when they trust you.
If you have identified your mission field’s problem and how they field, shown empathy toward them and authority to help them, and given them a clear plan to overcome their problem, they will trust you. At this point, it’s time to tell them what to do next.
Identify the ONE THING you need them to do next to participate in their own transformation.
+ To Avoid Failure
Every good story has stakes. As a church, you need to be delicate about how you address the potential failure of your mission field not acting. You don’t want to come off all fire and brimstone on them.
However, helping them see that you can help them avoid certain consequences of not acting will help them understand more deeply the need to act and position you as the Guide to help.
+ And Find Success
Your mission field wants to know where you are taking them. Show them. Tell Them. Help them see it and field it.
Identify all the potential ways your mission field will experience success by participating in your ministry. Show them those ways in pictures, videos, words, and the stories of your church (past success others have experienced).
WARNING: The Difference Between a Narrative and a Good Story
This is where a LOT of churches fall off the tracks.
Most churches, especially ones with a long history, think that telling their “church story” means telling the history of their church.
The history of your church is a narrative. It plays out with like, “We were founded in 1923, and then we built a building, and then we built another building…and then…and then…and then.
A church’s history is a chronological narrative. Literally, no one but your church historian cares about your chronological history.
A good story is a story of transformation. A character wants something, but something is preventing them from getting it, and it hurts; a Guide steps in and shows them how to overcome their problem, avoid failure, and find success.
Tell more stories and tell fewer narratives.
Conclusion: If you invite your mission field into a story of their own transformation, your church will have a real impact and will grow.
Tell great stories. Use the elements of storytelling above to tell your church stories and to invite your mission field into a story.
As a Certified StoryBrand Guide, this is what I do every day. I am here to help your church invite your neighbors into a story of their own transformation so you can have a real impact for the Kingdom of God in your community.
I hope this article helps you tell better stories. If you want help, I’d love to talk to you and see if I can help you take storytelling to the next level. Schedule a free discovery call anytime.