The Original Storyteller: Making Stories Practical for Churches

The Original Storyteller: Making Stories Practical for Churches

October 4, 2017 by

We’ve been saying “story” is a buzzword for a while now (see: Story conference, Tell Me a Story, What’s Your Story?, etc.). Maybe it’s time to admit that people have been telling stories since the dawn of time. And that brings us to a powerful new book that explores storytelling throughout time and can help you be a better storyteller: The Original Storyteller (read our review).

Written by freelance writer and storyteller Robert Carnes—you’ve probably seen him helping out as an assistant editor around here at Church Marketing Sucks (his day job is the managing editor at the Orange Group)—the book explores the elements of storytelling in a daily format and is packed to the gills with examples.

Stories are far better at inspiring people than just basic information.

We sat down with Robert to learn more about storytelling and what it can mean for the church.

“Story” has been a bit of a buzzword in the past. But how do churches actually use story?

The term “story” might feel like it’s being overused lately, especially in the marketing space. It wasn’t a coincidence that Instagram got away with ripping off Snapchat by calling their feature Instagram Stories.

Still, good stories never go out of style. There’s a reason that storytelling has been around so long.

Churches use stories in many ways, some they may not even realize. Storytelling happens anytime that churches share a cohesive narrative with relatable characters who experience conflict. This can include biblical stories, an experience from a mission trip, or a baptism testimonial.

The best part is, churches don’t need to look too far to find great stories. They’re all around us and they deserve to be shared.

Rather than posting the date of an upcoming event, share a testimonial from someone who attended last year.

How does story play out in daily communication work? How can I use stories on Facebook or bulletin blurbs?

Great stories translate on every medium—which is one of the reasons storytelling is so popular in this age of digital marketing. Using stories as content is a smart move because narratives are more compelling than facts.

Rather than posting the date and time of an upcoming event, share a testimonial from someone who attended the event last year and how it impacted them. That might go much further toward convincing your audience why it’s worth attending the event.

For the sake of storytelling, here’s an example of practical storytelling from my own church communication experience. For years, my church had shared budget and giving updates in the weekly bulletin. But no one seemed too interested in a little chart with a bunch of meaningless numbers printed in 8-point font.

My suggestion was to replace that section of the bulletin with a weekly story about giving, called “Your Giving at Work.” Each week, we shared a short snippet of how the church budget was being used. This included the impact of local missions and salvations in the student ministry.

It was a very practical way to shift the most boring section of the bulletin (and that’s saying something) into something halfway interesting.

Better storytelling starts with a process of collecting stories within your church over time.

In some ways, storytelling feels like a shift from broadcasting information to imparting inspiration. How could/should churches be inspiring people?

Stories are far better at inspiring people than just basic information. What’s the difference between the two? Conflict. All stories have conflict. Most church event announcements don’t—unless you foolishly tried to move Wednesday Night Supper to Thursday.

Every story has a character who faces some sort of conflict. That can range anywhere from an evil villain (e.g., Darth Vader) to a complex internal struggle (e.g., finding out Darth Vader is your father). Despite the variety of these conflicts, they’re usually things the audience can relate to.

And that relatability is what churches should be focusing on in order to inspire their community. Find out what the people around you are struggling with. What sort of conflicts do they face in their daily lives? Frame those challenges in a story—perhaps even one told by a member of that community who’s been able to overcome the adversity.

By acknowledging the conflicts in people’s lives, the church points to Christ as the resolution to the conflict. And stories are the perfect way to sneak that into the conversation without being labeled “preachy.”

What’s a good first step for churches wanting to tell stories? How do we get started, especially if we don’t have a J.K. Rowling-level storyteller on the team?

First of all, has anyone even tried to get J.K. Rowling as a volunteer at their church? The odds of that succeeding might be slim, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Short of that, there are still plenty of ways that we can become better storytellers within the church.

Often the most difficult part of storytelling is finding the right stories. Sharing a testimonial about an upcoming event sounds like a great idea, but that’s difficult to pull off when you’re trying to promote the event at the last minute.

Better storytelling starts with a process of collecting stories within your church over time. Create a document (a Google Doc, Evernote note, or a color-coded spreadsheet) to build a story database. That may sound extremely dorky, but it helps in the long run.

Jot down a few quotes from some baptism testimonials. Copy/paste text from any encouraging emails. Grab any relevant comments on your Facebook page. These are all potential story ideas.

Recruit church staff members and volunteers to help in the process. They can add their own story leads to the document as they run across them. And if they don’t know what a good story is, you can give them the Harry Potter series as a reference.

What’s your favorite story?

Something about stories cranks up the nostalgia in our minds. So while it seems nearly impossible to pick out just one story as my favorite, the task becomes much easier when I remember the stories I read as a kid.

Back then, The Phantom Tollbooth was one of my absolute favorites. I’ve re-read it a few times as an adult, and the story hasn’t lost much impact even years later. I still get a kick out of all the grammatical puns. That’s just the kind of guy I am.


You can purchase a print or digital copy of The Original Storyteller, or you can get a free sample now. Also, as a special bonus, our Courageous Storyteller members can get a free digital download of the complete book right nowJoin Courageous Storytellers today!

To learn more, read our review of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days by Robert Carnes.

Need more help with stories? Learn more about how to find stories at your church and how to write those stories.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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