Powerful stories are sitting your congregation waiting to inspire and point people toward Christ. Many of us have had to sit through long rambling stories of people that feel awkward and confusing. If you can find ways to help your people tell their story better, you will, like Christ did, tell a better story. Here are a few tips for helping to craft and capture personal testimony stories of people in your church.
1.) Seek out the Story:
Set up a topical confessional booth. The goal of these is to find concise sound bytes on one topic to cast a wide net of “Me Too” moments that relate to a general topic.
Here are a couple of examples:
The Time I Needed God the Most: https://vimeo.com/25355966
In these sessions, we limited the time to ten minutes per person and asked very specific questions about the main idea, lesson learned, the low points, and asked them to try to put their experience in one sentence. There are times where you might even provide them with the sentence. You might think people would be insulted that you are trying to put words in their mouth, but we have found they are comforted that you understand and are able to help them summarize their story. If you find a truly powerful story that cannot be limited to a 1-minute sound byte, leave that person’s story out and save it for a full 4-5 minute piece to be captured at a later time. We also document these, so we have an idea bucket of stories to be used later.
We also have an email address firstname.lastname@example.org that any and all people can send a written version of their story of life change. These are dumped into an Evernote account that we browse when we’re looking for stories for certain series topics.
2.) Find the Story Skeleton:
There are two formulas we use to filters people’s stories into a consistently powerful form. Some stories fit better in one category, some in both. This formula can be found in almost every biblical story, Hollywood film, and both modern and classic literature. It’s repeated because it works. It moves us consistently. God wired us for the story form, and we honor Him when we follow His lead.
The narrative structure:
Hook: an opening scene/sentence/sound byte that creates intrigue
Exposition: Provide basic background info.
Inciting Moment: conflict is introduced, a hurdle to jump, a tragedy, a problem to solve, etc.
Rising Action: Suspense is built up, more conflict
Climax: the highest point of tension/the crisis of belief/the turning point
Falling action:/Resolution: scriptural theme revealed, lesson learned, a biblical character identified with etc.
The Biblical Structure:
Creation: “I’ve always dreamed I would….”
Fall: “But then this happened…”
Redemption: “But then God did this…”
Restoration: “ And I realized the lesson I was supposed the learn and the calling to share it with others…”
There are some times when we intentionally leave out the resolution or restoration part in order to pose a question that the sermon will answer, but there is still usually a spark of hope or faith that is mentioned. (Like in Don’s Story https://vimeo.com/74123100 ) For our longer feature story pieces, we ask the person to write out a rough draft of their story as if they were telling it to a friend. Then we filter it through these two formats and send them back a script for them to approve. They have a chance to make changes that they feel don’t really fit their delivery style, story or personality. On the day of the shoot, we have them read the script as a voiceover for safety. We also ask if they can try to memorize it or at least summarize it in their own words on camera. If necessary, we feed them key lines from the script that they miss, especially main points and transition statements.
3.) Sketch Out the Story
We fill in spots with B-roll that capture a metaphor, their natural setting, key words, or an emotional tone with facial expressions. Here are some examples:
Julie’s story (running metaphor of her fight with cancer)
Quilter’s Story (capturing their work and setting of the story)
Baptism Stories 2013 (writing key words to show themes)
I am Second: Stacy (capturing poses to express emotions in the story)
There are great stories in your church waiting to be found. Seek them out. Find their narrative backbone. Sketch out the story for the audience visually. When you tell the story better, you tell a better story. Once upon a time, Jesus was all about stories. He still is…through each and every one of us.
“With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots”. Mark 4:33-34 MSG
Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results. —Nancy Mellon, The Art of Storytelling