Storytelling is a powerful way to articulate values and reinforce desired behaviors in society, organizational life or a community. A group’s values shape and define their language and narratives—how they talk about what matters most to them. This is true of churches, too, and is why guests can discern so much about a church’s true values in one visit.
What does your church value? Do the people in your church talk about inclusiveness and building relationships in the community? Or is the conversation more about simply giving money to various community efforts? Do you integrate regular stories of community engagement and impact in your sermons, newsletters, printed materials, etc.?
Jesus gave the church a seek-and-save mission to reach people who are far from God. Using intentional language within your church and encouraging storytelling outside the church walls can build a strong culture of evangelism and mobilize Christians to reach lost people.
I am proud of the mission statement we’ve developed at Community Christian Church: “Helping people find their way back to God.” We talk about evangelism as multiplication. We ask questions such as “Who are your five [people you’re praying for]?” or “Who did you B.L.E.S.S. (Begin with prayer, Listen, Eat, Serve, share your Story) this week?” to remind people of our expectation that they will be praying for people in their lives. As this language was used consistently over time in sermons and small groups and on social media, it actually became our practice.
Determine what you want to say over and over again and reinforce those words. Be patient and consistent—just about the time we get sick and tired of repeating phrases and using specific words is when the congregation is just beginning to get it. Consistency is one of the keys to effective storytelling.
Space for Storytelling
Our current practice of meeting as a church in a building once a week (the common model for most Western churches) limits opportunities to build relationships and create space for storytelling and story sharing. It’s hard to build relationships while sitting in the pews listening to sermons. In the earliest days of the church, we see Christians meeting in homes. These gatherings included table fellowship, praise, prayer and teaching, and participants likely weren’t rushing to clear out by a certain time. It would have been easy to share a story along with a meal and learn about how the story of Jesus changes entire communities.
I believe we can work within the structures we have to create meaningful opportunities to share stories in alignment with our goals.
If we can regularly tell stories on our screens, on our social media pages, in our sermons and in our conversations, we can normalize the process of sharing stories. This reinforces our mission to seek and save the lost and our belief that that all are welcome wherever Jesus’ people gather.
At Community Christian Church, we have been using our larger church as a platform to train our people to start microchurches. These are highly relational spaces with a focus on mission where we live, work and play, bringing elements of early church life into our modern Chicagoland context and other places around the world.
Share the Best Story
As the church, we are responsible for telling the most important story in human history: the gospel. Jesus’ mission “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) gives us our mission too. How did Jesus live out his mission?
From the beginning, Jesus’ story expands beyond the religious institutions of his day. These spaces were often closed to outsiders and the lost, but through his actions and words he expressed his values (and that of his Father) to welcome people into a new story.
In Matthew 9:9–13, Jesus tells Matthew to “come follow me.” Then immediately, he goes home to eat with him.
In Luke 19, Jesus spots Zacchaeus in a tree, recognizes the desire for a relationship, and then immediately connects by inviting himself over. And salvation comes to the entire household that day.
We see from Jesus’ examples that we have an easier time sharing our stories with people during meaningful moments that don’t necessarily take place in our church buildings.
When you follow Jesus’ example and intentionally connect with people far from God, you’ll begin to get questions about why you believe stories from the Bible, and about how your life story has changed as a result of your relationship with Jesus. Be prepared for these moments, because they offer golden opportunities to open doors. They allow you to build bridges between the stories that others tell you and the story of Jesus.
We all live unique lives that feature moments of joy, surprising plot twists, and even some darker suspense-filled chapters. Along the way there are times when we awaken to realities common to us all. Using the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 as a template, we see a progression of awakenings to longing, regret, help, love and life.
As we seek to share the gospel with others, looking for clues to these awakenings in others can help us develop vocabulary and communication strategies that make it easy to connect with people.
A Helpful Framework
As we seek opportunities to tell our stories, it can be good to use a simple storytelling framework that connects us to others. I use a simple three-part format to share my story, and it’s been so effective I wrote about it in my book B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. You wouldn’t believe how many stories have come out of this method.
1. Describe your life before Jesus. What was your life like before you met Jesus? Or if you grew up in the church knowing all about Jesus, what was your life like before you got serious about following him? Your story begins with who you were.
2. Share how you met Jesus. How did you become a Christ follower? Did you go through a particularly tough time in your life that led you back to God? Did a friend invite you to a church service? Did a family member introduce you to Jesus? Did a life experience inspire you to get serious about following Jesus?
3. Explain what following Jesus means to you. What difference has following Jesus made in your life? How has knowing him impacted both the good and hard times? People will be more impacted when you’re honest about the challenges you continue to face even when you’re following Jesus. And don’t give the Sunday school answer. Talk about how your life is different and how God is growing you in certain areas, but make sure you’re sincere about how it’s a process and how often you still make mistakes.
During 2023, I invite you to join our community with a common cause at Exponential as we engage in the conversation for how to revive evangelism. We believe evangelism is not a lost cause in our culture, and we want to pour gasoline on the church multiplication dream burning inside of you.