Communications Toolbox: Storytelling
by Janis Greenbaum,
Director of Communications
The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
I used to teach confirmation classes to youth at Grace Episcopal Church in Kirkwood, using the Confirm Not Conform curriculum. One of my favorite lessons helped students understand that the Bible was not a book to be read from beginning to end, but instead as a collection of stories that you can pick and choose from at any time. The stories are about love and war, kindness and despair, happiness and judgment, rules to live by and God's grace for all.
The Bible is our shared story. And that story continues today -- in the churches and people of The Diocese of Missouri. As communicators, it's our job to share those stories!
Stories can inspire and connect us. They help us build relationships. Stories show others how God is at work in our daily lives. As H. Mallet Stephens writes in her introduction to The Episcopal Church's Beloved Community Story Sharing Guidebook, "We know that the shortest distance between two people is a story."
So how do we find good stories and how do we share them? Here are some ideas:
Your Church Website
Your website tells a story about your church. It paints a picture of who you are. Your home page is often the first impression a visitor will have of your church -- what does your website say about you?
- Is it cluttered with too much information? Or is it easy to find answers to simple questions (your location, service times, what you believe in)?
- Is it all words? Or do you have pictures that give visitors an idea of what they can expect if they show up at your door?
- Are your pictures ONLY of your building, or do you have PEOPLE in your pictures?
Research shows that people only spend a few seconds on a website before they decide if they want to stay and learn more -- or search for another site. Make sure your website is telling a good story!
If a visitor's first impression isn't on the website, it might be on social media. A trend I've noticed since the beginning of the pandemic is that many of our social media pages are often only used as a means to broadcast Sunday worship services. There's certainly nothing wrong with using social media for that purpose, but I encourage you to use your platforms to share your stories!
AhSa-Ti Tyehimba-Ford, Digital Projects Manager for the Diocese, offers tips for using social media to share your stories. Download her presentation slides.
This may seem like an obvious storytelling technique... and if you have a good priest or deacon, your job as a communicator is a little easier. Take those excellent Sunday sermons and repurpose them -- you can record the sermon and put it on YouTube or share the audio as a podcast. You can pull a line from the sermon that is especially poignant and create a meme by putting it on a pretty background (anyone can create memes and graphics with a free subscription to Canva!) and posting it on your favorite social media platforms. Find new ways to use the resources you already have.
Joshua Smith, from Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau and a member of our Communications Advisory Team, offers these notes on storytelling and preaching.
Your members who are participating in outreach events probably have great stories to share of their experiences in ministry. And don't forget to talk with the people you're serving -- they have stories to share, too! (Be sure to get their permission.)
As you are promoting your men's breakfast, women's retreat, and other upcoming events, don't just say here's when it's happening -- please come. Tell a story! How did this group form? Who leads the group? Why is your church hosting the event? How might this event transform my life?
We've all been a part of small group discussions in church and know there's a lot of chatter that happens. Those groups are all about building relationships and those relationships lead to personal stories. Grandchildren who are participating in swim meets, family trips to the Grand Canyon, unexpected surgeries -- sharing those stories (with permission, of course) gives people a chance to identify with each other and even help each other out in times of need.
Instead of asking people to sign up to be on the altar guild, why not ask the woman who's been ironing the table linens for the last 20 years to explain why she does it? Her story might lead others to join the group.
Tips for Good Storytelling
- Use the basic rules of journalism: who, what, where, when, why, and how. If you answer those questions, you'll tell a good story.
- Use direct quotes whenever possible. First person stories are great, but hearing directly from different voices in one story can provide more interest.
- Include photos in written stories whenever possible. Or just use pictures to tell the story!
- Edit, edit, edit! Ask someone to proofread your copy before you publish -- everyone needs an editor!
- Use a variety of storytelling methods - print, video, audio, pictures, etc.
- Create a storytelling team. Build relationships with the people in your church so you know who is a good writer or photographer. Pay attention to who's signing up to go to an event and ask them to write something about their experience. Ask a youth members to start a TikTok channel. Be sure to credit everyone who helps you -- seeing their name on an article or video will encourage others to share a story.
Great Resources from The Episcopal Church
- The Episcopal Church website: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/
You'll see a tab on their main menu that says "Storytelling." That's where you'll find great videos, podcasts, sermons, and photographs that are available for you to use -- all free!
- Becoming Beloved Community Story Sharing: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ministries/racial-...
This program is focused on racial reconciliation, but the ideas can be used for any topic. I promise it will get a small group talking and sharing their stories.
Let me Google that for you...
I got many of the ideas for this article and our September 9 First Fridays event by Googling "church storytelling." Here are two articles I really like... I'm sure you can find more ideas by doing your own Google search!
- 7 Areas where storytelling can improve your church communications:
- How churches can use storytelling for more engagement online: