We all have a story that defines us, even churches. Many of us, churches included, have a narrative that is outdated, or tells a story of who we “used to be.” Unfortunately, that is the story that the public retains because they haven’t been given a new narrative about who we are today. “Can we change our story or better yet, rewrite our story? Even if we are a church that is 150 years old?” The answer is yes, and yes! Now, let me qualify this by saying you have to be transparent and authentic, i.e. you have experienced a real change that people will see or feel. And for the older churches, it is great to celebrate your history as part of your story, but remember the goal of your story is to connect people with Jesus!
Even old, traditional churches can rewrite and tell a new story about who they are today and how they are impacting people in their community. Here are 3 steps to help you start the process of rewriting your church story.
- Identify who you are as a church today. In order to write a new narrative about who your church is today, you have to dig into to what your church looks like to internal and external audiences. I am not necessarily talking about the physical characteristics, however people form impressions, right or wrong, based on your physical facility and location.
A simple exercise to help you begin identifying who you are is to gather a group of people from your church at various levels of experience in their length of membership or engagement. As a group, begin by asking them what challenges does the “church” face? Then ask them to make 3 lists: what are your good at (strengths)? What are you not good at (weaknesses)? And finally, how does the outside community see your church (opportunities/threats)? The responses to these questions help shape what your current story is and how it is perceived by both internal and external audiences.
- Establish your core values. Understanding your core values not only helps outsiders know what you believe, but core values help your church stay focused on what is important and make the impact you are called to make in your community. Many churches that belong to a denomination have common or shared beliefs as well as theological doctrine that they follow. But it is important to identify values that are specific to your local church because it helps tell your story.
If you haven’t established your core values, one way to help identify them is to build on the work in the previous exercise. Ask your group to make a list of descriptive and action words from your previous lists – adjectives and adverbs – that would best describe your church to a stranger. These descriptive words combined with the strengths and positive perceptions from the community can help guide you to the activities and ideas that are most important to your church.
Your values play an important role in your story because they tell the world how you are living out Jesus’ Great Commission. They also clarify for your congregation how they can plug into the ministry of the church, and make it clear for guests and visitors if their personal values and mission aligns with your church. If you want to increase volunteerism and ministry engagement in your church, start telling stories around these core values and how they are transforming and saving people’s lives and you will see a change pretty quickly!
- Focus for your mission and discipleship strategy. The hard part about establishing your core values is how do you live them out in the church. Whether you have 100 or 10,000 in your church, multiply it by 10 and that is how many different ideas your church has for worship and ministry and events to live out these values. Obviously the church has limited resources, both financial and human, so it is important to have a focused strategy for synergizing your resources to connect people to Jesus. So, your ongoing storytelling will inform and affirm the mission strategy and illustrate how it is changing people’s lives.
An important question is then what do we do with the hundreds of other ideas that the congregation generates. It is important to create ways for individuals, families, and groups to live out their ideas that are compatible with the values and mission because that becomes part of their stories. And the church’s role is to pray for their efforts and help them tell their stories too! We will address how to help your people tell their stories in a post coming soon…