Why Storytelling Works in Church with Robert Carnes

Modern Church Leader feat. Robert Carnes
Why Storytelling Works in Church feat. Robert Carnes on Modern Church Leader

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Why Storytelling Works in Church

Church leaders have long known the power of storytelling to communicate biblical truths, engage people’s hearts, and invite them into a relationship with God. But what is it about storytelling that makes it so effective? 

The answer: stories don’t just communicate facts; they communicate truths. 

A fact can be disputed, but truth cannot. And since we all want to live in alignment with truth, we find ourselves drawn in by stories that reveal truths about our own lives and God.

The Bible is full of stories—all of which reveal truths about God. Whether you're reading about the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, Jesus' parables, or Paul's letters to the churches, there are some commonalities between them: they're all written as narratives, and they all communicate a message that goes beyond the story itself.

When leaders use storytelling, they are tapping into a powerful way to engage people’s hearts and minds. Storytelling can help people understand and remember what they hear, making it an effective tool for teaching and discipleship. 

Most importantly, no matter what kind of story leaders tell, it is important that they aim for authenticity. Stories are more powerful when they are grounded in truth.

To know more about using storytelling effectively, we're joined by Robert Carnes, a storytelling expert who has experience in business and ministry contexts. He will share the process he uses to write and tell stories that resonate with audiences.

“The good news is every person has a story. And because churches are made up of people, your church has stories. You just have to start looking for them.”
-Robert Carnes

Robert is a writer and storyteller who also wrote The Original Storyteller, a 30-day program for improving storytelling skills. Robert has worked for several years in marketing and communications for both churches and nonprofits. He currently serves as Marketing Manager at GreenMellen, a digital marketing agency in Atlanta, Ga.

If you're a leader who wants to learn how to use stories to build relationships, motivate audiences, and make an impact, this is a great chance to learn from an expert.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • How to find meaningful stories in your church community
  • The key components of effective storytelling
  • What storytelling can do for your church
  • Ways to tell better stories in your church
  • How to create storytelling assets for your church
  • An overview of Robert’s book, The Original Storyteller

Resources Mentioned:

Read his book: The Original Storyteller
Know more about GreenMellen Marketing Solution: greenmellenmedia.com
Follow Robert on Instagram: jamrobcar
Like Robert on Facebook: Robert Carnes

Other Episodes You May be Interested In:

How Churches Can Become More Effective Online with Trey Van Camp
The Role Marketing Plays in Church Growth with Kelvin Co
How to Impact the Community with Ministry Resources with John Craft

Here's a glance at this episode…

[12:59] I think it begins by listening. We often say focus on the storytelling part of it, like we want to, we want to share, and we want to create a video and all that kind of stuff, which is fantastic. And that's an important element. But we have to listen first, especially churches telling the stories of real people, you know, people within your congregation.

[14:25] Write down everything or take pictures or videos or whatever you need to do with the assets in order to actually create a good story.

[14:36] The good news is every person has a story. And because churches are made up of people, your church has stories. You just have to start looking for them.

[17:04] God put this love of stories in this connective tissue deep within us. He's a storyteller, and He created us in His image. I think we all innately have that as human beings.

[27:34] Turning all you know, the written interviews and all that kind of stuff into a text that you're able to then pull quotes out of for later, like just preparing the groundwork. So you've got kind of all the assets because really, every different online platform can be a storytelling platform.

podcast transcript

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Robert Carnes (00:00):

God put this love of stories and this connective tissue of stories deep within us. He's a storyteller and He created us in His image. I think we all innately have that as human beings. It's there, but there has to be a willingness to, again, put in a little bit of extra effort and to shift the mindset to really be willing to tell those stories.

Robert Carnes (00:22):

I think once you do, once you shift from the announcement blasting model to a little bit more of the storytelling model to a little bit more weaving in narratives in subtle different places-

Narrator (00:32):

Welcome to the Modern Church Leader where you'll hear executive pastors share practical tactics and strategies that churches are using right now to thrive in our digital world and advance the kingdom of God. Here's your host, Frank Barry.

Frank Barry (00:53):

Hey guys, Frank here with Tithe.ly, coming to you with another episode of Modern Church Leader. I was about to say coming to you live, but we're not always live nowadays. We're recording these things and doing some editing and having a good time with them, but we've been publishing a lot of episodes. We've been publishing every single week.

