Faith Storytelling Toolkit
Why do we tell stories? We tell stories because we’re made in the image of God, who chose stories as the way to share his great love for us. And we tell stories because there is no better way to convey deep truth, deep pain, and deep love.
But even though we know the power of story, we often struggle to tell our own faith stories to each other. That’s a sad thing, because when we don’t share our stories, we deprive ourselves and others of the blessing of telling and hearing about God’s faithfulness in our everyday lives.
The resources in this toolkit will help your congregation develop a storytelling culture in which sharing faith stories becomes a deep, rich, natural pathway to growing together in Christ.
What's in This Toolkit
In this toolkit you’ll find ideas for how to shape and share faith stories in many different areas of church life:
- intergenerational groups
- outreach ministries
- church education
- youth groups
These resources are drawn from many sources: best practices of CRC congregations, good books, articles and blog posts, and more. As we discover new resources we’ll add them to this toolkit, so check back often!
We’re here to help! For a personalized introduction to the resources in this toolkit or assistance with faith formation challenges in your church, contact one of our Regional Catalyzers.
To get you started, here are several inspiring articles about the power of stories:
- The Stories that Bind Us by Bruce Feiler. Why storytelling is the most important factor in building strong, resilient families (and, by extension, close-knit congregations).
- In Why Storytelling Matters, Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros explores how storytelling can be "a thread between generations" and "an intergenerational healing method."
- Why Telling Our Faith Stories Matters by Chuck DeGroat. Seven reasons why it’s important for Christians to be storytellers and story listeners.
- For an excellent summary of the importance of storytelling that you can share with your congregation, check out the blog post 6 Reasons Why We Need to Share Our Stories.
- In The Truth About Testimonies, Debi Thomas asks "What can I say about who, where, and what God is in my life? Is there anything about my experience of Christ that is beautiful, provocative, or troubling enough to share? If not, why not?"
Becoming a Storytelling Church
In what ways is your church a storytelling community? Are there places and times for people of all ages and life stages to share the stories of God’s work in their daily experience?
Becoming a storytelling church doesn’t take a lot of strategic planning or extra committee meetings. What it does take is a commitment to making space for faith stories in your congregation’s life together, and then taking steps to share stories together.
Here are three great ways to get started.
Identify a pilot project
Storytelling is contagious. Successfully incorporating storytelling into one aspect of your church’s ministry will cause a ripple effect in other areas. You’ll find many ideas for getting started in the Shaping Our Stories section of this toolkit.
Consider choosing one of the following areas for an intentional focus on faith stories.
- Children’s ministry: Set aside a brief Faith Sharing time at the beginning of Sunday school classes. Invite kids and parents to gather to tell stories of how they saw God at work in the previous week.
- Youth group: Plan a year-long focus on storytelling. Explore stories of faith from the Bible, from Christian history, and from the members of your congregation. Encourage teens to identify their own stories of faith and share them with each other and with the congregation. This could become one of the most memorable experiences of your youth group’s time together.
- Pre-profession of faith classes: Incorporate a session or several sessions designed to help participants share their faith story in a way that is natural to them.
- Adult education: Offer a series focused on the faith stories of members of your congregation. To increase interactivity, consider using an interview format. Be sure to provide participants with the interview questions ahead of time so they can think deeply about their answers.
- Worship: Set aside time for one three-minute testimony each week or each month.
Collaborate between ministries
Gather a brainstorming group from various ministries. Include people who are involved in
- Worship planning
- Children and youth ministry
- Fellowship opportunities
- Family ministry
Ask each person to propose up to three easy-to-implement ideas for including faith storytelling in their ministry area. See the Sharing Our Stories section of this site for ideas about how to incorporate storytelling in the areas listed above. Then decide together which of the contributed ideas you can implement in the coming church year.
Plan a church-wide faith stories initiative
Imagine an entire church year focused on faith stories.
- Create a church-wide Question of the Month initiative.
- Implement several or all of the pilot project ideas listed above.
- Consider a sermon series on the faith stories of people in the Bible. Here’s one example from Reformed Worship June 2012.
- Form a Storytelling Team that’s tasked with creating space for faith storytelling in your congregation’s life together. Include writers, videographers, artists, and other “creatives.”
- One congregation identified several different kinds of faith stories and shared one every week on a rotating basis. They included faith stories from Scripture, from history, from the denomination, from their congregation’s history and their congregation’s present. Then they gathered all those stories and published them in a booklet.
