You’ve heard that you should be doing more storytelling in your organization, but your calendar is full, and honestly, throwing up that quick graphic is a lot easier than trying to seek out a story. When your schedule gets busy, it’s one of the easiest things to feel extraneous and get tossed if you don’t have a developed system.
But stories matter.
They change your communication from being an advertising stream to a meaningful way of encouraging authenticity, embracing creativity, and celebrating what God has done in your church.
But it can be intimidating, so here are 4 of the easiest “on-ramps” to incorporating storytelling in your church communication plan.
1. Volunteer Highlights
These are one of the best ways to begin telling stories. For one, they’re some of the easiest stories to find. Checking in with department heads will likely give you a few leads to pursue.
Volunteer Highlights are also a great way to appreciate current serving volunteers and encourage others to serve. Rather than saying “We love our volunteers! Come serve in kids ministry!” take the time to share the story of why someone got involved in serving with kids and why they would encourage others to do the same.
2. Meet-the-Staff Posts
This works best in a large church where it’s hard to know all of the staff, but any church would benefit. When we hire a new staff member (especially in a more public role, like a high school pastor or worship leader), we do a fun meet-the-staff post with graphics to introduce them.
This isn’t quite a traditional narrative, but I still include it in this list because it allows us to share details about someone and give the community the chance to connect with them. I usually do an email interview with 10 questions (a few standard questions like “why did you choose to work at Mission Hills” which gives a great, authentic answer and a rotating set of goofy ones like “what sport would you add to the Olympics” which helps to “humanize” a large staff) and create graphics to accompany them for easy reading. You can see an example here.
3. Vulnerable Staff Stories
One of the obstacles we face being mega church is tendency for public leaders to have very polished images. It is easy to see our worship and preaching staff as people who have it all together. It is important to us that we model being real and honest, so we encourage our staff to share their stories.
Our Weekend Experience director agreed to be incredibly vulnerable and share his story on our social media in order to model our commitment to be real with each other. He openly shared the story of his wife dying of cancer when his daughter was very young, and the challenge of bringing his new wife into their lives. His decision to be transparent and honest about both how hard life has been, how God has been faithful, and learning to meet each other in their brokenness connected tremendously with our audience. See example here.
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Real. Messy. New. We are people, gathered together, being honest with each other and real as we share our stories. Meet Danny Oertli. ____ One of the biggest lessons my family taught me was that “life is about people." I saw that in my parents. I have always been in ministry, and now my kids also know ministry. They know how to talk to people and how to value them. I gave them responsibilities and I didn’t shield anything. That’s what it was like for me growing up, my parents were sincere and authentic. Throughout my entire life, God has been really faithful to my family. … Within 6 months of my first marriage, my wife began battling cancer. She fought it. We didn’t think we were going to be able to have kids, and then Grace came. She became our little miracle baby, that’s how she got her name – God’s grace. After that, we adopted Jack. After a few years, she died of a heart attack. We think it was a result of the chemo and radiation from her battle because it was so close to her heart. I had to give myself a healing deadline. I had to be real in front of my kids. C.S. Lewis says, “I shall not pass this way again,” I grieved hard for the first year, and did my best to move into a new sunrise. … Then I met Rayna. It was’t easy. Gracie needed a mom, but there were many lies we had to fight with Rayna feeling like second best. We love to talk, and that helps. We have learned to be self aware and again to talk about everything. … We are a broken family, but it’s our family. The things that feel like burdens may be just part of what God is calling you to be. Sometimes it is a labor of love. Like disciplining your children, you don’t want to, its not fun, but it is necessary. … Being real has meant meeting each other where we’re at, and learning to meet each other in our brokenness. But it also means taking hold of the things that bring us joy, especially as a family. In the midst of heartache, God has taught me to take hold of the moments when my kids are brought joy, and to help them embrace it. Walking through these chapters, I think that’s one of my biggest takeaways. Recognize the fire in your kids eyes and encourage it.
When we do staff stories, we do a long interview and condense it into 3-4 paragraphs connected around a central theme. These longer form stories model being real about our lives and build a culture for our congregation where they begin to be more comfortable being vulnerable and honest.
4. Promotion/Celebration Through Story
The more you can promote events through telling a story of how God has already moved through it, the less you are an advertiser and the more you allow what God has already done to energize the reader.
We are currently nearing the end of a large building expansion on our main campus. We want to celebrate the progress, but we don’t want it to be a celebration of the financial goals or our mere size. I waited and prayed for the right angle to celebrate how the Lord has provided.
A few days later, I got a forwarded email from one of our executive staff members. One of the construction workers who has been working at the campus for the last year began to come to church again and had given his life to Jesus that Sunday. I knew that was the story I was waiting for. I got permission to share the story and made the post a celebration how God had already used the new space to bring the lost to himself.
Keep your eyes out for opportunities to stop advertising and instead allow what God is doing to propel people towards celebration and involvement. Seek out those stories through other staff members (dig for a story from the last youth retreat before you promo this years, or find a small group testimony before this year’s group kickoff) and you’ll begin to create a culture of storytelling.
Telling (and finding) stories is difficult. It takes time to build a culture where those stories are passed along to you and shared. But using these stories values our communities, worships our creative God, and authentically engages with the people God has given us to lead.