Frank Barry (01:09):

Hopefully you're finding some value, enjoying the content, enjoying the guests. If you're watching, we'd love for you to give the show a like or comment and ask questions, we're really trying to build up the podcast. Without further ado, though, I'm joined by Robert Carnes, who is a expert at organizational and church storytelling. Excited to chat today, Robert.

Robert Carnes (01:30):

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me on, Frank.

Frank Barry (01:31):

Yeah. Yeah. Why don't we just jump in and you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and your journey. I know you work a lot with churches and storytelling and content and digital and all those things. I'd love for you to just give a little bit of your background.

Robert Carnes (01:46):

Yeah. All the buzzwords I've managed to cram several of them into my career. Yeah. Where to begin? I work right now as the marketing manager for a digital agency in Atlanta called the GreenMellen. That's my full-time gig, but it's been an interesting career path to get to this point. It's not exactly what I thought it was going to be. I didn't know if I was going to get into marketing or not, but here I am, nevertheless.

Robert Carnes (02:12):

I started coming directly out of college, actually in the church communications field. That was not somewhere I expected to end up or I guess to even start off with, but I worked for two different, pretty good-sized churches here in the Atlanta area, both United Methodist Churches as the director of communications.

Robert Carnes (02:30):

After getting a journalism degree in college, I thought I was going to write for newspapers, but God had different plans-

Frank Barry (02:38):

Different plan. Yeah.

Robert Carnes (02:39):

... and moved me in a slightly different direction. Yeah.

Frank Barry (02:40):

Right. Right. That's awesome.

Robert Carnes (02:42):

I loved getting the opportunity to do that. I mean, obviously it helped deepen my faith, but also helped grow a lot of my marketing chops. Because as with most churches, if you have a communications person, it's typically a team of one, which is exactly what I was. I was having to do all of the different things, both from digital, in-person communication, print communication, all of that different stuff.

Robert Carnes (03:05):

That really helped me get a pretty wide level of skills and experience that really have helped me even later in my career. From there, I worked for a couple of different nonprofits in marketing as well. One of them was Orange, who I was with for a couple of years who I think most listeners are probably familiar with. The Orange Conference and the curriculum that's created for churches.

Robert Carnes (03:28):

I had a couple of different roles within that organization from project management and editing to in the marketing field with them. Amongst all of those different full-time careers, I've also worked in freelance, especially doing copywriting for a number of years and have worked with a number of different organizations, including Tithe.ly.

Robert Carnes (03:49):

I just love writing. That's one of my passions, helping organizations, again, communicate very clearly through the written word, whether that's blogs or e-books, all those different things. That's really helped again supplement all the work that I do in my full-time job. Then I also am a published author. I've written a couple of different books.

Robert Carnes (04:09):

I'm working on another one that will come out this year. The common theme with all of those books has been storytelling and helping organizations really understand what storytelling is and do that better.

Frank Barry (04:21):

Yeah. Yeah. Love that. Going back to your church days, when you're a church communicator, number one, most churches probably don't have that role, so you naturally end up at probably a little bit of a bigger church. It doesn't have to be massive, but not the 5000-member church on the corner, but maybe the 500-member, a thousand member plus church that has a little bit more staff and a little bit more specialized roles.

Frank Barry (04:49):

When you were there, what did you do? What's the church communications person do on a day-to-day basis?

Robert Carnes (04:57):

Oh man, what don't they do? I mean, I think it certainly looks a little bit different for every church. Every church's needs are going to be varied, but yeah, I mean, really it's the ultimate wears-many-hats role. I mean, obviously, I mean, gosh, just going through the list, everything digital from the website, social media, email marketing, that could be a job within itself, but then there's the print things.

Robert Carnes (05:24):

I helped oversee the weekly bulletin or the print mailed newsletter at one of the churches that I worked at. Everything from even just the signage around the church. The first church I worked at was a little bit older and still had one of those electronic signs that rotated through messages. It was out on the street and I had to be the one who troubleshooted with that and made sure to get the messages up on the sign.

Frank Barry (05:49):

Right. Right. Well, at least it was electronic. It wasn't the kind with the-

Robert Carnes (05:52):

That's true.

