When I was young, my parents took me to a movie I will never forget. We lived in a town outside of Detroit. This movie wasn’t shown in our small local theater. It was only at the largest theater in downtown Detroit. The movie was The Greatest Story Ever Told. I still remember the scene of the crucifixion. The power of story is amazing!
The Bible is a compilation of amazing stories: the Garden of Eden, the flood and Noah, David and Bathsheba, Samson, Mary’s surprising pregnancy, water into wine, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the expansion of a movement, Saul meeting Jesus on the way to Damascus, Paul in jail, John’s revelation, and much more!
We saw the power of the Ghostbusters movie when our son was young. We were stretched beyond with Star Wars and soared with Top Gun. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and all the rest give testimony to the power of story. Mary Poppins would agree! So would Jesus.
Story and Power
When I was in college, one of the books we had to read was The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (1967). I haven’t been able to prove it, but as the story goes, the original title was The Medium is the Message. However, a typo occurred with the word “message.” The authors thought it was a better title with the word “massage” and left it as it was. The point? The medium sends a message. It also massages your life. It shapes you.
When applied to sharing the Christian faith, the content is vital, of course. The way we package it also sends a message. Many churches try to do evangelism by using a program that has worked at some megachurch. Often, those programs end up on the shelf in a closet. The “personality” of the original church that developed the program is not in sync with the congregation where you try it. The medium does not fit the message.
A separate issue has to do with spiritual gifts. Our research at Church Doctor Ministries confirms that about 10 percent of those in most churches have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Therefore, 90 percent do not have the gift to confront unbelievers with whom they have no relationship. When it is assumed that everyone can “do evangelism,” many believers give up sharing their faith altogether. They are paralyzed by the fear of failure!
Jesus focuses on witnessing. Speaking to the crowd of believers, He said, “And you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). The medium of witnessing includes all believers. The medium focuses on the power of personal testimonies. It’s really simple: “This has been my experience with God.” I have written about this in the book The Amazing Power of God Stories: Share What God Has Done in Your Life. Every believer has “God stories” to share.
Donald Miller has written the book Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. Tracee Swank, my colleague and the leader of Church Doctor Ministries, is a StoryBrand Certified Guide. She helps churches to effectively tell their stories to their communities. The Amazing Power of God Stories helps Christians share their faith with friends, relatives, neighbors, and those at work or school.
Sharing God Stories
Everyone who has been a Christian for more than a year has their own personal God stories. These stories don’t have to be “earth-shattering, front-page news.” They can be any experience you have encountered where you believe God helped you through it.
Most Christ-followers have dozens of stories. For example, I wandered away from God in high school. Due to a football injury, I required knee surgery. I learned I was not invincible. And while I was in the hospital, I returned to God and felt the call to ministry. The direction of my life changed dramatically. That is one of my God stories.
The challenge for outreach in most churches is not that people lack personal God stories—“testimonies.” It is that most Christians do not consciously think of their stories as their personal opportunity to share Christ without becoming “Bible experts” or preaching at people.
The Amazing Power of God Stories book is not a church program or curriculum. It does not focus on memorizing Bible passages. It is not about arguing with your unchurched friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow workers, or those at your school. Instead, it helps you to become sensitive and conscious about opportunities that come your way.
Let’s say you have a neighbor who just lost her job, and it has put her in a challenging financial bind. Suppose you have had a somewhat similar experience. However, in the middle of that challenge, you prayed and asked God for help. You ended up with your dream job, which also paid more than the position you lost. So, you share that—not focusing on the money or on yourself, but on the power you experienced through prayer. That is a powerful God story! No one can debate about what you believe God has done in your life.
Not a Program, but a Movement
Church leaders are, like most people, focused on a quick fix. The Amazing Power of God Stories is a book that describes how to start a movement in your church. The power of this movement is God Himself. Jesus modeled how this works. He used what people today call interrogative influence. It is simply the impact of asking questions.
Remember when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” After they gave several answers, He asked the real question: “What about you? Who do you say I am?” This is the power of asking questions. It is the opposite of preaching at church people about how they should be witnesses to those who are not yet believers.
You can start this movement in your church by asking, “What has God done in your life lately?” This is not a question to be used while preaching a sermon. However, it does work well in a Bible class, a women’s or men’s group, a small group, a leadership team, the youth group—anywhere you are willing to spend some time for people to respond.
At first, you may get no response. Just keep asking. “Anyone want to share what God has done in your life this last week?” Remember, this changes behavior and thought processes as Christians learn to look at how God has acted in their lives. Ask: “Anyone want to share what God has done in your life this last week?” Ask it in Bible classes, small groups—anywhere, but not in the worship service. This is a movement that takes time. Just like Jesus, you are developing a movement mentality.
Changing the Culture
Jesus changed the spiritual culture of the disciples. It took three years, and even then, He lost one. Sadly, few Christians share their own “testimonies”—God stories—with unbelievers in their social network. If the leader keeps asking in Bible classes, youth groups, Sunday school classes, or church meetings, sooner or later one person will respond. It may be another month before another response. Just keep asking: “Anybody want to share what God is doing in your life since we were together last time?” You can even use this process in your family. What if, when you’re at the dinner table, you asked your children, “What has God done in your life this week?” What if parents shared with their children, “Let me tell you what happened with my friend, Bob, today at work….” Then share your God story. You can model “witnessing” to your children!
Remember, you are changing the culture. In churches that have done this, the direction is predictable: In time, God’s people start sharing similar stories with those who are unchurched in their social networks. A movement begins with what is called “the flywheel effect.” Your church becomes an outreach movement. Without becoming a “program,” your church members become spiritually contagious.