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Stories & Missionaries

by | Feb 24, 2022

Why Storytelling Matters for the Modern Day Missionary

Stories are how humans learn and make connections. Just think about how Jesus connected with people through his ministry, He was an expert storyteller. Stories activate our imagination and help communicate ideas in ways that truly resonate with the audience. Stories bring facts and ideas to life.

Part of why stories are so powerful is that they can be easy to understand and remember. Stories have the unique ability to adapt to about anyone, living anywhere. Even when the story is about someone you’ve never met, stories have a way of sticking with you. They often give you someone to identify with and make you wonder what you would do in a similar situation. This ability to pull an audience in and make them connect with an idea or mission is an essential tool for missionaries to use in raising support or even in marketing their ministry.

In today’s world, the ease of storytelling and communication give you, the missionary, a chance to grow relationships with your supporter base. But to strategically build your audience, it’s important to understand the current landscape and what this means for those in ministry who are raising their own financial support.

Marketing for the Modern Day Missionary

Regardless of the size of your ministry, or even your budget, missionaries are well-positioned to take advantage of story-based marketing. Every ministry has a founding story, every missionary has a personal story of how God called them to their specific cause, and the life changing encounters missionaries experience daily are prime real estate in create new stories.

Whether your just beginning your journey in ministry or your the president of a global organization, telling an effective story can bring your work to life and help donors make the heart connection that drives them to give.

To truly resonate with your audience, though, you need to do more than simply tell a story. You need to tell it in a way that connects with their heart and contains all the right elements.

The Elements of a Story

As powerful and influential as stories can be, at their core, most are comprised of a few simple elements. In this section, we will cover the different parts of a story and how they work together to weave a tale that captivates your audience and opens the door for the Holy Spirit to move and prompt them to take action.

Beginning, Middle & End

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. This may sound obvious but it’s a vitally important arc to understand.

  • Beginning – When the story starts, the character or faces a set of circumstances and likely has a desire or goal.
  • Middle – In pursuing their goal (which may be something as direct as survival), the character faces challenges and takes actions.
  • End – By the close of the story, the character’s life has changed in some way. Whether it’s through a unique encounter or even a miracle, the character’s life or situation has changed.

A story can demonstrate how God is working through your ministry to change the world. It shows the audience how things were, what God did through you or your ministry to change that, and how things are now.

Characters

Your characters are the key to connecting supporters with your story. They give the audience someone to care about and root for, or conversely, a “villain” to root against. Whether it’s a Christian television show like The Chosen, a Bible story in children’s church or a narrative blog post, stories nearly always have a main character.

Part of the reason it’s so important to focus on an individual, or main character, is that the audiences connect more with a single person than they do with a large group of people. The Christian show, The Chosen, is a great example of this. Although the shows storyline is centered around Jesus, the stories within each episode are focused on the individuals around Him.

The director of this show, Dallas Jenkins, brilliantly opens the door for viewers to see themselves through the strategic storytelling of the character. Whether its through their past, current struggles or even their hurt, the audience is able to place themselves in the story and go on the adventure with the character.

When it comes to storytelling for missionaries and their ministries, your main characters will often be the people affected by your cause. For example, let’s say I work for an organization in Africa that builds water wells in rural villages. Upon completing a water well, the chief of the village, moved by the unconditional love of Christ, comes up to me and accepts Jesus as his Savior. Later, because of the chiefs influence & respect within in the village, over 300 additional villagers give their lives to Jesus.

When supporters read stories like that, it shows them that their contributions are not only providing wells for clean drinking water, but through it, they encountered Jesus Who gave them LIVING water as well.

When introducing your main character, be sure to include some identifying details about person (with their approval). This not only makes the story more genuine to your audience, it also gives readers little attributes to connect with on a personal level.

It is also important to keep in mind that phycologists have shown that people express more sympathy and emotional connection to those similar to themselves. For example, with More Than Me’s Instagram post, someone who has lost their parents might read Precious’ story, identify with the message and be moved by the Holy Spirit to get involved.

The Challenge or Problem

Every main character faces some problem or difficulty. As the hands and feet of Jesus, God uses missionaries to help solve and meet the needs of some of the world’s toughest problems. In all honesty, it often seems as though there are a never-ending supply of challenges to discuss. The issue for missionaries then becomes the need to balance this inherit negativity with the lifechanging elements to keep from overwhelming readers.

Whether it’s through their own ministry or a partnering organization, many missionaries attack very serious issues across the globe. For example, Love146 rescues and supports victims of human trafficking. The stories this organization must tell can be dark and disturbing, but they find a way to share them honestly and in way that project hope. A blog post about a rescued girl named Tuyen recounts her history of exploitation, but the story focuses on how Love146 worked to build trust with her, even after she moved on to a foster family.

On one hand, you must show donors why their support is needed. Although only the Holy Spirit can convict and stir the heart, you can partner with Him by clearly communicating why your cause matters. Be sure your stories exude hope and include how God is using your or your ministry to be part of the solution.

The Setting

The setting of a story can influence the overall tone and reception of the story. It can also give your audience a better understanding of the challenges your characters face. Setting can be conveyed through a verbal or written description, a video, or even a still photo.

Calls to Action (CTA)

Before we move on to the Call to Action (CTA) section, I do feel led to charge you with one very important thought.

Throughout the 13 years I’ve been involved in missions, the one area I’ve noticed that missionaries drop the ball on is in sharing their stories and encounters with the public. A part from advocating for a cause or being a method to mobilize people to give, we should be actively sharing the stories of God at work with the everyone. As missionaries, we are often so focused on a specific people group or cause that we forget to share those experiences to encourage and build up the church.

Now in the process of sharing stories, of course we want to close them with relevant CTAs. Please remember, the decision to give is solely through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but we can actively partner with Him by giving the audience a clear CTA to act on that prompting.

Ideally, your CTA will be directly related to the story you tell. In the Patient Stories section of their website, the Emilio Nares Foundation provides information about a child named Junior and follows up by letting donors know what a $100 donation will provide for him.

While most people intuitively know how to relate an anecdote or experience, missionaries should also keep these powerful elements in mind. Like baking a cake, telling a story is a lot easier when you know all the ingredients.

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