Dear Cape Town church,
i have an exciting opportunity for you. Knowing full well as someone who grew up in and about the church, that you tend to be busy with your things, whatever those things are. Your programs, and events, and services, and plans. And so the idea of stopping for another one will likely not appeal.
But what if i told you that this is FREE firstly [always a bonus] and promises to take your church family deeper and closer together in such a way that every other program, service, and ministry you have will likely benefit because of it.
As you may or may not know, i work with the faith-and-values-based non-profit, Heartlines, and we have likely done some of our What’s Your Story? prgoramming with you or your leaders in some shape, way, or form. But this is different. It’s never been done before and we have just finished trialing it in a church in Cape Town and the results have been overwhelming [to them and us, in the very best of ways].
In February this year, Wellspring Community Church, who meet at Bel Porto primary school in Lansdowne, put their hands up and embraced the idea of a four-week [which became a five-week] journey of What’s Your Story? as a church congregation. And they are still talking about it [i know, cos i visited them again this Sunday!]
It is simple and it really won’t cost you a thing beyond a bit of admin prep and if you are interested in hearing more, please drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call.
WHAT’S YOUR STORY, CHURCH?
What was incredible about Wellspring Community Church, is they fully embraced the concept and, in a sense, paused their own church journey to commit to a month of diving deeply into What’s Your Story?
Sundays was full-on What’s Your Story? time and one thing i really enjoyed about it was four different voices bringing each week’s preach on another aspect of Story-Telling, starting with an invitation to me to introduce the importance of story-telling and set the stage:
Week 1 was ‘Connecting through Story: The Power of Story’ – how story can be used for so many different things, from explaining complex ideas in simpler ways, to healing and connection, to encouraging and inspiring, or challenging and exhorting. An emphasis on how people can challenge your thinking or beliefs, but they can’t ignore or cancel the Truth of your lived story.
Week 2 looked at ‘My Story. Your Story. Our Story. ‘
Week 3 was ‘Going Beyond: The Stories of Others’
Week 4 was ‘A Culture of Community – How then shall we Live’
What was amazing to see was how we collectively realised the series could use a 5th week and simply added one where we brought food and shared in small groups and created space for feedback to hear how the series had impacted individuals and the congregation.
Stories from the Crowd
One of my favourite parts [i decided to visit the church for the duration of the series to experience how it played out] of each Sunday gathering was a testimony from someone in the congregation, that took place in the form of an interview. So one of the leaders would ask a couple of questions and then we would hear some of the story of a diverse range of people from the group.
Every single week this story connected so well with the preach as if they had been planned together. If i had not been setting the scene for a month of story-telling, i would have happily just cancelled my preach and ended things after Renee had shared her story so vulnerably and graciously as it really did feel like a preach about the faithfulness of God. And this continued every week, including the most vulnerable story that Steve, the pastor, shared on week 3, which was deeply moving and emotional, and really invited people to be vulnerable in their own stories.
Coupled with this, the church also showed some video interviews and story-sharing each week of kids and youth and then a whole family and so there was an amazing multi-generational approach taken and everyone got to hear so many different ways of stories being shared…
But wait, there’s more…
What made this What’s Your Story? series so successful is that the church embraced the full emersion of it.
Not only were there multiple versions of story-teaching and sharing happening on a Sunday, but the church was asking, What’s Your Story? to each other during the week. For the team who pulled this together, we were concerned that the mid week life groups that met would not be up to the challenge of shuffling their members around for a month while we pursued this. But they surprised us by not only being open to it, but warmly embracing it.
So groups were mixed up and new groups formed and people met in small groups once a week with a variety of resources and tips but with the main focus of creating safe spaces to listen to each other’s stories.
Heartlines bases our What’s Your Story? work on a very simple three concept structure with no specific starting or ending point and you tend to loop and bounce between them:
ASK – Asking is about seeking first to understand. It’s about being courageous enough to go ‘one step deeper’ with the people we interact with on a daily basis. We get to understand each other better by first asking.
LISTEN – Listening acknowledges the fact that everyobe has a story worth sharing. It recognises the humanity of the other person. By listening we offer each other the gift of respect and acknowledge our continued humanity.
TELL – Telling is our way of letting others into our lives in order to help them to understand us a bit better. It involves courage to be vulnerable in sharing our stories, and offer others insights into what makes us who we are.
The small groups listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s incredible TED Talk, ‘The Danger of a Single Story.’, they did the powerful River of Life story-sharing activity together and watched the Heartlines movies, ‘Beyond the River’. But most of all, they made space for each other to share stories and got to dive a little deeper with each other amidst laughter and tears.
The [What’s Your] Story Continues…
i really loved being a small part of the Wellspring Community Church, ‘What’s Your Story?’ adventure and i hope to share some feedback from them sometime soon to add to this. But what was really incredible for me was visiting the church again a few weeks after the experience had finished. Before the preacher started their sermon they spoke for about five minutes about how they can’t stop talking about What’s Your Story? and then proceeded to share a part of her story before diving into the preach. Again, this past Sunday, when i visited again, it was mentioned from the front more than once.
Something has not just happened, it has started. And everything that Wellspring Community Church does from this point on, will in some ways stand on the deep foundation and community work that What’s Your Story? invited them to join. i imagine there might have been some people who didn’t particularly enjoy it and i have heard that not all of the small group journeys were at the same level. But there is enough testimony and excitement and energy around the journey they did, for me and my team at Heartlines to conclude that this is something we want to see again.
i would LOVE to do it with you, or at least give you the tools and blueprint so that you can do it for yourselves. If you are in Cape Town and are part of a church, please get hold of me and we can meet up and have a conversation and imagine what it might look like in your space. If you’re not in Cape Town, we have an incredible team all around South Africa and so i am sure that if you get hold of me [email@example.com] i can join the dots with you and someone in your area so we can see it happen there. Share this post with your pastor or leadership and see if they might be keen to see how their community will benefit. Or take a look around our website and see all the resources we have freely available.
The tagline of What’s Your Story? is: “You know my name, but do you know my story?” and how often in churches around the world do we have people who see each other every week, but don’t know the next thing about their neighbour. Let us really help you change that.