Visual Storytelling: Let Me Introduce You
A recent article in the New York Times revealed an important trend – the increasing shift towards and the projected dominance of visual culture.
“The growing importance... of images rather than just text... is altering much about culture. It’s transforming many people’s personal relationships... we talk in pictures."
What does a trend toward “talking in pictures” mean for churches? How does it impact our congregational relationships and the relationships we hope to form with those outside our walls?
We are a “people of the book” – and unless you are talking children’s story bibles, “the book” doesn’t have a lot of pictures. Liturgical traditions glorify the exquisite wordiness of our prayer books. Image-based expressions of our foundational scripture stories are pretty much left to the stained-glass windows installed 100 years ago. While making our worship more visually engaging is a blog post for another day, today I want to focus instead on using visual imagery to transform the way churches think about their web presence.
Website design has shifted light-years away from the text-based, blog-driven vertical style that is unfortunately still utilized by many churches. But even those churches who host horizontally-designed, photo-based sites may still have work to do before their visual imagery can be truly impactful.
Consider the photographs on your church’s website. Perhaps somewhere along the line, you recognized the value of imagery and hired a professional photographer. Your website is enriched with photos of afternoon light shining through the stained-glass, perfectly dappling the (empty) wooden pews. Or perhaps you realized that most church stories should be people stories and you gathered your congregation for a photo-shoot on the front steps of the church, doors flung open and invitational. Isn’t this enough?
Before I answer that question, let me introduce you to my family.
Yes, we are those people wearing matching outfits as we walk down the boardwalk.
It’s not a bad picture. It’s not a stilted, formal studio shot. We all have our eyes open, we’re all smiling. We look like a pretty fun group of people who would enjoy having others join our gathering. We seem to have a sense of humor or at least have a thing for antique sock monkeys. There’s some personality that comes through in this picture. It’s not bad.
But here’s the problem. This picture is 10 years old. And although I still look every bit as good as I did back then, all the kids in the picture are now taller than me. No one in this photo has left us, thank God, but we’ve added two nieces, a nephew, and a riotous herd of new sock monkeys. Secondly, we are pictured at the beach. My family loves the beach. We try to return to the same spot every year. But it’s not really where most of us spend our daily lives. This is like showing a picture from Easter and implying that your congregation looks that robust every Sunday. Finally, let’s talk about the matching outfits. They photograph well, but they obscure the fact that we are not a homogeneous group but rather a collection of unique individuals, all affiliated by choice, by blood, and by mutual affection (usually).
So let me really introduce you to my family.
Now you begin to see daily life as we live it. These pictures – pulled from the family text stream that flies back and forth almost every day – show who we are, where we’re from, and what we’re doing every day. They are the dynamic stories, shared with others, as we live them. They convey an underlying message of “wish you were here to be a part of my daily life.” Collectively, they make up the ongoing narrative of our family, each member capturing, sharing, and inviting the others into their daily experience. This is who we are and how we relate to one another.
So how do churches engage this mode of dynamic storytelling in the digital space? How do churches amplify individual voices and their individual stories? Certainly social media offers great tools that are easy to use, always accessible via the phones in everyone’s pockets, and multi-user access that can be shared to allow a variety of voices. Good website platforms integrate social media accounts to create dynamic ever-changing photo-rich content.
But why should faith communities be concerned with amplifying individual voices? Isn’t it enough to tell the organizational story of the church, the history of the congregation, the big picture expression of the collectively shared mission and vision? In short, no, it’s not enough to stick to a corporate-level story if in fact we want our churches to thrive and grow. New members need to be able to see how their individual stories might fit into the larger collective narrative of the faith community. Members new and old need to be convinced that the church is a community where their individual stories will matter. The network of relationships that comprise a faith community are built on individual caring connections, between people whose stories connect them to one another. Furthermore, the most powerful evangelism hinges simply on individuals sharing stories of how God has transformed their lives.
So as you craft your church’s visually-rich digital web presence, find ways to share individual stories. And for goodness sake, don’t ask everyone to wear matching outfits.
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. Technology can also distract us and keep us from connecting with one another. It can be a burden to keep communications current, to engage in the many ways that members of your community connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.