- (NEW) Hear Christina Edmonson, dean of intercultural student development at Calvin College, share how oral cultures and storytelling can help us embrace the stories that have shaped our identities and to relate to people from oral cultures in a more humanizing way in “The Beauty and Value of the Oral Tradition.”
- Faith Formation Ministries has been working with the concept of "The Building Blocks of Faith" (developed by Bob and Laura Keeley) to help congregations assess and strengthen their faith formation practices. We have learned from our experiences that an additional benefit of working with these concept is that it provides simple but powerful opportunities for sharing faith stories. We invite you to explore this further in our Building Blocks of Faith toolkit.
- “Cultivating a Storytelling Culture”—this PowerPoint presentation created by Shannon Jammal-Hollemans is a great introduction to the importance of storytelling.
- The book Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony by Lillian Daniel is the story of how one church became a storytelling congregation.
- Daniel Taylor has done much writing on the transformative nature of storytelling.
- Brief quotes on stories and storytelling
Shaping Our Stories
Asked to share a testimony, many CRC members might say this: “My faith story is pretty boring. I grew up in a Christian family, and we went to church every week. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe.”
We’re used to thinking of faith stories as before-and-after conversion accounts. In reality, our entire lives are filled with stories of God at work. Learning to recognize and share those stories is a spiritual exercise that comes with great blessings, both for ourselves and for others.
Here are some ways to identify and shape the faith stories that are yours to tell.
- Faith timeline. On a piece of paper, draw a line. Divide that line into segments that each represent five years of your life. On your timeline, mark important faith milestones like baptism and profession of faith, life milestones like marriage or birth of a child, answers to prayer, and more. Look back, giving thanks for how God has worked in all circumstances. Creating this timeline is an excellent prompt for identifying faith stories that you can tell others. Here is one example of a faith timeline.
- Three-sentence faith story. Check out this article from buildfaith.org about a fun and unique way to shape faith stories that are just three sentences long. This would be a great exercise to do with small groups or youth groups.
- Three-minute faith story. Incorporating short testimonies during worship is a powerful way to grow a storytelling culture in your church because these testimonies are simple and very public. Three minutes (or 400 written words) is a good time limit. The pastor or worship leader should meet with the person ahead of time to go over his or her written story. Read this blog post from FFM team leader Syd Hielema on how his church has been blessed by three-minute testimonies.
- Interview. Use our list of story starter questions to help someone identify important stories in their walk with God. NPR’s StoryCorps initiative provides a great model for interviews.
- Video story. Set up a videocamera and ask the interviewee questions that encourage him or her to tell faith stories. See our list of story starters. Here's a great video example of an elderly Christian sharing memories and a testimony. This video is professionally produced, but you could make effective informal videos as well. Here's another example of a beautiful video story that shares one couple's adoption story and how it helped them grow in faith as they followed God's leading.
- Testimony with PowerPoint. Using PowerPoint is a great way to illustrate a testimony, especially when presenting it to a large group. See this example of a very moving testimony accompanied by PowerPoint slides. This story was told by Darren Brouwer at a chapel at Redeemer College.
- Online submissions. Inviting people to submit their stories online provides the opportunity to gather both text and photos or videos. See how Hickory Flat Church gathers stories while educating people about why and how to share those stories. See how West Ridge Church gathers and shares people’s stories online.
- Story-crafting workshop. Ask a writer or storyteller in your congregation to lead an interactive (and possibly intergenerational) workshop on how to tell a compelling faith story or testimony.
- Art expressions. Consider organizing an intergenerational art show inspired by the theme of faith stories. Perhaps an artist in your congregation could offer a workshop on telling your faith story through art.
- NEW! If you want to become a better public storyteller, check out these tips from The New York Times. Pastors, youth leaders, and teachers may find this particularly helpful.
- If you’ve ever thought your faith story is boring, read “The Miracle of Plain Jane’s Boring Testimony.”
- Creating and sharing your spiritual autobiography: This article encourages mature adults to write their own “chapter” in the ongoing book of Acts.
- Read this blog post for more on creative writing and faith formation.
Sharing Our Stories
There are many ways to make time and space for faith stories in worship.
- Here's how one church celebrates "Storytelling Sunday" in worship and in an after-church intergenerational event.
- Worship series. Plan a worship series on stories of faith in the Bible. For one example, see this Reformed Worship article from June 2012.
- Special services. Plan evening or summer services that focus on faith stories. For an example of how one church did this, see the book The Storytelling Church by Jeff Barker, pp. 25-33.
- Thanksgiving Day service. Leave a generous amount of time for people to tell brief stories of thanks for how God worked in their lives over the past year.
