Everyone Knows How to Tell a Story, Right?
We’ve done it since we began to talk. For many our parents doted on every word whether or not the story actually made sense. This emboldened us to tell even more stories. For the most part we did OK. We learned how to get from point A to point B in the story and we picked up on those cues to see when our listeners were getting bored and we needed to bring things to a conclusion. Rarely did we stop to consider whether or not we were good storytellers. Even more scarcely have we examined how to tell stories strategically. Ultimately all stories have some underlying purpose. They are told to draw attention to the storyteller as the case of the 5 year old telling a story to his parents. Other stories are told to inform or educate. Stories are told to entertain and to invoke emotion. Stories are told to defend ourselves or to persuade others.
But in our context of Media to Movements (M2M) our desire is to craft strategic stories that facilitate people moving further down the path to Jesus Christ and to Kingdom multiplication. Telling good stories, ones that are well crafted and good quality is important. That quality may come through study, through practice and through eliciting and receiving feedback so we can improve. Telling strategic stories that facilitate a M2M work however will involve at a minimum three key components. We need to give our audience a mirror, a way to find themselves and their current need in the story. We need to give our audience some binoculars, an opportunity to see the possibility of change and what the future might look like. And we need to give our audience the first yellow brick, the first step on that path to change.
Why Our Audience Needs a Mirror
One more time before walking out the door we take a last look in the hall mirror, we check to see how our clothes are fitting in the reflection of the stainless steel doors of the elevator, pulling out our phone to turn on the selfie camera and make a quick check to see that our teeth are clean, slowing down as we pass a plate glass window for a good side view, dashing into the restroom and straightening our hair before entering the venue to meet our friends…. Most of us regularly look for a mirror or a reflection of ourselves, it’s natural. The first component in crafting a strategic story that leads to multiplication is that of providing our audience with a mirror. Not a mirror that reflects the audience’s physical appearance but rather one that reflects their current reality, their felt needs, their point of crisis, their fears, their desires.
Often, our audience knows already what that mirror, that reflection looks like. They already know that in their reflection they will see the sudden onset of a critical illness, or their unemployment, or the loss of their loved one. Or conversely, they may see a joyous reflection, their marriage, a new job, the birth of their firstborn. When a character in our story is experiencing these same points of crisis or same points of joy, our audience may quickly see themselves in the mirror we have provided. Those mirrors are easy. Like the tenth time I check my hair before walking out the door, I already knew what to expect in my reflection, the mirror just confirmed it. Other times however, we’re not sure what’s going to show up in the mirror. Perhaps we are trying to avoid our current reality of low self-esteem. Maybe we don’t want to see the reflection of fear or shame. Often our audience may not themselves be able to identify or articulate their current reality. This is when the mirrors we provide are particularly significant.
The Power of Persona
None of us looks into a mirror and expects to see a lion, none of us look at a mirror and expect to see a straw-filled scarecrow, none of us look into a mirror and expect to see a tin man. But when our audience looks into the mirror of our story, the mirror brought by the characters we provide and they see fear, or they see lack of self-esteem and doubt, or they see loneliness and a longing for love, it doesn’t matter by what physical form – the result is they see the reflection of themselves. If we understand this then we know that choosing the right mirror is the most important component of strategic storytelling that leads to multiplication. Before we do anything else in crafting our story, we must decide what mirror we want to build that story around. The term we most often use to describe this in M2M (as well as traditional marketing) is persona. We need to identify the persona we are seeking to reach or connect with before we do anything else with our story. And it is from that persona that we can assemble our mirror.
How well we define our persona will also establish how clearly the reflection will be in the mirror of our story. We could define a persona as simply “all the lost people in the country where I serve”. And from that we can craft a story and a character (mirror) that gives the reflection of generic lostness. But the reflection in that mirror may be so fuzzy that our audience only minimally recognizes themselves. If however our persona is “an 18-30 year old female factory worker who has migrated to the country’s largest city who has fears about shaming her family and is afraid of evil spirit”’ we can begin to build a mirror in our story that has a much greater degree of clarity. University students or middle-aged businessmen will not relate to our story at all but most anyone that falls within our persona will be able to see themselves reflected in the mirror of our story. This focus is in part what makes it strategic.
