Start Telling Stories with a Small Team

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Last week I had the chance to sit down with a few worship and creative arts pastors from around the country and talk about ministry, challenges, and leading artists. It was an encouraging time, and it reminded me of other conversations I’ve had about starting and growing teams.

When Steven Bush or I talk to someone about starting a storytelling ministry, we always offer one piece of advice: start small. No matter how big your church is, no matter how many artists you have or don’t have, and especially no matter how big your budget, we advise starting small.

We learned this lesson from our own experience. We started as a small team and grew slowly, and we’ve seen the benefits. Of course there are different contexts and situations for each church, so I cannot say this is the right or only way to grow a team. But it’s the advice we find ourselves giving again and again. We believe in this advice for three reasons.

1. Because Jesus Did

It may sound simplistic, but we believe this because it’s what Jesus did. When God put on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, He started with a small team. He called His twelve closest disciples one by one, and primarily invested in those twelve. Yes, He spoke to large crowds and taught in synagogues, but when He shared the truths behind His parables, when He traveled, and when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was always with His small tribe of disciples. He invested in them, and they carried His message to the world, multiplying terrifically.

We believe this is an effective model for ministries of all sorts. As leaders, we invest deeply in a few people, training them to do the same. Multiplication by discipleship is biblical, effective, and what Jesus did. We need to be patient and trust the Holy Spirit with our hopes and dreams for ministry.

2. Relationships Matter Most

Whether you are building a team, making disciples, or just trying to be a good neighbor, the basic truth of human interaction is that relationships matter. When starting any team, it’s easy to be focused on your goals, on what you want to create and build. But as Christians we must remember that our team will be made up of our brothers and sisters. Your artists are not simply resources to be identified and used. They are part of Jesus’s flock, and you are His appointed under-shepherd. Your team will be healthier, and the art you produce will be better, if the foundation of your ministry is loving and caring for artists.

Community is essential to building a strong team, and as a leader, it should be a top priority from the start. Connect your artists to each other. Encourage them to open up their lives to each other, and lead that effort by doing so yourself. Use your ministry resources to invest in your team. The result will be a strong team and better stories.

The spiritual health of your artists plays a huge part in the quality and timeliness of work, as well as the morale of the team. Building these relationships requires time with your artists. There is no way around the basic math—the fewer people you have, the more time you can spend with each person. This is critical while you are trying to build a healthy team culture. You simply must invest deeply in your people.

3. You Can Make Mistakes and Improve Faster

With any new effort or team, you will make mistakes. It’s unavoidable. When the Bible tells us that no one is perfect, that includes you and your brand new team. But this is not bad news. It’s actually quite good news.

Making mistakes and then correcting them is how we all improve. You will discover the right way to tell stories in your church by doing it the wrong way first. By having a small team that is dedicated to a unified vision, you can make the mistakes and learn the lessons in the lab instead of in the factory.

As you learn lessons and get more stories under your team’s collective belt, you will refine your process and culture. You will improve in both quality and efficiency. It will be easier to bring new people in and set clear roles and expectations. You will have seasoned team members to mentor them. You will have a healthier and more resilient culture. And all of these things will help you to tell more stories that point your people to Jesus.

Starting Small is an Exercise in Humility

My guess is that some of our readers won’t like this advice very much. And we may be wrong in offering this advice to all comers. There are certainly situations we have not anticipated. But we want to caution against the pride that seeks to build something big and to put your name on it.

We’re not saying not to dream big. But please consider if your dreams of starting big are really what God is calling you to, or if you have a kingdom of your own design in mind. That pride is evil and will destroy a team under the guise of building it.

Our journey started with a few artists over six years ago. We still make mistakes every day of every week in leading the team. But in those mistakes, we pray and seek wisdom in the Word. We are learning what to correct. We’ve always strived to love our artists well, and we pray that we will continue to do so. We’ve been able to tell stories of what God has done, and we’ve been able to serve our church. But most humbling, from our own small start, we’ve been privileged to lead people to worship Jesus and remember what He has done.

Feature image by Jordan Vonderhaar

Brian Lundin

Brian Lundin is the Lead Writer and Producer for The Austin Stone Story Team and manages Storyteam.org. He is a storyteller and geek who lives in Austin, Texas with his talented wife Lindsey. He also blogs at brianlundin.com.

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