The old adage ‘everybody loves a happy ending’ isn’t just a cliché phrase or a cheesy album by a British pop-rock band, it really is true. Human nature hasn’t changed as much as we might like to think. In fact, even more than that, people love a good story — the story that leads them to that happy ending. I was recently reminded of this as I watched Tom Hanks’ “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” for the first time and found myself emotionally overwhelmed by the tale of journalist Lloyd Vogel and his real-life encounter and subsequent friendship with Fred Rogers. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster did an outstanding job bringing viewers into the confrontation — er, I mean, interview — between Rogers and Vogel, carefully retelling every moment of the poignant and sentimental narrative, history, and background. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Hanks’ Oscar-worthy performance front-and-center either, but I digress.
Anyway, the art of storytelling has been around for centuries. Jesus Himself was a master storyteller in the form of parables. Only within the last several decades has America, specifically Hollywood, perfected it as a cinematic and digital art form in order to stir our thoughts and lead us into glorious escapism from our mundane and trivial lives. (COVID quarantine movie nights, anyone?)
The Church, however, needs storytellers just as much —if not more — than Hollywood needs them. Yes, even small churches. Stories are personal and when they’re properly and correctly told, they can communicate the truth, goodnesses, beauty, wonder, and splendor of God on levels that impact and influence people to their very core. They can provide a transparent view of the inside culture of your church in a way that causes people to take notice. As a Church Communications professional, it’s your job to use the art of storytelling to reach your church body and the surrounding community in a deeply intimate, specific, and special way.
So, when, where, and how does this all happen? What does it look like in a practical sense? Allow me to break it down and to start with a quick caveat:
Always remember that the subject of your story is JESUS. I can’t overemphasize this. Your church should be striving to continually and consistently tell the story of Jesus — His grace, redemption, and eternal promise of salvation — in and through everything that it posts, designs, markets, films, and/or produces. Regardless of how advanced your tech is or how fancy your media may be or not be, He has be in the spotlight. After all, if it doesn’t move people’s attention and hearts toward Christ, then what’s the point?
One of the best ways to communicate with your people is through your digital and social media platforms. (If you’re a small church struggling to understand, manage, and implement sites like Facebook and Instagram, you can see some of my previous posts or reach out to us at 6.14 Ministries for help.) The majority of your attendees and visitors will have access to web-based content and smartphone apps, which means you can place your unique stories into their hands quickly and conveniently. In doing so, you’ll increase connectivity and engagement with your congregation. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
1. Post photos and videos that tell meaningful stories.
We are living in the Golden Age of visual media and, when it comes to stories, people are more drawn to pictures and videos than words of text or lengthy paragraphs. At its core, the art of storytelling is nothing more than an attempt to form a significant and substantial connection with a human audience. If you want your stories to resonate, utilize photos and videos.
2. Use your website as a storytelling platform.
If I don’t feel or see a sense of connection, belonging, or engagement via the ministries on your website, there’s little chance I will visit your church. Your job as the Communications professional is to brand the site with graphics, videos, and/or photos — accompanied by text — in such a way that causes people to be drawn to your church and to want to learn more. The staff page is a great place to tell some unique stories through their bios and goes back to that transparency aspect I mentioned earlier.
God is telling a unique and powerful story in and through your church and it involves the people who are there every single week. They ARE the church. What are those stories? Which ones need to be told? Where and how do they need to be told? In a Facebook post? An Instagram video? An e-mail newsletter? A photo accompanied by an interview style write-up? A full production video to be shown on your multimedia screens during the morning worship service? These are all options to consider. Telling stories through your digital venues will allow your church to impact current attendees and to reach potential ones, while encouraging everyone and bringing the message of Jesus and the hope of the Gospel to each demographic. And that’s what ultimately matters.
There are several other digital storytelling methodologies for churches. What are you doing? What have you seen be successful? What did I miss or leave out? Sound off in the comments on this post and let me hear from you!