Why Our Audience Needs Binoculars
As we disciple new Believers in our context, one of the first things we help the new Believer with is being able to share their salvation testimony. It is a story. It is their story. And it is a powerful way to influence others for the Gospel. As we train Believers in sharing their testimony, we lead them to write it out in three parts. Part one, “what my life was like before I met Jesus Christ”. Part two, “how I met Jesus Christ and began a relationship with Him”. Part three, “what my life is like today, now that I have a relationship with Jesus Christ”. When we are crafting strategic stories that lead to multiplication, we can’t leave our audience standing at the mirror. We also need to give them a set of binoculars. That’s the third part of the testimony training we give to Believers. When these Believers share their testimony with their friends and they share the first part, their friends are standing in front of a mirror and their thought is, “yes, that’s just the way my life is like today”. The mirror in our story gives a reflection of the current reality of our persona. But our story also must give our audience a pair of binoculars. They need to be able to see the possibility of a new reality, a new future, a new destination that may be far in the distance. Our audience needs to see the possibility of a new reflection. From our training, as Believers share what their life is like today now that they have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they give their hearers that set of binoculars to see what their life could be like.
This is the Emerald City, the destination, the possibility of being loved, the possibility of resolving conflict, the possibility of restoring honor. This is what brings the “changing of imagination” that is often cited as a foundation to our M2M work. Helping people make an identity change, a high-level conversion requires those binoculars to see off in the distance. When Jesus told the story of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the expert in the law who Jesus told the story to as well as others in the audience might have seen their reflection in multiple ways – maybe they saw themselves as the man beaten and robbed, maybe they saw themselves unwillingly as the compassionless priest or Levite who passed by on the other side of the road. But Jesus also gave His hearers a pair of binoculars by showing them the ideal of mercy and love of how to be a good neighbor as exhibited by the Samaritan. This is not a call for our stories to always have a Sunday School ending wrapped up with pink ribbon and a bow. When we train Believers in sharing their testimony, we stress that their ‘Part three’ shouldn’t necessarily give the impression that once they followed Jesus everything was perfect, and they had no problems. We don’t want our strategic stories to simply give our audience rose colored binoculars. We want to show a future reality which we know to be better but may not remove all the temporary hardships and may in fact bring more such hardships. But we must show a future where that is worth it for the sake of a redeeming relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Why Our Audience Needs a Yellow Brick (First Step)
All too often it seems my normal mode of operation is to be running late. Whether I get distracted with something or just am too long-winded with a previous appointment I frequently sheepishly show up to my next appointment a few minutes late. Sometimes when finishing up with one meeting and heading out for the next, if it’s at a location I’m not familiar with I will look it up on Google Maps on my phone. When the app gives me an estimated travel time, I can get a little frustrated – at the app. (It’s also when I send off my perpetually saved and re-used text message of “Sorry – I’m running late”). There’s no point in me getting frustrated at the app of course. Google’s not responsible for me being late, that’s all on me. Thankfully the app is also there to show me the path I need to take to get to my destination. So, I forgive it. When our strategic stories provide an accurate reflection of current reality, when we have a good mirror of our persona it will draw our audience in. They see themselves and they realize we “get it”. When we then give them a pair of binoculars with a future possibility that is motivating, something they want, then our audience is likewise drawn in further.
But this can also introduce a significant problem. Because our audience can see the chasm between the reflection in the mirror and the destination in the binocular’s lenses. They can see the app telling them the drive time with normal traffic is 32 minutes to get to the meeting that is supposed to start in 5. And frustration can set in. “Why would you show me the destination that’s so far away? I can never get there.” If that frustration lingers, our audience looks for ways to reduce it. They may deny the accuracy of the mirror we’ve given them. Or they may disbelieve the benefits of the destination. Unless they are given something to reconcile the two, they will move on from our story. We’ve got to give them the first yellow brick. We must show our audience how they can start the journey. And it’s not enough to simply give them Lao Tzu’s admonition that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” because that may only reinforce to our audience that the journey of a thousand miles is too long to walk. We’ve got to give our persona the hope that when they first put their feet in the water of the river Jordan, they will see God part the waters (Joshua 3).
This is where constructing a Disciple Making Journey Map for our persona can become very helpful as it drives us to define those incremental steps we want our persona to take on their path to a relationship with Jesus Christ and multiplication. Defining those small steps that include our own response back to the person, some type of feedback or benefit that keeps them on the journey and ready to take the next step. They realize the first step is not going to get them to the destination, but they get the acknowledgement and appreciation of having taken that first step. The way we craft our strategic story may be able to include that first yellow brick or incremental step within the story itself. Or that first step may be more within the call to action that we provide with the story but in order for the story to be strategic it must provide an answer to the “what do I want them to do?” question.
We all know how to tell stories. We can all work on and improve the stories we tell to make them good stories. But if we are going to tell strategic stories – stories that have an objective and an aim – stories that can help to facilitate people moving closer to faith in God through Jesus Christ and closer to being faithful disciples, closer to new churches being started, closer to Kingdom multiplication – we need at a minimum these three basic components. We need our story to have a clear mirror that gives our audience a reflection of where they are; their current reality. We need our story to give our persona a pair of binoculars that changes their imagination of who and what they could be. We need our story to show people the first yellow brick, the first step they should take to begin the journey of change. We need strategic stories.