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November 7, 2015

The Power of Story in Start-Up (And Beyond)

By Kadi Cole

We have a story from the early days of our church in which our first building (a horse barn) was being converted to a chapel. All eighty people of the church spent every Saturday for an entire year working on the project. The elders of the church gathered every morning before work to pray and walk the property. The final stage was getting the roof to stop leaking. The church had very little money and everyone had already given all they could (including selling their own homes or cashing in retirement accounts). Through some friends a couple states away, they hired two roofing guys and their machinery to travel down and seal the roof.

When the workers arrived and tried to start the machines, one of them wouldn’t start. They worked on it for an entire day but could not fix it. They thought they’d have to just pack up and leave and try to come back another time, but this older man, Benny, decided to pray over the machine. Our founding pastor admits now he wasn’t quite sure about praying over a machine, but sure enough, when Benny got done they tried one more time, and it started!

The next day, however, as the workers were spraying the roof, a huge storm moved in and threatened to end the whole project and ruin what had already been done. There were no more supplies and the workers would have to quit and come back in a few weeks to try again. Our pastor says he remembered Benny’s prayer from the day before, so he climbed up on top of the roof and stood there like Moses with his hand up in the air and pleaded with God to part the storm.

And God did.

As the story goes, the grass was wet on every side of the barn-turned-chapel, but the entire roof stayed completely dry. The workers were able to complete the job and the church opened a couple weeks later.

Jesus knew the power of story. In fact, science now tells us that we are literally hard-wired to receive, understand and enjoy story. Story and narrative are not just a good communication tool, it’s actually essential for our brains to connect to story.

Story is also the primary way culture is shared among people. As you are designing and building the culture of your church, here are some key things to remember about the power of story as you articulate, teach and celebrate your culture.

Five Powers of Using Story

1. Story is “sticky”

Information and data points might be factual, but when placed in a story, they also connect emotionally and “stick” in peoples’ minds. For our church, the “Roof Story” is much more compelling than reporting the number of dollars raised or man hours worked for the new building.

2. Story is descriptive

It allows you to highlight certain aspects to make a point.

Here are some cultural values we often highlight when we tell the Roof Story. As a church, we are…

  • Ordinary people with an extraordinary God
  • Prayerful
  • Resourceful
  • Hardworking
  • Sacrificial
  • Generous
  • Connected
  • Teachable
  • Humble

3. Story empowers

It reveals the hand of God in the movement of your church and builds the faith of your congregation (and you!) It also gives people the opportunity to imagine themselves telling a similar story one day. Benny has become an inspirational example of simple but strong faith.

4. Stories easily multiply

Because stories are easy to remember, they can be retold by anyone and will even take on a momentum of their own. There are two main parts of our story that are easy to remember – praying over a machine and standing on the roof parting the rain. Keep the main parts of the story simple, brief and easy to repeat.

5. Stories become legends

The Roof Story is almost thirty years old, but we retell it every year in our School of Leadership because it is so foundational to our culture. Afterwards, I’ll hear our students encourage one another with a quick “Remember to get on the roof and pray!”

Stewarding your Stories

The stories that God is writing in your church are gifts to the congregation and tools for you as their leader. Here are two simple ideas of how to steward them well:

  1. Keep a journal. It’s amazing what God will do that we will forget.
  1. Tell stories during announcement time – see which ones naturally take on a life of their own; then expand them and use them often.

What other ways have you stewarded the stories of your church?

How have you learned to “mine” for a “gold” story?

What stories has God already given you that need to be re-told?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kadi Cole

Kadi Cole (@kadicole) serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Christ Fellowship Church (a multi-site church in South Florida) where she is the creator and Director of their School of Leadership. Having been involved in local church ministry for almost 30 years in various roles, Kadi has spent the last 15 years in full-time ministry focused on leadership development, ministry strategies and multi-site expansion. Kadi and her husband, Matt, have been married for 20 years and have one son, Ethan.

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