become a better
become a better storyteller
Once upon a time.
It was a dark and stormy night.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
These opening lines invoke emotion and draw you into something interesting. We pay attention, because we know a story is coming.
Today, its common for presenters to communicate with facts and figures, points and principles. We arm ourselves with the three point sermons and fill-in-the-blank handouts because thats the way we learned to communicate information.
But before there were books and PowerPoint, there were stories. Passed down from generation to generation, stories told us where we came from and who we are. They were educational. They were inspirational. And they captured our attention.
Throughout history, stories have been used to teach. Parents and teachers alike relied on them, intrinsically knowing that information communicated in the form of a story would make a much greater impact.
In our rush to communicate life-changing information in the form of a sermon, we must not forget this simple truth. Stories work.
And the pastor should be the chief storyteller.
If you want your congregation to remember the
concepts youre preaching, tell a story. If you want your congregation to apply the Biblical principles youre teaching, tell a story. If you want your congregation to be impacted with the message, tell a story.
As youll see in the pages ahead, stories were the favorite teaching medium of Jesus. And though its far more common to build a message full of information and points, its often more effective to teach a sermon through story.
But dont take my word for it. Listen to Antonio Damasio, a professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California. He says,
The problem of how to make all this wisdom understandable, transmissible, persuasive, enforceable in a word, of how to make it stick was faced and a solution was found. Storytelling was the solution storytelling is something brains do, naturally and implicitlyIt should be no surprise that it pervades the entire fabric of human societies and cultures.
If you want to make wisdom understandable, he says, tell a story. If you want your communication to connect like never before - tell a story.
stories > Points
Unless you are just an amazing communicator, your points probably wont hold me. So sprinkle in some great stories, good analogies, personal connections, and current events, writes Brad
become a better storyteller
Lomenick, the director of Catalyst.
As a preacher, you may be programed to think that there is power in the points. And while youre not going to abandon communicating information in your sermons, we want you to find a way to make that information stick. Stories are simply a more powerful tool to impart information.
Even a poorly told story is usually more interesting than a set of bullet points. You might push back on this, but youve felt it. During your information heavy sermons, youve intentionally shifted gears with a story or an illustration People playing with their phones leaned in. People dozing off perked up. Introducing a story often changes the dynamic of the entire room. Preschool teachers and seasoned preachers both know this.
While facts may inform, good stories inspire.
stories > statistics
Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form, writes Nancy Duarte, the founder of Duarte Designs and a communications expert.
Many preachers rely on statistics and figures to make their points. Yet when communicating important information, stories that make an emotional connection are far more effective than points derived from statistics. Many people automatically tune out when they hear stats.
Again, this isnt opinion; its based on science.In 2009, Carnegie Mellon University conducted a generosity experiment. They gathered a group of people and read them a stat-filled letter about a girl with cancer. On average, the group that heard the statistics gave $1.14.
The next group of people didnt hear the stats. Instead, they heard her story. Those people gave $2.38 more than double! When it comes to motivating people to action, stories work greater than stats.
If you watch a little TV, you might know about Jared Fogle from Subway. Subway first aired commercials featuring Jared on January 1, 2000 and the campaign was a massive success. Since using the campaign, sales have doubled, so Jared sold a lot of sandwiches.
What you might not know is that before 2000, Subway had a different advertising campaign touting their healthy fast food options. It was called Seven Under Six, meaning they had seven sandwiches that contained less than six grams of fat. That particular ad campaign did little to grow the company.
The stats didnt sell many sandwiches, but Jared sure did. America connected with the story of a guy who got healthy eating Subway sandwiches.
In selling sandwiches and preaching sermons, stories perform better than stats.
when jesus wanted to make a point, he told a story.
become a better storyteller
stories > FactsMany seminary trained pastors have a biased against storytelling, somehow believing its a weaker form of communication. But good storytelling isnt mere entertainment, its a powerful teaching tool.
You dont have to tell a story instead of teaching the truth. You can teach the truth by telling a great story.
When it comes to communication, stories make a greater impact than simply stating facts.Annette Simmons explains: Facts are not neutralPeople make their decisions based on what the facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves.facts are not terribly useful to influencing others.
Sermons filled with facts might be theologically accurate, but without stories and illustrations, they will be intellectually dry. Before you write off storytelling as a Biblical mode of communication, consider this important fact.Jesus told stories.
When Jesus wanted to make a point, he didnt give a lecture. He told a story.
In fact, Mark reports, He did not say anything to them without using a parable. (Mark 4:34). It seems storytelling was the primary method for communicating truth. The stories Jesus told are rich with theological training and instruction for life. In fact, the stories Jesus told are some of the most famous stories in the world.
Think of the story of the prodigal son. A son goes to his father asking for his inheritance early, then travels to a far away land before wasting it all on wanton living. After he hits rock bottom, he comes to his senses and returns to the father, who doesnt respond in anger but in love.
How many listeners could identify with the younger son, or perhaps the older brother? How many people have come to understand our Heavenly Fathers love through the story of a fictional father who kills the fatted calf?
Consider the story of the Good Samaritan, as recorded by Luke. Hospitals have been named after this story. Here we learn of a traveler who is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Neither the priest or the Levite provide aid. Only the Samaritan, generally despised by the Jews, stops to help the injured man. Jesus didnt just give us the Great Commandment he told a story to illustrate this great truth.
