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3 Reasons Your Story is CRITICAL!

Storytelling, whether it’s around the campfire or part of a multimedia presentation, is the oldest and most effective form of communication between human beings. Throughout history we have lauded the great storytellers: teachers, authors, playwrights, composers, actors, film makers, and even advertising executives. The Creation Story as told by the Bible or in any of the other religious traditions has been passed down generation to generation for thousands of years. Many family have stories that relate funny or historical narratives about their ancestors that give them a glimpse into their lives. What makes storytelling such a fundamental element in our human interaction? I think there are three critical reasons that make storytelling our primary communication tool. 
1) We want to be part of a shared history. 
In the mid 1800’s, English archaeologists unearthed thousands of stone fragments that were later pieced together into 12 tablets. The language on the 3,000-year-old tablets remained a mystery for nearly 30 years. Not until a young archaeologist named George Smith cracked the code and discovered an important story of the 11th tablet. The story he found on this tablet was in fact the oldest story in the world called, The Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of a great flood. It is nearly the same story as Noah’s Ark told in Genesis and in the Quran’s Suran 71 (source). 
Stories like the flood or creation narratives in their unique forms give identity to different cultures of people. Humans have a great need to be a part of community and our communal stories distinguish who we are and to whom we belong. So, the stories that we pass down through the generations not only describe our past, they create the anchors that hold us together as people that share that story. 
2) It can shape our emotional responses. 
The stories we read, hear, and see can shape our emotional responses in our lives. For example, a recent study by Dan Johnson published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology shows that reading fiction significantly increases our empathy toward other people, especially those that were considered outsiders (i.e. different nationality, race, color, or religion). The researchers found that the more absorbed in the story the readers became, the empathetic they behaved in life. Another study in Science magazine supports this idea that our stories can help people understand each other. It points to the finding that literary fiction “uniquely engages the psychological process needed to gain access to characters’ subjective experiences.” What that means is that reading novels can help your ability to read the emotions of other people. 
3) It’s the most effective way to present data.  
I watch a lot of TED Talks for a lot of reasons, sometimes just for entertainment. The talks that make the biggest impact with me are ones that skillfully weave compelling research data and statistics into an engaging narrative. One of my favorite cynical quotes attributed to Mark Twain is “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” A Stanford University study found that statistics combined with stories have a retention rate of 65-70% (source). In fact, Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford School of Business, says that people remember information when it is weaved into stories “up to 22 times more than facts alone.” So, if you want to make a case for your idea with statistics and data, you better weave them into a relevant story that allows listeners to engage with both sides of their brain. 
What does this mean for the church? I think it means your church has the unique opportunity to build community by sharing a Gospel narrative. It means that if we can tell our people these shared stories, they will engage with them emotionally and act empathetically toward their fellow humans. And, it means that if we want to be authentic and transparent with our church facts, people will retain this data and have a greater chance of acting upon it if we wrap them in a compelling narrative. These three reasons and more are why we think storytelling is so critical to your church and your ministry. So, what’s your story… 

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