- Testimonies interlaced with Scripture. See point 6 of the excellent CICW article Planning Worship with Teens for a beautiful and creative way to help people share a testimony interlaced with Scripture in a worship setting.
- Baptism. Encourage parents to give brief testimonies before the baptism of their child if they wish.
- Profession of faith. Encourage and equip persons who are professing their faith to tell their faith story in a comfortable and natural way. See the Shaping Our Stories section of this toolkit for many different ways to do so. See also our Professing Our Faith toolkit, which includes dozens of profession of faith resources for CRC churches.
- During Advent. See the Reformed Worship article by Robert J. Keeley and Laura Keeley titled Linking the Advent Wreath to Our Faith Stories.
- In the sermon. Pastors sharing their own faith stories openly and honestly paves the way for the congregation to do the same.
- After a sermon series. After the final sermon in a series, include time for members of the congregation to tell stories of how the sermons have borne fruit in their lives.
- At offering time. One church gathered video faith stories from members who are house-bound and shared them during the offering as a way of including those members in worship.
- While leading worship. There are appropriate ways to tell short but powerfully evocative stories while leading worship. For example, before reading Psalm 139 one worship leader shared that his mother had chosen the psalm as her funeral chapter, and knowing that has deepened the way he lives into the psalm.
- Vocation and faith. One CRC church saves space in worship for a faith storytelling time they call "This Time Tomorrow." Members of the church talk about their vocation and how they see God in their work, or how they were called to their work.
- In the bulletin: On Easter morning at Second CRC in Grand Haven, Mich., the pastor invites the congregation to write down where they see "glimpses of the resurrection" in everyday life. The responses are collected, and each week the first thing people read in their bulletin are three of those glimpses, which include observations like "I see a glimpse of the resurrection in the lives of my grandchildren."
- The Contagious Power of Testimonials by John D. Witvliet
In Church Education
- Sunday School
- Consider offering a 10-minute Faith Sharing time right before Sunday school classes. Invite kids and parents to gather to tell stories of how they saw God at work in the previous week.
- Begin each Sunday school session with the question, “Where did you see God this week?”
- Invite adult and teen guests to share their faith stories with Sunday school children.
- Consider how your Sunday school curriculum incorporates storytelling. Faith Alive’s Dwell curriculum emphasizes finding our story in God’s story.
- Catechism Classes
- Opening question. Begin each session with the question, “Where did you see God this week?”
- Lead by example. If you are a catechism teacher, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with teens. They want to hear your faith story. When part of the catechism resonates deeply with you, tell them why.
- Invite guests. Ask members of your congregation to join your catechism class to answer specific catechism questions, such as “What is your only comfort?” or “How does the Lord’s supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross?”
- Pre-profession of Faith Classes
- Prepare people to tell their story. Include one or more sessions designed to help participants share their faith story with the congregation and/or the council in a way that is natural to them. You’ll find many ideas in the Shaping Our Stories section of this toolkit.
- Membership Classes
- Sunrise Community Church in Austin, Texas, has a three-stage membership class that emphasizes training people to be a part of a diverse community. They attend a class on telling their story, they tell their stories to the church council, and then they tell their stories to the congregation.
- Adult Education
- Faith stories series. Offer a series focused on the faith stories of members of your congregation. To increase interactivity, consider using an interview format. Be sure to provide participants with the interview questions ahead of time so they can think deeply about their answers.
- Story-crafting workshop. Ask a writer or storyteller in your congregation to lead an interactive (and possibly intergenerational) workshop on how to tell a compelling faith story or testimony. Give participants a copy of the blog post The 5 Essential Elements of Telling Your Faith Story.
In Youth Groups
- Opening question. Begin each youth group meeting with the question, “Where did you see God this week?”
- Year of stories. Plan a year-long focus on storytelling. Explore stories of faith from the Bible, from Christian history, and from the members of your congregation. Encourage teens to identify their own stories of faith and share them with each other and with the congregation. This could become one of the most memorable experiences of your youth group’s time together.
- Modeling Faith Storytelling with Teens. Jubilee Fellowship in St. Catharines, Ontario has been intentionally incorporating faith storytelling into the church's youth ministry. They asked adults in the congregation to model storytelling before the teens did it themselves. First they split the large youth group into several small groups with one leader per group. Then they sent them off to the homes of adults who were willing to host and share a faith story with the teens. The storytellers were asked to do three things:
1. introduce themselves, tell about what life was like when they were a teenager: what questions, fears, faith did they have? (The adults were encouraged to show pictures, set the stage, put youth in their shoes)
2. tell a portion of their life story that tells of God's faithfulness and presence in their life
3. avoid sugarcoating: talk to the teens like they're adults, be truthful and even vulnerable, so that they know the real trials of life and the truth of how God works.
