Category Archives: Communication

In Basketball the Best Story Wins

March Madness is a lesson in great storytelling. The players aren’t as athletic, skilled, sophisticated, or experienced as their NBA counterparts, and yet the tournament draws us in every year. Why? One reason is the stakes.

The tournament is infused with the passion of students and alumni, the dreams of underdogs, and the hopes of kids trying to impress pro scouts. And  then there’s the most important ingredient of all: the single-elimination format. Win and play on, lose and go home. The stakes don’t get any higher than that, and so we watch.

About that bracket you fill out every year — what is that but your prediction of how the story will unfold? Your bracket represents the stories you like to tell yourself about your particular insight and the nobility of underdogs. Your bracket translates into a story you can tell your friends about which teams you were smart enough to choose and which teams let you down.

Great stories have high stakes. If your story isn’t connecting with your audience, maybe it’s because they’re unmoved by or unaware of what’s at stake.

Get The Social Church!

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My friend Justin Wise’s book — The Social Church — came out this week, and I’m here to tell you to get a copy of it. As you can see on Amazon, people are already raving over this book. And hey, it starts at just $8.

When Justin asked me to write a blurb for The Social Church, here’s what I said:

“Justin Wise is my first and best source for social media insight and inspiration. Justin’s work has made a difference in how my church communicates and connects, and for that I’m profoundly grateful.”

What you’ll find when you read the book, and you already know if you follow Justin’s work, is that he’s helpful, thoughtful, and engaging. In other words, this book is more than some Mashable post on how to get more Retweets on your Vine video. This is the mission, vision, and values of social media for your church, written by a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to both social media and the church.

Like I said, get it!

Telling Stories On Sunday

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image credit: Stephen Proctor

Last week I taught a breakout session at Echo titled, “Telling Stories On Sunday,” and I thought I’d share a few thoughts from that session here. They’ll be a little rough and lacking in context, but when has that ever stopped my before? Here we go:

  • “Where are you taking me?” — this is a question from the movie Finding Forrester (one of my favorites), and I believe it’s a question that every human heart is asking. Storytelling is about answering this question.
  • It feels as though the American Church has, at least in part, forgotten our calling to be storytellers. As a result, we offer a lot lights, a lot of noise, a lot of principles and propositions. We’re heavy on fear, but what if we were heavy on hope?
  • We are not called to dispense good advice. We are storytellers, witnesses, and ambassadors.
  • We think we don’t need imagination because we have truth on our side, but we couldn’t be more wrong. Imagination is required in order to connect the truth to a person and a person to their future.
  • Before he ascended, Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses (Acts 1). Growing up in church we talked about witness as both a verb (something we go do) and a noun (something we possessed, and could therefore lose). Jesus wasn’t telling them to do or possess, he was telling them to be. “Witness” is an identity.
  • There are a lot of great definitions of story out there, but here’s mine: story is about people and pursuit.
  • Telling a story on a Sunday means going beyond the broad or the easily accessible. “Faith” is not a story, it’s a topic. A story would be something like, “From Fear to Faith.”
  • The Bible is not a fortune cookie — don’t treat it like one. As Sean Gladding put it, the Bible is the story of God, the story of us.
  • We can honor the Scriptures by honoring the form in which they’re given — story — rather than breaking everything down in soul-less systems and bulleted propositions. We can read the Bible through the lens of people and pursuit.
  • Sources of story: Scripture, history, pop culture, community, congregation, personal experience, imagination, and vision.
  • Where stories fit on Sunday: announcements, offering, music, readings, the Table, art, testimony, preaching, and the Christian calendar.
  • One challenge for us will always be conflict — an essential part of story, but a difficult element for Christians who want to pretend that we’re all shiny, happy people. Can we commit to conflict?
  • Vonnegut said story was “man in hole.” Whether we are ready to admit it or not, we are preaching to men and women in holes. Or who’ve just climbed out. Or who will fall in soon. That’s why we have to tell stories on Sunday.
  • The beauty of story is that within its frame despair turns to hope, pain turns to healing, loss turns to wholeness. It’s in the story of God that wanderer a find the promised land, the cross becomes our salvation, and a tribe becomes a kingdom.

And there you have it — a rambling, disjointed summary of a rambling, disjointed breakout session on story. You can also read these notes from my session courtesy of Church Juice.

Innovation and Revival

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You’ve no doubt read a pre-obituary or two for The Late, Great American Church. You know, because she’s dying and stuff. All the numbers and pundits say so.

In response, some of us push the panic button, have an ideological fire sale, and try to remake the church into something postmodern Americans might find palatable. Others batten down the hatches, refuse to change even the slightest detail about how they do the church thing, and try to put a noble spin on going down with the sinking ship.

However, as is often the case in a world of polar extremes, there exists a third way. Something in the center, as it were. Here’s Tim Keller in Center Church:

“… when we study the history of revivals, we usually see in the mix some innovative method of communicating the gospel.”

He’s talking about how revivals are almost always marked by the familiar — “preaching, pastoring, worship, and prayer” — they’re also almost always marked by something unusual (outdoor preaching, society meetings, weekday prayer meetings, the printing press, etc.).

So, we must cling to both the old (beliefs and practices) and strain ahead toward the new (methods, metaphors, and expressions). We the communicators must be historians, contextualizers (sorry, that’s not a word), archaeologists, and designers. We must grasp the ancient and the emerging, and we must enjoin them in a narrative that is distinctly now.

This is one of the main ideas of Center Church, and I believe it ought to be one of our main ideas as well. After all, revival is the most confounding response to an obituary.