What Is Your Narrative?


Is your church dwelling in a story of woe and discouragement? Or does it see current circumstances through the lens of change and new opportunity? According to Mike Bonem, leaders set a positive tone for their churches by framing a narrative that emphasizes bright spots and the belief that God is doing something new.

What is the overarching narrative that runs through your church or ministry right now? At the risk of being too simplistic, it is probably one of two extremes. One is a story of woe and discouragement. It’s captured in the phrase “2020 is trying to kill us,” and it includes a recitation of all the different difficulties that we are experiencing.

A second says, “In the midst of a lot of bad news, God is doing something.” It’s a narrative that expresses curiosity and anticipation. It is not a naive view that ignores reality, but it is anchored in confidence that God is with us and is at work in our world.

It’s important to note that you can find facts to support either narrative. More important to note is that those in leadership largely determine which of the two narratives has the most traction within an organization. The themes and stories that you emphasize in your communication will set the tone for your church or ministry.

The first narrative emphasizes survival. Phrases like “hunker down” or “conserve resources” or “circle the wagons” characterize this narrative. This is a natural instinct when the world seems to be a dangerous place. The second narrative emphasizes opportunity. Leaders may talk about “taking new ground” or “better to try and fail than not try at all” or “getting out of our comfort zone.” It calls for movement that breaks out of the status quo.

What narrative would best serve your church or ministry right now? As you might guess, I believe the positive choice is better. Leaders who want to breathe life into the positive narrative do more than repeat the simple phrases in the previous paragraph. These leaders:

  • Find and highlight the stories of good things that are happening. Dan and Chip Heath refer to this as “finding the bright spots.” Even in a pandemic, you will see bright spots if you look for them.
  • Encourage creativity and experimentation. This may lead to new bright spots to highlight. And when it fails, the leader applauds the willingness to try something new.
  • Retell the biblical stories that show God showing up and God’s people prevailing in the most difficult circumstances.
  • Enlist others to be positive storytellers. The burden of creating a positive narrative shouldn’t fall on a single individual. Recruit and empower a team for this task.
  • Stay anchored spiritually. Shaping and sharing a positive narrative comes much more easily from a soul that is being nourished by the Holy Spirit.

Finally, these leaders know that a narrative is much more than a story. It can change the trajectory of a church or ministry. So, begin shaping your tomorrow with the words you choose today.

This article is adapted from a blog post at mikebonem.com. Used by permission.

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About Author

Mike Bonem is a facilitator and consultant with Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). Previously, he was Executive Pastor of West University Baptist Church in Houston. He is the author or coauthor of several books. He recently wrote The Art of Leading Change: Ten Perspectives on the Messiness of Ministry (Fortress Press, 2022), available from the publisher and at Cokesbury and Amazon. He blogs at mikebonem.com.

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Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.