As they neared the end of the year, the youth leadership team decided it was time for grade 12 teens to tell their story. They were invited about a month in advance and given a variety of storytelling options (talk about their faith journey, read a poem, share a song, display art). View a video of some of their faith stories here.
- I Am Second videos. These videos are compelling real-life stories of people who are putting God first in their lives. Some stories are quite raw, so choose carefully when showing these to teens. Your youth group could make its own “I Am Second” videos as a way to tell their own faith stories.
- Read this article by Tom Schwolert at VibrantFaith.org about the importance of sharing stories in youth groups.
- Read this article by Jake Mulder at the Fuller Youth Institute on the Appreciative Inquiry approach to intergenerational storytelling with teens and adults.
- Vibrant Faith has developed two visual-based faith formation experiences for intergenerational small groups, youth groups, or other small groups: The Key to Living in Peace and Formula for Being Blessed. Both are part of Vibrant Faith's Visual Faith Project.
In Intergenerational Groups
- Speed-dating-style storytelling. So there’s no real dating involved, but here’s a great article about how one church had a genius idea for getting teens and older adults to tell each other their stories.
- Intergenerational storytelling dinners. From a blog post titled “The Importance of Storytelling” by Mark Oestreicher: “Instead of everyone bringing a dish to share, each person has to bring a story (or a few stories!) to share—real stories, not made-up stories. Give the categories ahead of time, just like you would for a potluck, and have them choose stories in 2 or 3 categories. Make sure you clear the date first with your teenagers, because they’re who you really want there! Shoot for at least one person or couple from every generation. Allow for Q&A after each story.” (Read the entire article here.)
- Intergenerational learning events. Check out WE: The Epic Story—10 intergenerational events that trace the narrative of God’s story from creation to new creation. (Other WE events are also available from Faith Alive.)
- Poster activity. You’ll find this idea in Intergenerational Christian Formation by Holly Catterton Allen and Christian Lawton Ross (IVP Academic, 2012, pp. 221-222). Create three sets of posters:
- one set with names of people in the Bible, starting with Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, and going through Jesus, Paul, etc. (one name per poster)
- one set with post-biblical names (church “fathers,” some of the saints, Mother Teresa, etc., one name per poster)
- one set with names of people in your congregation, including teens and children and the most recently born baby (one name per poster).
People stand in a line or circle holding the posters with the blank side facing the listeners. When each person flips his or her poster over so the name shows, a narrator tells a one-line story about the person on that poster, telling how that person was or is part of God’s story.
- Storytelling Game. Faith Formation Ministries team members created the storytelling game Fun-Co (Fun in Community) to use as an icebreaker in many different group settings. Check it out here.
- Newcomers group. Granite Springs Church developed a program to help newcomers get connected to the church and to help regular attendees and longer-term members get to know each other in a fun way as they tell their stories. They call it Connect Four.
- See the intergenerational group ideas in this toolkit.
- Senior SHARE group. Seniors have many faith stories to tell, and Senior SHARE group like the one described in this brochure provides a time and place for them to share with each other.
- Writer’s group. Form a writer’s group that focuses on faith storytelling. Collect the resulting faith stories and share them with your congregation.
- (NEW) Family storytelling training. Peter Tuininga, the pastor of Smithville CRC in Ontario, recognized that faith storytelling in the home is crucial but that parents need help learning how to do it. Once a year during the worship service, parents are invited to a training session that gives them tools for sharing their faith with their children. The training is held during the worship service in recognition of the fact that young families are busy families and often are unable to come to a separate event.
- At dinnertime or bedtime, ask your family members, “Where did you see God today?” Share your stories with each other.
- Tell your children the faith stories of people in your family. Include the story of each child’s baptism and growth in faith.
- Create a photo album or scrapbook that tells your family’s faith story. (See the Pinterest board “Faithbooking” for some interesting ideas.)
- Purchase a set of God’s Big Story cards from Faith Alive. These cards are great discussion-starters that help families dig deeper into God’s story and find their own stories there.
- Create a “story jar” together. Tell the Easter story, another of God’s stories, or your own faith story with this fun and open-ended craft. Talk together as you create.
- Lego stories—This blog post focuses on retelling Bible stories, but Legos could be used to illustrate your own faith stories.