Frank Barry (05:52):

I don't even know what they are. The plastic letters that you put in there.

Robert Carnes (05:56):

Yes. Yeah, I guess I was thankful for that. It was a little laptop in the closet somewhere where I had to go and squat down and type in what we wanted to say on the church sign. Yeah. I guess it was more modern than some churches are at which is also okay. Gosh, I'm trying to think of all the different other things. It really was all-encompassing. I mean, that was a benefit I think.

Robert Carnes (06:17):

It was overwhelming in the moment, especially coming right out of college, having to learn all of those different things and handle such a specific community like a church where there are so many demands, both from the congregation and the community, and then from all your ministry leaders. Even just juggling those requests that would come in for promoting an event or promoting a sermon series or any of that kind of stuff, it would come up.

Robert Carnes (06:42):

It really took a lot of patience and a lot of juggling, a lot of different things and relationships. Again, I think that really helped me learn a lot. I gained a lot from that experience, both positive and negative, and I think it really helped set me up for success later on.

Frank Barry (06:58):

Right. Right. Yeah. What were some of the biggest challenges when you're working in that role church communications, helping a church communicate effectively? I don't know. What are some of the things you faced commonly?

Robert Carnes (07:10):

Yeah. Just meeting the expectations of a lot of different people. Again, you're reporting to different members on the church staff, again, ministry leaders. You've got a lot of volunteers who are very passionate about the ministry or the area that they are active in.

Robert Carnes (07:30):

They again, feel very passionate about making sure that they get their event announcement in the church bulletin or that it shows up on the front of the church website or it gets communicated from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Just juggling all those different requests and expectations and different personalities can be very much a challenge.

Robert Carnes (07:51):

Again, you'd hope that within the church that people would be understanding, that they'd be compassionate. For the most part they are, there's definitely lots of great people within the church, again, both full-time staff and volunteer. But again, they get passionate and they really care about making sure that their thing gets visibility.

Robert Carnes (08:10):

You have a lot of, I mean, really competing messages and competing ministries within the church. To make sure that all those voices are singing in unison and harmony rather than creating a chaos environment, which often happens by default within many different organizations, but especially churches.

Robert Carnes (08:30):

To make sure that the people coming in, whether they've been a long time church member and they're coming in on Sunday morning or they're the brand new person who's coming off the street, that they're not bombarded by all these different things that they don't necessarily need to hear. That the right people hear the right information and connecting those dots between ministries and the congregation and the community.

Frank Barry (08:50):

Right. Right. Yeah. Did you even back then... I know storytelling is a big passion of yours. Did you start learning about effective storytelling and how to bring that into the church communications context way back then? Did you see that as a thing?

Robert Carnes (09:08):

I think I got a glimmer of it early on, but I really wish that I knew... I mean, of course we all wish we knew now what we didn't know then. I think I could have used a lot of the things that I know now, again, back when I was in full-time church communications, I mean, yeah, there were several different moments where a small ministry wanted their announcement in the bulletin again.

Robert Carnes (09:33):

It really felt like a binary of, okay, we either print this thing or we don't. My strong-willed self was like, "Hey, we need to stand up and say not this time. We need to include somebody else in the bulletin this week or on the website this week." I really wish I'd thought about it and had this perspective of, "Hey, what if we told a story instead?"

Robert Carnes (09:52):

Rather than put another announcement up, rather than simply communicate the time and location details of another event, what if we took a step back and really collected a story from that ministry or from that event or about that volunteer and elevated them in a different way? Because again, that's a different perspective that helps to cancel out some of the noise that's going on with all the announcements, but it really also helps something, again, stand out in somebody's mind.

Robert Carnes (10:22):

Again, if you're a church-goer who's coming on Sunday morning and you open up the bulletin or you peruse the website or anything like that, any of the marketing platforms that the church has put together, if you encounter a story, that's got a character and taking you through an actual narrative rather than again, the default, which is just another announcement, I think that really helps things stand out.

Robert Carnes (10:45):

Again, I really didn't get a chance to put that in practice when I was in ministry but I really wish that I did. Hopefully more and more churches can realize that and create that subtle, but powerful shift in their churches and really help to transform how they communicate again to the congregation and to the community.

