If you ask a top athlete how they got into their sport, they’ll typically share an inspiring origin story about their first golf outing with mom, about watching the U.S. Gymnastics team win gold or about the joy of spiking a volleyball in Middle School. Those origin stories shaped their story. Past stories shape present realities and future possibilities.
Renewal leaders who wish to propel their faith communities into a more mission-focused future understand the power of past stories in shaping future vision. Every congregation has stories from their life together that can inspire them to say, “Let’s do that again.”
Here are 5 steps to leverage past stories to shape a future story:
Step 1: HELP THE CONGREGATION RETELL THEIR STORIES
A congregational “Time to Remember” event is a good way to retell stories. A “Time to Remember” walks through a congregation’s journey a decade at a time in search of highlights from life together. Alternatively, focus groups can be assembled to retell stories. Most importantly, renewal leaders should capture stories from a congregation’s folklore (i.e. church origin stories that are often retold).
Step 2: CAPTURE THE BEST OF THE STORIES
Not all stories are created equal. Great stories are inspirational stories. They’re about great sacrifice for a greater good. They tell of times when the congregation was on mission with God. They retell moments when the Spirit broke through and many, miraculously, came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. They recall instances when the church took God-sized risks and received God-sized rewards.
Step 3: IDENTIFY IMPORTANT VALUES CONNECTED WITH THE STORIES
Stories have power because they have meaning. What is the meaning behind the stories being told? What community-wide values do they suggest? Do they speak to our passion for youth? Do they illustrate our desire to serve our neighbors? Do they identify our care for the least and the last? Do they name our commitment to do large (almost impossible) things? Identify and name the values in the stories.
Step 4: BUILD A BRIDGE FROM PAST STORIES TO A FUTURE STORY
Renewal leaders leverage past stories to shape a congregation’s future story by reminding them of who they are and what they can still become. They say to the church, “If we were this sacrificial, this risk taking, this community connected, this focused on the next generation, this good at proclaiming the Gospel then certainly we can be that again.” Renewal leaders highlight, “The best is still before us.”
Step 5: KEEP RETELLING ORIGIN STORIES WHILE ALSO ADDING NEW STORIES
Renewal leaders utilize the power of past stories to inspire future action. When congregations believe the next risk-taking, mission-focused, sacrificial investment is a natural outflow of their shared story they’ll be more likely to embrace a disruptive God-preferred future. Beautifully, when the next risk-taking, mission-focused sacrificial investment is made new stories will be created that will inspire future generations.