Reclaiming the Lost Art of Story Telling

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How can we gather and tell the stories of our congregation? Born in an oral culture when stories and traditions were as important as written law, the church was once a story-telling people. Today, this art is all but forgotten. But new technologies can help us remember and retell our stories.

The people of our church reclaimed a sense of identity that seldom is seen in churches. We have become a story-telling people once again. We reclaimed the ancient practice that gave birth to the church.

The church I serve recently conducted a capital campaign with the goal of paying down a mortgage that was beginning to threaten the ministry of the church. Because there wasn’t a glamorous expansion or new sanctuary to point to at the end of the campaign, we needed to find a way to communicate the importance of the church and its ministries both to longtime members and to the newer people who were not around when the building was constructed several years ago. And so, we turned to stories.

But as we began soliciting stories, we quickly found that the words devotion, testimony, and even story sparked fear in the eyes of people. Some felt this was part of the calling of a pastor or lay leader. Others simply thought they had nothing to contribute. Fortunately, the lay person in charge of gathering the stories had the idea of using a devotional booklet format. Each person was asked to “tell us about a time when this church made a difference in your life.” The stories began to roll in. By the time our campaign ended, we had collected stories from about 30 people — close to 10 percent of our average attendance.

The stories were organized into two devotional books that were mailed to members. We split the stories into two books to give people a chance to see some examples of what other people were writing before committing to write their own story. As time went on, people’s fear of telling stories changed into peace and even excitement.

Reading through the stories, we became clear that a few stood out above the rest. We chose a half dozen of these stories to videotape and showed them weekly in worship throughout the remainder of the campaign. The response was overwhelming. A wave of energy swept through the church in those weeks. We now have people asking how to tell their story on video.

The people of our church reclaimed a sense of identity that seldom is seen in churches. We have become a story-telling people once again. We reclaimed the ancient practice that gave birth to the church, and technology was our vehicle.


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About Author

Chris Ruddell participated in the Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s Lewis Fellows leadership development program for young clergy in 2011-2012. He currently works as a mobile application developer for the Museum of the Bible. Previously he was associate pastor at Bixby First United Methodist Church in Morris, Oklahoma.


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