Every church has a collective story. As a leader, you need to pay attention to what story is being told.
I’m not talking about the good old, unchanging story of Jesus’ love, sacrifice and ultimate work of salvation. That story will never change.
I’m talking about the narrative your church lives in – what you believe to be true about your congregation: the story you tell and rehearse together. If it’s not supporting and helping your church to flourish, it’s hurting you. And it can be turned around. God says, “Look, I am doing a new thing!”
Generally speaking, what is the collective narrative for your church?
For some leaders and churches, the story might be, “Remember when we used to be alive and active?” For other churches, it may be, “We’re doing the best we can.” Sometimes the scarcity mindset creeps in: “We can’t afford that right now” and other times, cynicism gets in the mix: “We don’t have a leader” or “We’ve had six leaders in ten years.”
Have you taken note of the phrases you say? What are the lines repeatedly coming out of your mouth? Maybe you’ve been saying, “One of these days we will do …” Or maybe you find yourself saying, “If we just had our own building we could …” Or maybe you hear others saying, “We’re too small to …”
The list could be as long as you can imagine: “We’re in a bad location.” “We are too far out of the city.” “We’re too far into the city.” “Times have changed.” “No one in our church will do anything.” “We’re stuck in the past.” “We don’t like change.” The list goes on.
Words really do shape us and as we talk and discuss. If we’re not careful, we will be shaped by the negative stories we tell ourselves. When the problems become the focal point, we need to begin telling a different narrative.
One key to sharing a vision is to use stories, words, and language to unify people around the rally cry. That helps remind people that we are moving forward together. Vision-aiding words and phrases help move an entire church together toward the goals and dreams for their ministry in the community and region.
I once heard a story from Michael Hyatt about a young man who came from a poor family, lived on a farm in the country, and longed for a better life in the city. One conversation gave him a new perspective. The person he talked with thought the young man was lucky to live on a big farm in the country with lots of land to roam; surrounded by family all the time; with good food, fresh air, and lots of fun things to do. As the young man began to think of his circumstance in a new way, he became more fulfilled. Everything changed for him.
A few years back, I got a different perspective on my own life. I have spent 100% of every summer since the age of 18 serving in ministry at camps, mission trips, and other ministry events. After more than twenty years of living out this calling and ministry, it’s how I live life, follow Christ, support my family, and pay bills. I’m pretty planted in it. As much as I’ve always enjoyed it, summer ministry can get tiring and tough. But during a short little conversation, the other person made the comment that I was “so lucky to have arranged my life to be free to do whatever I wanted during the summers.”
A light came on. It was a resurgence of fresh energy from a new perspective. I don’t have to do this, I get to do this. I have been blessed with flexibility in ministry roles to be able to invest the summer in full time ministry to students and leaders.
In both of these examples, the circumstances didn’t change, but attitudes did. A different story was told and it was powerful.
What about your church? What story do you tell yourself and your people? Here are some thoughts for you if you are a leader or influencer:
Pinpoint the story you are telling yourself as a church.
Ask leaders in your church:
- What do people think about our church?
- What are people in your congregation saying about our church?
- What is the impression of our church in the community?
Rewrite the story and began telling it to others.
- We want God to write His story on our hearts.
- It’s God’s church – He owns it and we have an opportunity to be stewards of this wonderful gift.
- List the strengths your church has and focus on them.
- Don’t compare to other churches, compare to God’s work in your ministry and the fullness of your response to that work.
Lead the way in changing the story.
Lead by example. Watch what you are saying and rehearse the new story as often as you can. Here are some examples and thoughts:
Instead of saying “We’re not a small church that can’t attract people,” say:
- We are able to provide a family-like atmosphere and care for people in a special way.
- We are rich in the love of Christ and have the best message to share. If God is for us who can be against us?
- We are trusting in the power of prayer to make a difference in our church and in the community.
- This is a great place to serve, live, and minister! I want to serve here for a long, long time.
- This church is full of good people and we’re reaching the world by reaching out to our community.
- Fill in the blank.
After discerning where your story has been negative and how you need to change it, begin telling the new story often, optimistically, and unashamedly.
This doesn’t mean you brush past problems and ignore them. Indeed, part of the role of the leader is to clarify and pinpoint issues to work on. But you’re working toward something great – a vision and an end result. You don’t have to get up every morning and do this. You get to!
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