People think in stories, talk to their friends in stories, even dream in stories. Jesus taught in stories.
If you want to understand what is going on in an ELCA congregation, you need to listen to the stories. If you want seekers to be attracted to your Lutheran congregation, you need to tell your stories.
Turn to the secular world for lessons in storytelling
“All you can do is relate the successful experiences you’ve had within the company,” says Jim Sinegal, co-founder, president and CEO of Costco Wholesale. “What else have we got besides stories? That’s what really hits home with people; it’s what brings meaning to the work we do. … When you have real examples, that’s what resonates.” “A picture is worth a thousand words, and a story told appropriately is priceless,” Jim adds. “Telling one of our own stories speaks volumes about our philosophy and our values.”
Stories have been helping professional communicators achieve countless communication goals. Because stories touch us deeply, they stay with us. Each time a story is shared, connections with family, friends, organizations and communities expand and deepen.
Use this knowledge in your congregation’s communication efforts
Tell a story when writing for your newsletter. For instance, as a newsletter editor you may be tempted to publish a picture of 100-year-old Mildred with a birthday hat perched on her head. The accompanying short story reads: “We thank God for Mildred Goodman, who celebrates her 100th birthday but is still young at heart. Here is Mildred at her birthday party. She really did a great job of blowing out all those candles. God bless you, Mildred.”
Don’t do it. Mildred will be thankful.
Instead of running that compelling squib, go and talk to Mildred and listen to her story. You may be surprised to find that her parents were missionaries and that she grew up in Africa. Her faith journey began as a mountaintop experience on the slope of Mount Kilimanjaro. Your newsletter readers will be interested in that story.
Tell your congregation’s story to your friends and neighbors
Churchwide staff member Wendy Blanck is a hardworking volunteer for her Presbyterian congregation in Arlington Heights, Ill. (She’s on loan to us Lutherans). She tells great faith stories about her many mission trips to the Dominican Republic. As a former director of Christian education for her congregation, many of her program ideas have found their way into the pages of Seeds for the Parish.
Wendy also helps out at her congregation’s homeless shelter, taking the night shift after a long day at the office. But Wendy wasn’t raised by a church-going family. She wasn’t encouraged to attend Sunday school. “I didn’t hear about church from my parents,” Wendy reveals. “I was invited to go to church by friends, girls I respected and trusted. They had such wonderful stories.” Because of those stories, the Presbyterian church gained a valuable member.
Tell your faith story to the youth of your congregation
Be prepared to share your faith stories with the young people of your congregation when the door of opportunity opens for you. Take some time to think about the faith stories you can talk to them about, such as:
- when you were challenged by a spiritual concern;
- when you realized that you experienced God’s grace, forgiveness and love;
- when you were in a difficult situation or had problems making a decision and somehow you were guided by your faith; or
- the time or times when God was most real to you.
Storytelling can be a wondrous thing. Isn’t it how the apostles spread the good news all those years ago?