Jill Fox, an expert on church volunteer systems, reminds us how powerful stories can be in teaching and motivating people and keeping them aligned with the church’s vision. Anyone can become an effective storyteller, she says, by listening, making note of memorable anecdotes, and focusing on communicating them simply and succinctly.
Maybe you’ve heard a story that made you want to save the world. Or you’ve seen a movie or read a book and felt something so deeply that tears came to your eyes. Stories have power. Jesus used stories to get his teaching about God and God’s kingdom across to people. Jesus knew that he could state a truth, but it might not resonate in the hearts of those listening. So more often than not, he created word pictures — stories and parables — so people could clearly understand the truth in their hearts and minds.
You never know how God will use your story to inspire others.… Stories are one of the most powerful tools you have to expand the vision, encourage others, and draw in new volunteers.
So how can you use stories in your ministry areas? One of the best ways to achieve alignment is by sharing and utilizing stories. Stories can move a team forward in the direction it needs to go. It might be a reminder of the little boy who came to faith a few weeks ago, or the single mom the church has been praying for who opened up and began to talk after one of you brought a meal to her home. Practice telling stories to remind each other of your true purpose, the goal toward which you are working. Be like Jesus, who constantly used stories to keep his disciples moving in the same direction.
Even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, you never know how God will use your story to inspire others. They are just what volunteers might need in a moment of exhaustion or discouragement. Not only do they inspire others to keep going; these stories attract others to get involved.
But I’m Not a Storyteller!
Maybe you think you aren’t very good at telling stories. Memorable anecdotes surround us, but we often miss them. We just need to pay attention and keep our eyes open. We get busy with our tasks and stop seeing the beauty and power in what is happening right in front of us. So learn to pay attention. Here are a few suggestions that might help.
- Listen to the stories of those you serve. Often, those in your area of ministry — young and old and in between — have things they want to talk about, prayer needs, and struggles. Take the time to listen to them. (When you share a story that might have sensitive details, be sure to get permission from the person first.)
- Your story doesn’t need to be long or complicated. Some are about steps in the right direction, and they don’t necessarily end with someone professing Christ or a sick person being miraculously healed. Sometimes the ordinary stories of faithful ministry, the small things that people do over time, can have the greatest impact.
- There are those who might be happy to share their story if someone simply asked them. Ask your class or small group, “What have you seen God do in your life recently?”
- If you have a good memory, you might consider becoming a story collector who seeks out positive, faith-building stories to share with others.
There is an art to telling a story well. And doing it well is the difference between someone paying attention and wanting more — or tuning out. Make it your goal to get better at telling stories, and think about these guidelines.
- Keep the story simple. If it’s too long or complicated, people will simply stop listening. Fit the anecdotes to the audience’s age, interests, and attention span.
- Set the stage for those listening. Don’t just relate facts or information. Paint a picture of the setting to help people engage with what you are sharing with understanding and insight. Your audience will be keyed in, anticipating where the story is going.
- Use words people can understand. Don’t forget that those who haven’t been part of a church may feel sidelined by phrases Christians are used to hearing. Know the experiences and context of your audience. Some people stop listening because they aren’t familiar with the terminology, not because they aren’t interested.
Let stories ricochet through your church, encouraging volunteers and reminding others about the rewards of volunteering. Allow them to attract others to your church and to your ministry area. Stories are one of the most powerful tools you have to expand the vision, encourage others, and draw in new volunteers.
This article is adapted from a book Jill Fox has written with Leith Anderson, Volunteering: A Guide to Serving in the Body of Christ (Zondervan, 2015) and used with the publisher’s permission. The book is available through Amazon or Cokesbury.