Starting a storytelling ministry can be daunting. There are so many hurdles to overcome, and every church will have different ones. It’s definitely worth it, but it’s not easy. But if you want to pursue gospel storytelling to help your people worship Jesus, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I start?”
Based on our experience with Story Team at The Austin Stone, we believe that the best way to start a storytelling team is to start small. It’s easy to see the work of other teams and churches and set your expectations too high. It’s easy to think that if everything you do, right out of the gate, isn’t perfect you will fail. But that is not true. God will use the stories you tell, no matter how small, no matter what medium. We believe this because He’s done it in our church. Through our weakness, the Holy Spirit has worked in people’s hearts. Start small, focus on your people, and God will move.
1. Find the Right Leader
Starting small begins with finding the right leader. But don’t worry, this is not as hard as you might think. A leader of artists needs to have at least three key attributes, and they are not uncommon:
- Patience, love and understanding for artists and creative people
- The ability to gain and keep the trust and respect of both artists and leaders in the church
- The ability to have hard but loving conversations with artists and church leadership
We’ve found that a vibrant and trusting partnership between church leaders and artists is essential for our ministry. When your artists respect and love your leaders, and your leaders appreciate and trust your artists, great things can happen. The right leader can stand in any gap that may exist between artists and leadership and bring these two groups together. This is not about organizations or personalities, it’s a question of unity within the church. God gave your church its leaders and artists purposefully. Artists and leaders are both members of the body of Christ, called to the same mission, and the right leader can help us all remember that.
2. Ask Your Ministry Leaders to Identify Artists
Start with your fellow leaders and small group leaders or teachers. There are many artists “hiding” in churches because there is no obvious way for them to use their talents. Just because you don’t know any artists in your church doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
We don’t make an open call to the church for “artists.” Many talented people who would be great storytellers would never self-identify this way. Look for writers, editors, English teachers, wedding photographers, film students, bloggers, reporters, serious amateur photographers, and more. Identify people with creative gifts who make beautiful things with their writing, images, photos, web design or film talents. Look for the talent you have, not the talent you wish you had. Ask your leaders and pastors who might be a good fit and then meet with them over coffee. Pitch your vision and your dream, show them some examples from elsewhere, and ask them what they think.
3. Not Everyone Can Make the Team
The two previous points might have you ready to go out an beat the bushes for your new team. But one word of caution that is not popular is some circles: not everyone can make the team.
I expect many of our readers will not like this piece of advice. But there is no way around it. There is a future post coming on this topic, but here is the short version: Our God deserves to be worshipped with excellence. His excellence requires us to chase excellence ourselves. That’s the reason we set a high bar for our artists and our work. First and foremost, our God deserves the best work we can muster.
Of course, that standard of excellence will vary by the capacity of the persons, team or church in question, but the point is this: don’t settle. Seek to do the best you can do. If you don’t trust your own taste, find someone else you trust, someone who knows good writing, photography or film when they see it, and work with them to evaluate potential artists. Be honest and loving with people who are interested but don’t have the necessary skills.
We’ve been down this road ourselves. Believe me, one hard conversation up front with a novice is better for you and them than the many more hard conversations you could have down the road. Look for artists, without making promises up front, and pitch the vision. For the people who buy in, view or read their work and look for the qualities of a great storyteller. Be patient. Trust that God will bring you exactly who He wants to serve the church, then move forward in confidence.
4. Start Small
Our team started with a handful of people. We have almost sixty total volunteers now, but most of our growth has come in the last three years. For a long time we were a small team, and that was a great thing.
Because we were small we were able to work out the kinks in our process and philosophy. We were able to try things out, fail gracefully and then fix them. A small team is more focused and can develop great culture and chemistry out of the gate. Both of these things are critical for long term success and neither come easily.
Find your core group of artists and start creating. Tell stories in the mediums that you have the talents for. Don’t worry about what other churches do, or even what everyone around you thinks is the right way to tell a story. Focus your energies on what you can do now, and learn for the future.
5. Invest in Your Artists
Finally, once you have these artists you must invest in them. Buy your writers books. Screen and discuss documentaries with your film team. Help your photographer rent or find gear if they need it. Build a community around your team of people who love Jesus and love art. Center your team’s affections on Jesus and make sure they are loved, cared for and discipled. Grow slow and focus on the culture. Your artists will value all of this more than the bells and whistles leaders sometimes think a new team needs.
Every church and team will be different. We hope that this is helpful, but what’s worked for us may not work for everyone. And we’d love to hear your experiences. Artists and church leaders, let us know what you think. Have you started a storytelling ministry and had to recruit artists? How did you go about it? What worked, or what didn’t? Let us know in the comments below.