“The disciples came up and asked, ‘Why do you tell stories?’ He replied, ‘You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it.’” Matthew 13:10-15 (MSG)
Stories are the heart of how Jesus told his followers of God’s love for them and the ways to display that on earth. Today, stories are how we share what God is doing around the globe from prayer letters to online articles. Telling a story can be about more than just typing words on a page, it can be a way to give hope, share successes and challenge others.
“Christianity is fundamentally a communication event. It is God revealing God’s self to the world. And God uses a large variety of media to accomplish that revelation.” ― Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith.
Let’s go ahead and rip the bandaid off. Writing a story can be hard, even paralyzing. So let’s go through a few easy tips to get started on your story.
“Your first line is like eyebrows – you pay attention only if they look really good or really bad.” Ask a question. Set the stage with a curious point of view. Bring your reader into the story in that first sentence so they want to stay.
Think about the rule of WIFYA (What’s in it for your audience) — they are the people you should serve first. It’s what they will value. Look for pathological empathy for your reader — what’s in it for them?
Adding real words (spoken by real people) gives your stories:
1 Direct quote
Reserve this option for concise, relevant statements.
2 Partial quote
a clause, phrase or even a powerful word, but beware of overusing fragmentary quotes. Using quote marks to “highlight” certain “words” may make them look “odd.”
to clarify or condense:
“Bears’ quarterback, Bruce Easily, claims that this year’s football team will be the best in the league.”
to capture a conversation and drop the reader into a scene.
Your testimony is a story.
Tell your story the same way you tell your personal testimony. When you tell your testimony, you don’t use Christian jargon, and you are clear because you want someone to know how to receive Christ after they hear it.
Keep your story simple and understandable. Your story should be positive toward other ministries, churches and individuals, and make it interesting so people are drawn into the story.
Here are six key questions you can ask when telling your story or even someone else’s story:
Details like Who, What, When, Where, Why and How help invite someone into the action and excitement of the story. What in the story is exciting to you? Often, one detail makes the whole story interesting.
Details are also needed to give credibility to the story. Readers want confirmed facts. You may need to find out more. Be curious. Ask questions of several people who were involved. How did it impact them? Think about:
Who was involved in the event? What was something unique about them? How many were there? Who was leading it?
“One project to reach Muslims began as the prayerful dream of three grandmas who contacted the ministry team to help make their vision a reality. As a result, the JESUS film was shown to hundreds of people in one of the largest mosques in the country.”
In a very broad story, try to include a story about one individual or family and the life change they experienced.
What were the unique circumstances of the event? And the results? Include statistics and how the results relate to our ministry’s goals. The results are the reason we are even writing the story, as in the example above.
“Just talking about Jesus in this nation can cost you your life…by the thrust of a sword.”
Where did the event happen? The town or city, university, vehicle… Describe what it looked like. Dialogue always adds a personal feeling.
“I was going home by bus. All of a sudden, I heard a voice saying, ‘I am revealing the light to you. You shall love Me and My Son – God’s Son. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you!’”
When did it happen? Usually it’s best to include at least the month and year. You can do this in a dated publication by saying “recently.” You should have a file of your sources in case of any question.
“A month ago a ‘traveler’ came to us on a camel.”
Why did it happen? Are there things only a member of that culture would know or understand about why it happened? “Why?” helps you get at the motivation in a person’s heart.
“They began to take off their head coverings. Their angry, hopeless glares were gone. Released from shame, they were beaming with joy, smiling. They began to hug one another, and me, saying ‘Thank you, thank you…for the first time in our lives we know we are loved!’”
How did it happen? How did the people feel? How did they change? How does this story relate to ministry goals?
“On the day of the program, they felt very disappointed to see only two students had come. Thirty minutes passed. The Bible study members joined their hands in prayer, still trusting God.”
Ask for details. “The quality of your story depends on the quality of information you gathered, sorted and organized before you write” (Anne Marie Winz, Cru writing instructor).
We need to be willing to continue asking questions until we get all the details we need. In other words, be willing to be a pest! Use the 5W’s and 1H (above) to ask for more information.
In order to write the changed-life story or any other article, you have to first gather the information. How do you gather your information? Is your process working? Consider these questions:
Who do you talk to when you want to collect details to write a changed-life story? Who values story? Call the person who will know accurate details and ask him or her to tell you stories. Talk to leaders, and talk to field staff members.
Retreats? Conferences? Days of Prayer? National and international events? You can find information on every one of our ministries at Cru.org.
Do you count on a leader to tell you a story he or she has heard? Can you talk to a staff member on the field? Can you talk to a disciple who is a leader in the ministry? Read staff member blogs?
The closer you can get to the source of your story, the more precise your details can be, and the more likely you are to get the kind of information you will need to make your story more accurate and interesting.
How much information do you really need to follow up on a lead? How can you simplify that into three questions that you can ask your sources every month, two months, or quarter, depending on how frequently you publish?
Provide Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, online forms, email addresses (“Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org”).
How can you build relationships with people who know the stories? Consider inviting them to call you, email you, and friend you on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their blogs, and check their web pages (for example, their ministry Facebook pages).
Create places for staff members to tell their stories. Try Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, or a ministry email address for stories. You can always send stories to email@example.com.
Create a Google document you can share with all of the staff members in your ministries. Call it Idea Market. Any time staff members hear stories worth being retold, they write two or three sentences describing the story, and add the name, phone number or email address of a person you can contact. You can follow up later.
When you ask your staff on the field to collect information for you, the easier you make it for them to help you, the more likely you are to hear from them.
The flow of useful information from field ministry staff members to your team is a critical part of the process if you want to keep creating original, interesting content for your readers.
Sources: Angel McCurdy, Anne Marie Winz and Judith Neibling
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