- Article: The Importance of Storytelling by Mark Oestreicher
- Article: The Stories that Bind Us by Bruce Feiler
- Book: Creating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom by Daniel Taylor
In Outreach Ministries
- (NEW) Sixty Second Storytelling. This blog post describes a simple outreach model called "story evangelism." 1) Introduce yourself. 2) Ask a question. 3) Swap stories. It's a great way to break the ice with storytelling in your church and in outreach.
- (NEW) Listen to your neighbors’ stories. The men and women labeled as “forgotten” who walk Aurora Avenue in Seattle, Wash., facing homelessness or drug addiction, were given an opportunity to share their stories of both grief and celebration. The event, billed as “Evening of Stories,” was held at Aurora Commons, a neighborhood space for hospitality supported by Awake (Christian Reformed) Church in Seattle. Read more about this event here.
- In your church neighborhood. Sherman Street CRC and Step of Faith Church’s “Voices of Our Community” project built connections between the congregation and their neighbors. One part of the project was personal interviews that gave people from all walks of life a space to tell their stories. As another part of the project, over 120 portraits were taken of community members sharing their response to the question: “What is your dream?” The response was a beautiful collection of dreams for individuals, families, communities, and, most of all, the church.
- VBS storytelling week. Plan a week-long focus on God’s story and the stories of people of faith. Invite members of your congregation to share brief stories that echo themes in Bible stories of faith.
- Campus ministry. A focus on storytelling at Bellevue CRC spilled over into the church’s campus ministry at the University of Washington, as told in this article written by pastor Ashley Van Dragt.
- (NEW) Share stories on your classis or church website. On the website of Classis Grand Rapids South, there’s a section called Faces of Faith, which is a space where people from that classis share brief faith stories. Consider dedicating part of your church’s website to telling the stories of people in your own congregation and neighborhood.
- (NEW) Share faith stories on Facebook. Use your church’s Facebook page to share faith stories with each other. Invite members of the congregation to submit their stories and a photo to an adult moderator who then reviews and posts each story. Because faith stories sometimes involve sensitive situations, the review step is important to ensure that no confidential information is divulged in these posts and that content is appropriate for members of all ages to read.
- (NEW) YouTube or Vimeo videos. Members of Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catherines, Ontario, created story-based videos as part of their Advent celebration. In each, an introduction inviting people to connect with Jesus during Advent was followed by a personal story from a member of the congregation. View one example here or view all the videos here.
Receiving Faith Stories
When someone shares a faith story with you, it’s a holy moment. The person who is speaking is testifying to the work of God in his or her life. Depending on the story, he or she may feel quite vulnerable, and that vulnerability requires a loving response.
The way you and other listeners receive the story is as important as the telling of the story. It shows the speakers whether or not you accept them as they are—just as Jesus Christ would do. Here are some ways to practice active, engaged listening.
How to Listen and Respond to Someone's Faith Story
Prepare your body
- Take a breath. Be present in the moment.
- Relax your posture. If your arms are crossed on your chest, uncross them to show acceptance rather than defensiveness. The speaker will be reading your body language to see how his or her words are being received.
- Let the love of Christ shine through your facial expression.
Prepare your mind
- Let go of your mental "to do" list.
- Think about how Jesus might listen to someone's faith story.
- Consciously resist making judgments about the speaker.
- Quiet the urge to formulate a response while the person is speaking.
- Recognize and resist the temptation to tell a similar story or to turn the conversation back to yourself after the speaker is finished.
Prepare your heart
- Resolve to listen with your whole heart, not just your ears.
- Think of the speaker’s story as a gift to you or to your church family.
- Remember that having emotions is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Don’t be embarrassed if the speaker shows emotion or if you feel emotional yourself. This is a good and right response to hearing stories of God's faithfulness in our lives.
Respond in love
- Silence is not an option after you hear a faith story. A response, either individual or corporate, is required.
- When you respond, you do not need to worry about saying something profound or offering a solution to any problems the speaker may be having. Your job is to honor the gift of trust that he or she has given you and to extend love and acceptance. Words like these are always appropriate and welcome:
I’m so sorry. That must have been very hard.
I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
I rejoice with you! Your joy brings me joy.
Thank you for sharing the gift of your story. It encourages me to see God at work in your life.
- If the story is told in a group setting or worship service, ask someone to offer a prayer of thanks or petition, whichever is appropriate. Give thanks for God’s work in the speaker’s life and ask for God’s continued grace in his or her life and in the lives of everyone present.