Our core values shape and define our language and our narratives—how we talk about what matters most to us. This is why “outsiders” or visitors can discern so much about our true values in one visit to a new church.
If your church says one of its core values is caring about the surrounding community and reaching out to those around you who are far from God, then the language you’re using to naturally describe that care should indicate your convictions. Do the people in your church talk about inclusiveness and building relationships in the community? Or is the conversation more about simply giving money to various community efforts? Do you integrate regular stories of community engagement and impact in your sermons, newsletters, printed materials, etc.?
We must be intentional about creating and consistently using vocabulary that mobilizes Christians to reach lost people.
How do we create a culture of evangelism? How do we create a culture where we prioritize people who are far from God, and make it clear that we’re with Jesus on his Luke 19:10 seek and save mission? We need to create and use language that reinforces our values. We must be intentional about creating and consistently using vocabulary that mobilizes Christians to reach lost people. The clarity, consistency, and intentionality of our narratives, language, behaviors, and practices are an overflow of the clarity and conviction of our values.
Consistency is Key
Consistency is one of the keys to effective storytelling. We need to use the same language, in the same ways, over a long period of time.
One of the things we learn as church leaders over time is that just when we get sick and tired of repeating phrases is when the congregation is just beginning to get it. We like to be onto the next new terminology, and often it works against us.
To create narratives that make it clear evangelism is important to us, we need to be willing to embrace repetition.
Understanding the Story that Matters Most
The reason we need to pay so much attention to our language is that we are responsible for telling the most important story in human history: the gospel. This is the story of a redeeming God who came to live among us in the human form of Jesus before dying for our sins, coming back from the dead, and leaving his Holy Spirit with us to empower us to share this story widely and well. We are all responsible for telling this story in a way that makes clear the fact that all human stories lead back to Jesus’ story. We are all lost and in need of our risen savior.
Luke 19:10: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.”
We see Jesus articulate this in one simple statement in Luke 19:10: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.” That was Jesus’ mission. And that should be our mission, too. And, therefore it certainly should be the mission of his church. If that was his mission, we should ask ourselves: how did Jesus live out his mission in the story of his life?
From the beginning, Jesus’ story expands beyond the religious institutions of his day. These spaces were often closed to outsiders and the lost, but through his actions and words, he expressed his values (and that of his father) to welcome people into a new story.
Creating Space for Stories
When you follow Jesus’ example and intentionally connect with people far from God you’ll begin to get questions about why you believe stories from the Bible, and about how your life story has changed as a result of your relationship with Jesus. Be prepared for these moments because they offer golden opportunities to open doors. They allow you to build bridges between the stories that others tell you and the story of Jesus.
We also see from Jesus’ examples that we have an easier time sharing our stories with people during meaningful moments that don’t necessarily take place in our church buildings.
For many of us, this will require a shift in our ecclesiology, the way we come together and experience church. If you have a mindset that evangelism happens only in a building once a week (the common model for most of our Western cultures) you’ll miss opportunities to build relationships that create space for storytelling and story-sharing. It’s hard to build relationships while sitting in the pews listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, or taking communion. And many a worship pastor will shoot some serious side-eye off-stage if you’re sharing stories during their carefully planned worship sets!
Adopt a Helpful Storytelling Framework
As we seek opportunities to tell our stories, it can be helpful to use a simple storytelling framework that helps us connect to others around us. I use a simple three-part format to share my story and it’s been so effective I wrote about it in my book BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. You wouldn’t believe how many stories have come out of this method.
Part 1: Describe your life before Jesus.
What was your life like before you met Jesus? Or if you grew up in the church knowing all about Jesus, what was your life like before you got serious about following him? Your story begins with who you were.
Part 2: Share how you met Jesus.
How did you become a Christ-follower? Did you go through a particularly tough time in your life that led you back to God? Did a friend invite you to a church service? Did a family member introduce you to Jesus? Did a life experience inspire you to get serious about following Jesus?
Part 3: Explain what following Jesus means to you.
What difference has following Jesus made in your life? How has knowing him impacted both the good and hard times? Yes, when telling your story, include both the good and the hard. People will be more impacted when you’re honest about the challenges you continue to face even when you’re following Jesus. And don’t give the Sunday school answer. Talk about how your life is different and how God is growing you in certain areas, but make sure you’re sincere about how it’s a process and how often you still make mistakes.
To learn more about how you can work on developing narratives of evangelism in your church or community, download the third workbook in our Lost Cause series and get your ticket to come join this conversation in Orlando in March.