Frank Barry (11:04):

Right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I guess fast-forwarding to now, storytelling... I mean, it's no surprise why people love movies and TV shows that... Like series shows that go on for a long time that have the story. You get pulled into it and you want to know more, you get connected to a character or whatever it is. We've all seen it. We all have something we've watched that we've really enjoyed or whatever.

Robert Carnes (11:32):

Absolutely.

Frank Barry (11:34):

How do churches do that? How do churches get good at telling stories and make that part of how they communicate from the church out to the external world, whether it's to the members or to the community? How do they get good or what does it look like? Maybe we can start at the beginning. What does it look like to tell stories as a church?

Robert Carnes (11:56):

I'm glad you went there because that's where I was going to take it as well. Starting high level, I want to get practical too, the tips are always really great, but I think starting with just even understanding what a story is or what even a story isn't, because we fall into often thinking that everything is a story. We see, like you said, stories on Netflix or we see stories in social media and all that stuff and they're all competing for our attention.

Robert Carnes (12:18):

The true stories, I think have four common elements to them, which in my mind, this is what I always preach is they all have context, they all have character, they all have conflict and they all have change. Those are the common elements that make up every single story that we hear.

Frank Barry (12:40):

Then what? How do churches take that? I mean, that sounds nice and it's kind of some things, but what does that look like in a church? Again, I guess going back to the beginning, how does a church start thinking that way and becoming a storytelling church?

Robert Carnes (12:58):

Yeah. I think it really begins by listening. We often so focus on the storytelling part of it. We want to share and we want to create a video and all that stuff, which is fantastic, and that's an important element, but we have to listen first.

Robert Carnes (13:11):

Especially churches that are telling the stories of real people, people within your congregation, people that are on your staff, people that are volunteers with your church, you need to really take the time and create space to just sit and listen to them. Not every story is going to be shared immediately.

Robert Carnes (13:28):

Not every story needs to be shared in every context, but you need to, at least... If you're listening to this podcast episode, and you're the one who has to take it on, maybe even creating a team around you asking again, other volunteers or other staff members to like, "Hey, help me in this." Let's really listen in and lean into the people whose stories we're trying to tell.

Robert Carnes (13:50):

Again, don't just assume anything. You have to actually ask them and ask them permission and earn their trust to be able to tell their stories and then actually collecting them into a single place. I talk about having a storytelling library and that sounds fancy, but it could simply be a Word document that you're jotting all of your notes down.

Robert Carnes (14:08):

It could be an Excel spreadsheet or a folder where you're gathering all of your different storytelling assets and all the different elements that you're going to need to create an effective video or to create an effective sermon illustration. It's going to take time. It takes time to really listen and have those conversations with people and then write down everything or take pictures or videos or whatever you need to do, the assets in order to actually create a good story.

Robert Carnes (14:33):

You can't do any of those things until you know where to look. The good news is though, every person has a story and because churches are made up of people, your church has stories. You just have to start looking for them.

Frank Barry (14:44):

Right. I don't even know the exact way to ask this. I'm just wondering, how churches grab on to this idea of storytelling being important. How have you helped churches see it going from like, oh, we just, whatever, we do church and we make announcements and we have the lesson of like, I'm thinking weekends. We have the lesson and maybe there's a communion.

Frank Barry (15:14):

Maybe there's an offering talk. Maybe there's worship. I know churches do lots of different versions of what church looks like. Oftentimes there's some form of announcements, like what's going on. It's the midweek service. It's the potluck. It's the kids' camp. It's whatever. These are these announcements. It's like, there's this template for what service looks like and lots of versions of the Sunday experience, you know?

Frank Barry (15:41):

Some churches have evolved that and whatnot, but I think a lot of churches have a real similar way of doing it. How do you help them go from that into telling stories? Where does the light bulb go off in the spark of like, "Oh, I want to start incorporating storytelling into church." Then where do they naturally start to want to tell stories? Stories about what? Where do they usually go first?

Robert Carnes (16:09):

Oh, yeah, yeah. This can get very ethereal if you let it be. It's just this general idea of storytelling. Yeah. I like to make it a lot more practical.

Robert Carnes (16:18):

To answer the first half of your question, I mean, there really has to be a willingness, especially within the senior leadership of the church to even try because you really do have to buy into this idea, otherwise, you're just naturally going to fall into, like you said, the template of just, "Hey, we've got our 10 announcements on Sunday morning and we're just going to blast them at people and hope something sticks. We're going to do it again the next week."

