Creating a Witnessing Culture in a Congregation
By Bryan Tener
Stories are a great way to share and connect with others, especially when what we are sharing is exciting or meaningful. It’s college football season, and every time I go to an Oklahoma Sooners football game I hear stories that connect from the past to the present, whether the stories are about great players or games from long ago, the ups and downs over the years, or the future. “Just wait until next year, we’ll be back!” People are always ready to share the stories of their favorite moments in Sooner football history, and every time someone shares a story of a favorite Sooner moment, it feels like a new friend has been made; there is even more excitement and energy leading into kickoff.
It can be like that with our faith as well, but to be ready to share our faith stories that make up the whole of our lives takes reflection, practice, and intentionality. You need to take time to think about that moment or series of moments where God acted in such a way that you began to see yourself as one of God’s children, recognized your God-given purpose, or turned around and took a new path, the place in your life where there was growth and new life. That’s exciting stuff, and hearing those stories can offer others an opportunity to experience God’s grace, form deeper connections, and create a culture of story-sharing or witnessing to our faith.
Why Stories Are Awesome:
- They are totally natural, right? When you're super pumped about something, you just have to share it.
- Stories are simple. You don't need to share your entire life's saga; just share a powerful or important moment from within the saga.
- Stories are like blessings from the heavens. Stories teach us and bring us closer.
- Stories don’t cause arguments. More than likely you’re not going to get into a heated debate about someone's experience.
Components of a Good Story:
- Keep it real. Use your words to tell your story.
- Pause and reflect on what's going on in your life. Where is God at work? How's your connection with Jesus making life better?
- Focus on your experience of God in your life through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If it happened at church, talk about where and how you met God, not just how great your church is. If it was out in nature, at the local pub, or the grocery store, wherever it may have been, share how you knew God was there and what God was up to. Look for signs like unconditional love, redemption, healing, hope. Look for the life-giving things and share those. Where's Jesus in that experience, and where is he at work now in your life?
Exercise 1: Dinner Time!
- Step 1: Remember a wonderful meal, you know, the kind where you take a bite and then just have to take a deep breath in, close your eyes, and savor it. Think about the flavors, the smells, who was there, and what was happening in your life before, during, or after.
- Step 2: Team up with a partner and take turns sharing your meal stories.
Exercise 2: Poster Board Stories
- Step 1: Take a breather and think about something you've struggled with and where you see God in the middle of it.
- Step 2: Grab a big piece of poster board, newsprint, or paper. On one side, sum up your struggle in a few words. On the other, tell the world where God has taken you and where God is now. After you’ve finished, hang the poster board on the wall.
- Step 3: Check out one another’s poster-board stories. Celebrate and move on to the next one.
- And remember, storytelling isn't just for church; it's for forming connections, opening up the self to others, and building community, whether you're offering a sermon in worship, relaxing at the coffee shop, or just hanging out at the dog park.
For the Storyteller:
- Keep it real; share your own life stories.
- Paint a vivid picture with your words. Let people smell, taste, and see what you did.
- Don't get all philosophical; just tell your story.
- Share the whole journey, not just the highlight reel.
For the Listener:
- Listen actively, as if the storyteller is revealing something sacred.
- Be welcoming. Think about how you like to be treated.
- Ask open questions if there's a pause to help the story flow.
- Offer to dive deeper or connect with others who share the same passions.
Ways to Share Stories:
- Organize a month-long campaign for the church and adapt the following to your context:
- Invite people to pair up and discuss a question in which people are able to share a story as their answer.
- Organize one-on-one storytelling sessions in your church, during Sunday school, coffee/fellowship time, or at the beginning of a meeting as a centering time.
- Create a board where people can create and share their stories with one another.
- Extend your storytelling beyond the church to build connections with neighbors and friends by recording people sharing their stories and then sharing them on social media.
So go on, tell your story, and listen to others. It's a beautiful way to connect, grow together, and share the good news of all that God has done and is doing so that others will know God’s love.