May 2020
Telling our Story

How Do We Tell Our Story?

Storytelling is one of the most powerful communication strategies available to us human beings and has probably been used ever since a group gathered around a fire or parents engaged with their children. Jesus was a master storyteller, and his metaphors ring true nearly 2,000 years after his death and resurrection. Today, we’ve expanded the medium of storytelling beyond spoken or written words to include graphic novels, photographs, animation, live-action video, audio books and more. We can even find training to raise our storytelling skills, whatever platform we use.

For congregations, learning to tell our faith community’s story is an exercise in self-awareness and engagement. But there’s a deeper question, beyond news releases or welcoming videos or live-streaming our worship. How is our congregation telling its story and what stories are we telling when we’re just living our lives? What is the story told when our neighbors and visitors focus on our walk, not just our talk?

Our people tell a story . . .

In the way that they gather and greet one another and engage the stranger.
In the way they celebrate and mourn together.
In the individuals they honor and in the way they reinforce their culture.
In the leaders they follow and the way their leaders speak to and for them.

Our ministries tell a story . . .

Who do we seek to serve, and how do we learn from them?
What do we seek to nourish through our work?
Who benefits?
What’s the benefit to the greater community?
Where do we draw the line?

Even our congregation’s assets tell a story . . .

When our building is open, who’s welcome inside? And how do they get in? What will they find?
When our congregation has worked to be rooted in the community, the neighbors and the members know they’re welcome, and they can count on finding something they need in our building. Maybe it’s a community choir or a children’s program or an AA meeting or a school, as well as worship and welcome. Maybe it’s people who seek and serve Christ in all persons and value the earth. The best part of the story is when the people who come inside our building experience the presence of God.

When we’re seeking support, whom do we ask to contribute, and how is their support received and acknowledged?
Every faith community encounters problems they can’t seem to handle, at least at first. Coming to believe that “what we need is here” is a big first step. Opening our eyes to the help that’s available both inside and outside our own group is another. And finding the courage to seek the help we need and to welcome unexpected partnerships is the road to liberation. The best part of the story is when all know that each partner is welcome, because their presence and also their gifts are recognized as valuable to the community.

Where are our assets invested?
Most churches invest a lot in their buildings – upkeep, heating, cooling, roof repairs, parking lot maintenance. Lots of churches value investing in their clergy and staff and work hard to pay them justly. Some churches develop endowments to invest in future ministry. Practically all churches seek to do God’s work with the assets they’ve been given. The best part of the story is when the “return on investment” is life-giving and liberating.

What inspires people to invest in our congregation?
Our congregation’s hearts grow when they invest time and energy in hearing and responding to the needs of the community. Partnerships built among faith communities and their neighbors nurture resilience and demonstrate the truth of the Gospel – that God continues to work with, through and among God’s people. The best part of the story is when people look with newfound hope toward the future that God is inviting all to be part of.

So many ways to tell our story and share God’s Good News

How are we telling those stories? We can tell them via social media and broadcast media and even through ink and paper. We can tell them through the ways we act and speak and engage the people we encounter. We can tell them in the ways we choose to play a part in our community. We can tell them through our budget and the ways we choose to be the stewards God is calling us to be.

Ultimately, our presence and our witness will speak more loudly than any public relations campaign ever imagined. God calls us to tell the greatest story ever told – to share God’s Good News every way we possibly can and, when necessary, to use words.

Demi Prentiss has been a ministry developer at the parish, diocesan and church-wide levels for 25 years, and has seen the transformational effect of refocusing the church outside its own walls. She has worked and worshiped in congregations of all sizes, in established and re-organizing dioceses. She lives in Denton, Texas, and her most recent book is Making Money Holy (2019, Church Publishing).


This article is part of the May 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Telling our Story