Robert Carnes (16:40):

It really does work. I think we all understand that. Stories are just everywhere. We are inundated in them all the time in all the different other platforms. I think we intuitively know that they work, that they can connect with us on a deeper level. The first book that I wrote, The Original Storyteller, was all about that. Especially from a spiritual standpoint, like God put this love of stories and this connective tissue of stories deep within us.

Robert Carnes (17:11):

He's a storyteller and He created us in His image and so I think we all innately have that as human beings. It's there, but there has to be a willingness to, again, put in a little bit of extra effort and to shift the mindset, to really be willing to tell those stories.

Robert Carnes (17:26):

I think once you do, once you shift from the announcement blasting model to a little bit more of the storytelling model to a little bit more weaving in narratives in subtle different places, again, it's not a switch you can immediately flip from one to the other.

Robert Carnes (17:40):

It's got to be a subtle change over time, but I think churches really start seeing the results of that. They start seeing people that are more engaged. They see people who are more willing to volunteer and be active within ministries. That's really why it's worth taking the time to do that.

Robert Carnes (17:57):

Where you do that, where you actually put that into place within your church, I mean, I think honestly, one of the first specific examples that jumps out that a lot of churches are already doing this naturally, is baptism, especially baptism testimonials. Many churches they know somebody's going to be baptized on this Sunday morning. They've given their profession of faith, all that stuff.

Robert Carnes (18:20):

A lot of churches will sit down with that person and maybe even video them and say, "Hey, how did you get involved with this church? Why are you willing to give your life to Christ? Tell us a little bit more about how you came to this important life decision." They'll speak for three or four minutes about the small group leader who led them this way and the challenges that they overcame and how, again, Jesus coming into their life really made a big difference. All of those classic elements of stories.

Robert Carnes (18:48):

Then the church will show that video before immersing the person in the baptism waters during the worship service. I think again, that's a place a lot of churches are naturally already storytelling. Just use those same principles in other different places of how you communicate.

Frank Barry (19:10):

Yeah. The baptism example is a great one. I love that. I agree, the testimony, people sharing their testimony, whether it's around when they're baptized or even maybe later on in life. That story is one that I think every church just automatically understands. Hearing somebody's story of coming to Christ and their conversion is the person's testimony and churches have done that in various ways.

Frank Barry (19:40):

But even just from stage, having someone come up and share their story just to the audience. But helping them help the person tell their story in a really effective way with the elements you described and drawing that out, do you find that, hey, here's the way to get people to get their full story out and then here's how you edit that into a video that really is compelling, you know?

Robert Carnes (20:12):

Sure.

Frank Barry (20:13):

Someone can just share and it may not be as compelling just because of how it comes out or what part of their story they actually get out when maybe there's other stuff that you want to help draw out that would be better. How do you help churches do it better? I guess, is what I'm asking.

Robert Carnes (20:30):

Using that baptism example, that testimony as a template to how to explain that, I think two of the elements that I mentioned of the four, context, character, conflict, and change, the context is pretty obvious, because we're like, "Hey, we're watching a baptism video." The character's pretty obvious because it's like, "Hey, this is the person who's coming to give their life to Christ."

Robert Carnes (20:52):

Those second two are really the ones that can often be overlooked within storytelling and that you can maybe really try to draw out of the person. Again, depending on who that individual is telling their story might be easier or more difficult, but it's natural to want to shy away from conflict. It's going to look different for everybody's baptism testimonial like, "Hey, I just was ambivalent about life and I didn't really care. I didn't have a purpose. Now I found Jesus."

Robert Carnes (21:18):

Sometimes you hear baptismal testimonials that they're overcoming major things, addictions or physical injury or something like that. Those are the ones that really stand out. It's primarily because the before and after picture is so starkly different. The before picture is really where that conflict is, where that challenge and that problem that they're facing, they meet Christ and that helps them transform and change into what that after picture looks like.

Robert Carnes (21:45):

Really I think even thinking through that pretty simple and straightforward shift from point A to point B can be really, really important. Again, if you're coaching somebody through what to say during their baptism testimonial, or even if it's a story about an event or a story about a ministry or something like that, just drawing on those two elements and really truly understanding, hey, what was the conflict?

