“Marketing” sometimes sounds like a dirty word to us church communicators. It sounds cold, official, maybe even a little standoffish, and it certainly doesn’t appear in the gospel. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.
For your church to grow beyond the reach and size it has now, you need to market your church: to the community, to strangers, and even to those who haven’t realized their connection to Jesus yet. You need solid strategy, engaging content, and powerful purpose. That’s it, right?
Of course not. The thing you’d be missing––the most important thing of all––is people! Your church wouldn’t exist without the trying and truthful stories of the individuals who make it up. Those stories are your most valuable secret weapon. Stories and people will ignite and elevate the “marketing” approach that your church takes.
Using "storytelling" is a powerful strategy. Even though you're not traditionally "marketing" to your congregation like realtors or grocery stores do, you are growing an engaged church through faith and leadership.
You want them to be a part of the community in an active, not a passive, way. And the secret to doing so is by showing, not just telling, why being involved in your community is an amazing thing. This is where stories come in.
Why Does It Work?
A story is a living, breathing, true tale of how something came to be. Instead of using a marketing megaphone to say, “Hey, everyone! Bob changed his life by being more engaged with our church. Snaps for Bob!” he gets to say, “Hey, everyone! My name is Bob, and the church changed my life when I signed up to help mow the lawn for Mr. Smith while he recovered from hip surgery. That’s when I started to realize just how much we can serve and care for each other. Here’s what happened....”
Bob now has a much more interested audience. He’s a real person, who is proof that the church can be an incredible experience. Bob is now an example of how engagement with your church family will help you become an active participant in the work God is doing in your life.
He’s now an amazing motivator for less active members who need some proof before they decide that they should be more engaged. Growing an engaged church is easier when you’re face to face with someone’s honest experience that stems from an emotional, spiritual connection with the church.
Telling a Story
Crafting a tale isn’t as easy as beginning a sentence with, “Once upon a time…” If you want to start building an engaged church, you need to start your research with the people at the opposite end of the spectrum: the people who rarely attend services and almost never tithe:
- What are the core motivations they seem to be missing?
- What are the words they need to hear to be encouraged, loved, and wholly supported?
- Do they need a message of redemption, to see how someone slipped from God’s love and returned even stronger?
- Or would they be more motivated by hearing about someone’s journey on a mission trip that changed their view of the world?
Once you can identify the “themes,” or some combination of themes, your church needs to hear, it’s time to tell the stories that embody them. You can't just pick an already-engaged church member and regurgitate their entire life's story in your messages. You need to find the people who have the most relatable presence and stories.
Look for people who are genuine, unique, and relevant to the stories you church needs to hear.
The people who fulfill these needs will be like the “characters” in the story of your church. They are the heroes and the leaders, the loyal followers, and the villains-turned-good. The best storytellers in the world are those who build moving, inspiring stories around the small, everyday actions and journeys of these characters. Take film industry giant, Pixar, for instance. We all love its quirky films, but the emotional stories keep us coming back to the theater. We want to know what happens to Woody, no matter how many Toy Storys they make, whether Nemo finds his dad or not, and how quickly Inside Out will make us cry. Pixar has discovered the secrets for creating characters -- and you can use these ideas to help identify the most impactful stories to tell within your church:
- You admire a character more for trying than for their successes.
- Why must you tell this story? What’s the burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
- What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
See the rest of the 22 storytelling tips here.
Using the Story to Engage Your Church
Once you have some stories ready to share, you need to get it where your not-so-active members will be inspired by it. You need to highlight things the way Pixar does, like showing how that person tried, focusing around the heart of their journey, and showing the reader or listener why they should root for a happy ending. Ask the person you’re working with to tell their story from beginning to end––the low-point to now––and keep that trajectory in mind as you craft your finished product.
Keep in mind that this finished product doesn’t have to be words on a page. Each story will be best-told in different ways. We love how Providence Baptist Church uses video stories on its homepage to let members speak to any visitors right away.
They may just be stopping by or scoping out the website's information, but this church is showing you its real members right from the start. They're bringing you in with these stories, they hope you want to know more, and then letting the church speak for itself.
You can also incorporate voices of your church members into your messages. Incorporate quotes, reviews, and testimonials in outreach materials and content like a salesperson might––remember, you're "selling" the community of love and support within your church. Show people why they should be involved with a volunteer project directly on the site page that has sign-up opportunities for that volunteer project. Use stories in sermons to illustrate how personal journeys evolve. Bring engaged members as guests on your podcast and blog to let them be an inspiration to viewers and listeners.
The “whole point” of a church is not to stay stagnant. It is to spur change in the world, in our communities, and in our hearts. To do this, your church staff needs to be regularly working to help your members connect deeper with Jesus and each other. You need to encourage their engagement with the community, and help them see how they can learn from each other’s journey and story.
How (and where) you use these stories in your church communications doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Just give it a try. Tell a story. And tell another. See who listens.
To learn more about creating excellent content to help your church grow and love everyday, download our eBook, 7 Content Games Churches Must Avoid.