We love stories at LICC. In fact, we love them so much, we mix them liberally into our resources and training like chocolate chips in a good cookie. Stories (and by stories I mean real-life examples of whole-life discipleship in action) are marvellous. Stories help people see what following Jesus looks like in action. Stories get people saying: ‘Wow, that’s amazing, look at what God has done.’ Stories create those moments where people say: ‘Oh yeah, I could do something like that,’ or even: ‘I do do something like that.’
In fact, it was stories of everyday disciples bearing fruit in banks and buses that helped me grasp the significance of whole-life discipleship when I first engaged with LICC in 2012.
Perhaps you would love to unearth stories of people in your church making a difference wherever they might be, and to share these with the rest of the congregation. Maybe you’re already doing that. Many of the church leaders we speak to feel a bit like gold prospectors: they know the stories are there within their congregations, but getting those precious nuggets to the surface isn’t easy.
There are various reasons for this. Often God has done or is doing something amazing on someone’s frontline, but the person involved doesn’t recognise that it is a significant thing. Or they know something has happened, but it doesn’t feel big enough to share: ‘This is nothing compared to what Sue did.’ Other times they do recognise they’ve been at the centre of something great, but they take humility seriously, and wonder if sharing the story could come across as self-congratulatory or boastful.
So, here are eight tips for unearthing and sharing frontline stories in your church. These are not ‘thou shalts’ to weigh you down; more ‘thou might findst it helpful to…’
1. Assume! That’s right, in this regard ignore what your old English teacher used to say while they waved a stick of a chalk about: ‘Assume makes an ass out of u and me.’ When it comes to gathering stories of God being at work through his people in their daily lives, we must assume something is happening, that there are stories to share. It’s amazing how often those who quietly go about their business actually have great stories to tell. Gold does not usually lie exposed on the surface. Even if you haven’t come across many stories yet, believe me, they exist!
2. Be intentional. Gathering stories is much like recruiting volunteers: if you make a general announcement, you might not get what you want. In fact, you might get nothing. But if you approach individuals, you tend to get a better response. Intentionally seek out stories within your church. Go and visit people on their frontlines (with their permission, obviously). When you get there, ask them what they are up to, what’s going well, what’s a challenge, how is their faith shaping what they do? Who has God put on their heart?
Or, when it’s coffee time before or after a service, talk to people about what they’ve been doing that week. Don’t just talk to them about ‘church stuff’. Listen out for the big thing that might be hiding in the little thing. You might be talking to Janet, who happens to mention she dropped off a meal for Rod. ‘Who’s Rod?’ you ask. ‘Oh, he’s an elderly neighbour whose wife passed away last year. I take him a home-cooked meal once a week as he really misses her cooking.’ Wow, there’s a story of someone in your congregation ministering grace and love in their neighbourhood. But you only found that out because you asked the question.
3. Expand people’s vision. If people in your church believe the only things that are significant to God are the ways they volunteer within the church, or their quiet times, or the conversations they have with others about Jesus, many of them won’t think they have a frontline story to share. But using a framework like the six Ms, you can expand their vision to recognise God at work through their character, their actions, and their work in all the activities they engage in throughout the week.
4. Create contexts where stories can be shared. It’s unlikely that people will knock on your door or randomly send you an email saying ‘I have a great story to share with you.’ (Although who knows? Maybe one day.) That means you need to intentionally make space for stories to come out. One of the most effective ways to do this is through This Time Tomorrow. This involves interviewing a member of the congregation at the front during a service (with notice) about what they will be doing ‘this time tomorrow’. Where will they be, and what will they be doing? What’s going well there, and what are some of the challenges? How is their faith making a difference, and how would they like the church to pray for them?
Small groups are a great place for people to start talking about their frontlines too. Are your small group leaders trained and encouraged to help their groups share about their frontlines? Do the discussion notes encourage groups to do it? Some churches now start every leadership team meeting, worship team meeting, (insert other kinds of meeting here), by opening up the first few minutes for people to talk about what’s happening on their frontlines. Like adopting a new golf swing or driving someone else’s car, it may feel awkward at first, but it soon becomes normal. How might you get people talking about their frontline contexts in your church?
5. Share your own frontline stories. Even if you are in full-time church ministry, there will be places you connect with non-Christians beyond church activities: down the shops, talking to neighbours, engaging with friends on Facebook, being part of a book or running club. What do you notice in these places? What attitudes do people have? What questions are they asking? Where do they find joy, or face challenges? And how is God growing you or working through you there? If our congregations see that we are taking our frontlines seriously, they’re more likely to do likewise.
6. Share stories from other places – wisely. LICC has a cache of frontline stories that we share in our publications and through social media. After sharing a story you’ve discovered through LICC (or elsewhere), say something along the lines of: ‘I bet we have some stories like that to tell here.’ Think about sharing stories from a range of frontlines: schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, retirement homes, swimming pools and so forth. This will help stories connect across the congregation, and not just those in the workplace.
Be prepared to share stories that don’t seem like a big deal, or that don’t have a happy ending, or that don’t have an ending at all. If we only ever share stories of great successes, people will just sit on their ‘little’ stories, thinking theirs isn’t the kind of story people are interested in.
7. Get others to help you. Wolves (both the animals and the Midlands-based football team) are effective because they hunt in packs. Who might be some good people within your church to help you identify frontline stories? Small group leaders are often a great place to start. Some churches have found it helpful to appoint an official ‘story gatherer’ who will keep an ear out, ask questions, visit people and so forth.
8. Share the stories you gather creatively and sensitively. It’s crucial that we share stories in a way people are comfortable with. If they feel embarrassed, or like they’ve been misrepresented, they will be as willing to share their stories with you as a zebra sharing its favourite leg with a lion. There are lots of ways to share stories, and some modes will work better for some people than others.
Some are great at talking, and will happily share their story from the front during a service or in front of a camera. Others might prefer to share their story in an interview style. Some might be more comfortable writing it down, or having you share it on their behalf. For various reasons, people may wish to remain anonymous. If that’s the case, you can scrub details that will make them easily identifiable, and introduce a story by saying ‘someone in this congregation…’
Stories possess so much transformative power: for your congregation, for individuals on their frontlines, and for you. Through this process, you will discover amazing things that God is doing in and through his people. Enjoy it. And if you ever come across a great frontline story you think would benefit others more widely, do email us at [email protected]