Or think about the story Jesus told of the wise and foolish builder. In just three verses, Jesus illustrates a powerful truth. Sure, Jesus could have said, Build your life on me. But instead, he told the story of a man who built his house on a rock and another who built his house on the sand. Both faced the same storm, yet only one stood firm.
The stories of Jesus dont just set up truth they contain truth. Carefully constructed, and masterfully told, the stories of Jesus have impacted audiences throughout history.
become a better storyteller
the beneFit oF telling stories in sermons
Weve talked a little bit about how stories work, but lets shift gears and talk about why you should work to weave them into your messages. With all the content, commentaries and principles at your disposal, why should you take valuable time in the pulpit to tell stories.
1. YOU CAN PrESENT EASY TO DIGEST INFOrMATION. The truth is were drowning in information. Many studies show how information doubles every 18 to 24 months. Whether its because of all the cat videos on YouTube or food pictures on Instagram, the fact of the matter remains weve got a TON of information at our fingertips.
Good stories cut through the noise and help people pay attention what really matters. All of the information in your sermon wont be remembered. Stories help you present the important information in a way thats easy to digest.
Beautiful storytelling trumps overwhelming content every time.
2. YOU CAN PrESENT EASY TO rEMEMBEr INFOrMATION. rudyard Kipling said if history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. And thats not just true of history; its true for most things.
When it comes to Stories make things easier to remember. People dont just pay attention to
storiesthey remember them.
3. STOrIES HELP PEOPLE UNDErSTAND INFOrMATION. During Abraham Lincolns second presidential campaign, he told the story of a farmer who refused to change horses in the middle of a stream. That little story became a metaphor for an election, and the nation sent him back to the White House. An abstract principle goes in one ear and out the other a story finds a home in the mind.
Youve had the experience where youre trying to explain a complicated principle only to come up short. Just when youve reached the end of your explanation, you think of the story to help it all make sense. Its kind of like when you begin. And then it clicks.
Those who dont illustrate are saying, in essence, I dont care if you dont understand; thats your problem. If your congregation doesnt understand, thats not always their problem. As a communicator, you have a responsibility to help them understand Gods Word. Your job isnt to cover content, its to communicate truth in a way that people can apply. Stories will help you do that.
4. STOrIES CrEATE EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS. Maya Angelou once said, People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. The best way to get people to feel is to tell a story.
People relate to stories, because they see themselves
become a better storyteller
in the story. They identify with the prodigal son. They relate to the man abandoned on the side of the road. They know people just like the foolish builder.
Be brave isnt as inspiring of the story of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Be honest isnt nearly as memorable as the story of Pinocchio. Stories are ways to connect with your congregation.
Neurologists tell us that when stories are told, a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain, letting us know interesting information is on the way. Thats why people lean in when you leave behind point number six in favor of the story of a man you met at Wal-Mart. We are literally hardwired to process stories.
A Stanford Graduate School of Business case study from 2009 reports, Learning how to tell a story cannot guarantee the reaching of Truth, but it can help you connect with your audience, move your audience, and make your material more memorable.
5. STOrIES LEAD PEOPLE TO THINK. The essence of dramatic form is to let an idea come over people without its being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it is simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to discover it for themselves. Stanley Kubrick, as quoted in Biblical Preaching, 130-131.
the elements oF a story
At the risk of being too technical, its worth a quick moment to discuss the elements of a story.
1. CharaCters. Every good story has characters. 2. Context. Stories dont exist in a vacuum, theres a time and a place.3. Plot. Whether its an adventure, romance, tragedy, melodrama, irony, or comedy, something happens. 4. Climax. The pinnacle of the action is the climax. 5. resolution. It all works out in the end. Or sometimes it doesnt. 6. moral. Some morals are implied, while others are clearly stated. The moral is the teaching.
You can see all of these elements in the story of the house built on the rock and the house built on the sand in Matthew 7:24-27. There are two characters the wise and the
foolish builder. The story happens on a construction site during
some bad weather. It was literally a dark and stormy night.
A storm comes knocking on the door of both houses.
The house built on the stand falls down. Thats the climax of the action.
The house built on the rock stands. Thats the resolution.
The moral is: build your life on a solid foundation.
become a better storyteller
Jesus told this simple story to illustrate a great truth. The stories you tell in your sermons can also illustrate great truth. If youre not naturally creative or dont think of yourself as a good storyteller, you might have to work harder at this, but its worth it.
Where to Find stories
Now that youre convinced about the need to tell great stories in your sermons, lets talk about where you can find them. One common place to go is a book or database of sermon illustrations, but you can do better than that. Were going to leave those preacher stories to someone else and tell better stories that really make an impact.
Lets take a quick look at where Jesus, the master storyteller, found his stories. Brad H. Young, author of Jesus and His Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the Roots of Jesus Teaching says the stories of Jesus came from three primary sources:
1. Fictitious tales and fables circulating in the first century. 2. Actual events adapted to illustrate a theme3. Proverbs or wisdom verses that could be developed into a story.
Look around the world today and youll see those categories still exist, though in different forms. The most popular fictitious tales and fables circulating in our culture today are often the plot lines in popular movies or the subjects of best selling books.
Actual events are all around us in the news and on the Internet. And we still have access to a wealth of
proverbs or wisdom verses that could be developed into our own stories.
Just the other day, I was attending a childrens Christmas party. The host gathered all of the children together to tell them the story of Christmas. Although, it didnt start out like any Christmas story Id heard.
He told the story of a boy who loved ants so much he found a way to become an ant so he could lead them to a...