“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb
We all love a good story.
A story can change our heart and open our mind to new possibilities. It can allow us to experience the world through the eyes of someone we may never meet. A story can immerse us in culture and scenery of places we may never visit.
We’re surrounded by stories. They’ve been part of humanity since our earliest days, when our ancestors etched their stories on cave walls and passed them down through oral tradition. Then came papyrus, the printing press, radio, television and the information age. The delivery systems have changed, but the power of a good story remains.
What’s a story worth telling?
Stories are powerful, but they’re not all created equal. Have you ever had to hang in there while someone told you their “hilarious” or “fascinating” story? What may seem interesting to one person can put someone else to sleep. A video that seems like a waste of your time might end up going viral on social media.
So how do we tell the difference between a story that keeps people on the edge of their seat and one they’ll just scroll past? Here are three questions that will help you tell stories that people actually want to hear.
Does this story move me?
This isn’t the only consideration, but it’s a good place to start. You’re the first line of defense when it comes to judging whether or not a story is strong. Most of the time, if you think something is interesting, so will others. If you’re not excited about the story you’re telling, you shouldn’t expect someone else to be.
The stories we tell should draw people in and raise their pulse. Watching someone experience genuine transformation should even bring us to tears from time to time. Stories like this give us the sense that we should share it with others, not out of obligation but out of amazement. Make sure the stories you tell move you.
Is this story unique?
See if you recognize this church story:
A volunteer (let’s call her Susie) wants to get more involved in her church. So she signs up for a serving opportunity. And now she feels great about using her gifts in the church. Everything worked out.
Notice the problem? Besides being uninteresting and formulaic, there’s nothing unique about it. We’ve heard churches tell this story a thousand times. And badly. Audiences practically have permission to tune it out.
Give your story a reason to be heard. Who is Susie? What sets her apart? What was life like growing up? What has she been walking through? What does it mean for her personally to use her gifts in God’s Kingdom? Now we’re listening.
Whatever form your story takes, let it say something that resonates. Look for a hook, something that grabs your audience at the beginning and never lets go - a great question, a meaningful reflection, even something that catches people off guard. Make sure your story stands out.
Does this story give our audience immediate value?
Here’s where most promotional stories fall flat. Stories that focus on promoting a specific event, class, service opportunity, etc. are all, at their core, about trying to get something from the audience, not about giving them something valuable. We should do everything we can to give things away.
People are saturated with content and never-ending distractions. This is why storytelling is so vital. When we tell a story about how God is moving or how people are responding, we’re inspiring our audience. When we share a sermon highlight or a personal testimony, we’re connecting people to meaningful truth.
This type of content has immediate value; your audience doesn’t even have to be a member of your church to get something out of it. Plus they’re more likely to share tit, meaning it could have a much broader reach and appeal.
When you tell stories, tell them with your audience in mind. Some good questions for determining the value of your story may be, “If this is the only piece of content a person sees, what will they take away from it? What impression does this leave? Does this inspire change?”
Over the past three years, I’ve focused our church’s social media on telling stories that fit these criteria. Since then, I’ve seen our analytics double, then triple, and continue rising. I don’t say this to brag, only to illustrate the point that it matters how we tell stories. When we shift our efforts from promotion to storytelling, there is a noticeable shift.
People relate to people. This is why good storytelling matters, and why it’s a catalyst for more engagement with our churches. Stories hold the power to change people’s hearts. Our job is to tell them well.
Alex Johnston is the Social Media Manager and Storyteller at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX. She is a wife, mother, avid reader, a former on-air news reporter and meteorologist.