Director of The Media Story, podcast and blog.
I have to admit that even I cringe a bit when I hear the word “story” thrown around. It seems like a catch-all for something only super-creative people must understand or at least like to think sounds good when they’re having their creative conversations. If you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to creative media, just say the word “story,” and everyone will bob their heads in approval. “We need to get back to the ‘story’.” “We aren’t telling our ‘story’ well!” “Stories are what we need, not content.” Sometimes I feel like a hipster at a rodeo; what are they even talking about?
Stories are told around campfires. My grandpa used to tell me stories about when he was a kid. I read stories in a book or magazine. Those are stories right? But then you hear about Fortune 500 companies who are getting back to their “story” after a period of self-evaluation. A corporation telling a story? Or a presidential candidate whose “story” is spurring a movement that is gaining her traction in the polls. I’ve even heard mutual fund wholesalers talk about the stories of their mutual fund products. Seriously? Stock stories?
And yet, when we think about it, what is a story? It is a way to help someone understand. Understand who someone is, the way things used to be, the way things could be in the future, how we fit into this world, the progress that has been made, or why you’re reading this book right now. So on that note, let me tell you a story.
I worked with a church years ago that was pretty established in their community. The church building had been there for multiple generations. They started a Christian K-12 school in the neighborhood and were good citizens overall in their town. To their knowledge, they had a great relationship with the public. Their building was in the middle of a residential area, so Christ could be the center of what was happening in their town. They always kept the grass well-maintained and tried to minimize parking issues when hosting a large event that would overflow into the neighboring streets.
What story were they telling their community? From the church’s perspective, they weren’t thinking about a story, they just knew they were nice and considerate. Does it matter what the church thinks about their relationship with their community? It certainly does, and we’ll get to that soon enough. However, if the end goal is to reach our cities and neighbors with the gospel of Jesus, we need to know what story they’re receiving. How do you know? You ask.
So we asked the neighbors surrounding the church. Some of these neighbors had owned homes in the neighborhood almost as long as the church had been there. Others were new, but all of them had some history with this church (by the way, the word “history” originates from the ancient Greek word “historia” which means, “knowledge from inquiry”). We walked the streets, knocked on doors, and talked to these people who were within a stone’s throw of the church. What do you think we found? We discovered that the church and and its neighbors were in agreement! The church was “polite” in its interactions and people seemed nice. As one gentleman put it, “You guys are fine with me, you don’t bother us any.” Awesome, we are the church that “doesn’t bother people” (translation: “keeps to itself”)!
This congregation of well-meaning, loving, devoted Christians, didn’t realize there was a story being told. They knew in their own minds they loved everyone in their community and theoretically wanted their neighbors to join them along their faith journey. But having never recognized the story being told, they had no clue what message was being received, and never stopped to evaluate what they wanted their story to be.
We are all constantly telling a story. You, me, your friends, your employer, your fitness center, the grocery store, Nike, Ford, the NFL, the White House, and yes, your church. So what is the story your church is communicating? Are we intentionally engaging the people in our town, or are they receiving a message that has been sent by us unknowingly over the years because we failed to take the time to ask ourselves what we wanted our story to be?
The reality for us as Christians is that the One we model our lives after operated almost exclusively on stories. “He would speak the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. And He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, He would explain everything to His own disciples.” (Mark 4:33-34) Jesus Himself chose to use stories in his interactions with people wherever he traveled. There is something powerful about stories Jesus understood. And if He felt He should harness them, we should too.
The fact is that stories are all around us. There are perhaps billions of stories being told on earth just today. They encompass our lives. In fact, all of us are part of the overarching human story, which has been going on for a long, long time. But sometimes because stories are our existence and pervade everything in our consciousness, we don’t notice them. And yet stories are the most powerful vehicles to influence our communities. Is your church harnessing their power? Are you truly telling your story the way you want it to be received?
Originally posted on The Media Story.
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