Who Owns Your Story?
Who owns your story?
This is one of my favorite questions to ask church leaders about their congregations. Who owns your story? Is it the priest? The pastor? The communications coordinator? The ministry leaders? The lay people who serve on the governing body?
Who owns your story?
We each have own our story and it is these individual stories that collectively make up the story of our faith community. All of our stories add up to form the ongoing narrative of the people of God, the communion of saints, or the cloud of witness.
Think about it. Everyone craves to be known, to have their story heard, to have a story worth telling and a life worth living. Marketers know this – remember the Apple commercial a few years back based on the Whitman poem that asked, “What will your verse be?” Presumably you would craft your verse as a mark on the world - and use Apple products to capture and share that verse.
As evangelists, we are called to share stories of the way God transforms our lives. As people called to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are called to deep listening, to hear our neighbors’ stories. As church communicators, our job is to help amplify these stories, to create opportunities and platforms on which these stories can be shared. But how?
A storytelling and story sharing culture doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done.
When our parish youth went on mission trips, adult leaders suggested that they each keep a journal to record their experiences. The kids sporadically took notes, and then when asked to recall their experiences for the congregation, they hemmed and hawed and made some half-hearted explanation that could basically be summed up as “you had to be there.” The story wasn’t being adequately told.
The next year, I decided my sole purpose on the trip was to tell stories and I opted for visual storytelling. I took a thousand pictures which proved to be a bonanza for church communications for the rest of the year. But, for every picture I captured, for every story I told, there were 10 others that I missed. I was incapable of telling the whole story myself. With this realization, I began to ask myself the question of who owns the story.
The following year, we reversed the long-standing “no phones on mission trip” rule. We talked to the kids about responsible storytelling in a mission trip context – how to respect the dignity of the people we worked with and those we served. We set some parameters on appropriate times and ways to use phones for picture taking. Then we turned the kids loose to tell stories in their own vernacular – visual rather than verbal stories. We gave them the freedom to own their stories – and I got out of the way. (Although I did try to limit the number of selfies with farm animals).
But a story isn’t complete unless it’s shared with others.
Brene Brown, in Daring Greatly, says “stories are data with souls” and Ursula K. Le Guin, in the essay “Telling Is Listening,” in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, writes,
Words do have power. Names have power. Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.
Having cultivated a practice of encouraging youth to capture their stories, we next needed a platform on which to share these stories, to give them power. Fortunately, we had just developed our website so that we could use social media to update the content in real time. We handed the youth the church iPad with our Instagram account pre-installed. They used Instagram to capture their stories and as they did, their stories were immediately shared to the church’s website. Parents, parishioners, and anyone else following along could watch our mission trip unfold in real time. The youth – often voiceless in “official” church communication – knew that their stories mattered and that they were an integral part of the overall story of our church. They responded to the trust and responsibility we shared with them. It was incredibly empowering and went a long way towards helping each of those young people cultivate their identity as a church member and as a Christian.
Of course when we empower and trust people to tell their own stories, there is always the risk that they will share a story that shows our church in a negative light, or convey a message that we as the church don’t wish to endorse. This is no different than when someone in our community says something inappropriate at coffee hour. It creates a pastoral need and the need to do some damage control. But the risk and likelihood of this happening is well worth the far greater advantage and opportunity created by entrusting people to share their stories and giving them a platform to be heard. Because everyone wants to be heard, everyone wants to tell their story.
So. Once again – who owns your story? And how are you going to give them a platform on which to tell?
- 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. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities 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 email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.