Robert Carnes (22:12):

Why did you seek out coming to this event or giving your life to Christ? Then what was the result after that? How was your life better? How has it been transformed and changed as a result of that? If you put those two elements in there, a lot of the rest will start to take care of itself.

Frank Barry (22:27):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I like just the idea of having some good questions, drawing people out, coaching them, not to change their story, but just to get out the meaty parts of it and helping people get to that stuff. Some people are great at it and it comes natural and some people you have to work with, right?

Robert Carnes (22:49):

Right.

Frank Barry (22:49):

Having someone that can come in and just really help draw that out, I think is super useful. I want to talk about getting your stories out, because there's Sunday morning, but I also think there's this telling your story to the world. Getting the story of your church out into the community and that part of things. Before we go there, what other types of storytelling do you see work really well in churches?

Robert Carnes (23:19):

I mean, I think once you start to see that shift, you'll see a lot more opportunities to tell stories. Again, using the example of rather than blasting an announcement, listening out for that story that may have come from last year's event, right?

Frank Barry (23:36):

Right.

Robert Carnes (23:37):

Instead of just saying, "Hey, the men's ministry breakfast is coming up on this date at this time, at this location." If you've had that event before, go back... And this takes a little bit of time. You have to do a little preparation work. This can't be something that's done, excuse me, the week before. But if you can find somebody who attended that event and just ask them the question like, "Hey, why did you come here? What did it matter? What did this change about your life?"

Robert Carnes (24:02):

You may have to talk to a couple of people before you really find that really good story that's wow, this is going to resonate with people. But finding opportunities, thinking about, again, the person who's sitting in the pew, you're trying to ultimately get them to do something, whether that's volunteer, whether that's to sign up for a small group, whether that's to go on a mission trip.

Robert Carnes (24:21):

You want to think about that action step that you want them to do and then reverse engineer it a little bit. Again, not from a manipulative standpoint because stories can very easily be manipulative, but you're doing this because you want your church to grow and your influence to grow within the church, but you also want to impact that person.

Robert Carnes (24:38):

The goal is to find somebody who looks like that new church member who's sitting in the pew and find somebody that they can resonate with. Find a character that they can see themselves in that person's shoes. That's the way to invite them into the story and help them see themselves from that perspective.

Robert Carnes (24:56):

Then go, "Well, yeah. I can imagine myself joining that small group. Okay. I can see myself going on that mission trip. That really looks like something that would be impactful for me." Those are ultimately the goals, and some of the other places that usually storytelling can naturally fit in within your church.

Frank Barry (25:13):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I love mission trips, small groups, maybe Kids Can VBS or like it could be the mom's conference or the dad's conference or any of that stuff that churches do. There's tons of stories that could come out of those. I almost-

Robert Carnes (25:34):

Absolutely.

Frank Barry (25:35):

... think people should start thinking about it when... Let's say they're doing VBS this year at this event, thinking about like, "Okay. Next year when I start promoting our event at church, I want to have really captured the moment here at this year's event. I want get some video and get some stories of impact of kids and parents. I want to demonstrate how it's impacted the community.

Frank Barry (26:05):

But I'm thinking about it at this year's event, because I want to take all that. I want to package it in a great way to communicate to the church to promote next year's event."

Robert Carnes (26:13):

Exactly.

Frank Barry (26:13):

Almost a year ahead. You're thinking a year ahead in the production of these kind of things.

Robert Carnes (26:18):

Yeah. You're sowing the seeds that you're going to be able to reap later, which can be hard. That takes that preparation. It takes having a plan in place and knowing what you're going to do, knowing who's going to be able to do that. Actually going through the work of finding the right people, capturing the right video, taking the right pictures. But you're right.

Robert Carnes (26:35):

If you're able to do that, you're setting yourself up for success later on. Hopefully then next year's VBS is going to be even better and so you'll have more opportunities to capture stories. It can become a self-perpetuating cycle.

Frank Barry (26:49):

Yeah. It keeps building. Where else... Or actually, sorry, jumping to this other topic. In terms of promoting your stories, we've got digital and online and you've got all the social media platforms and email and obviously the in-person context, how do you help churches with telling their stories online?

Robert Carnes (27:10):

Yeah. I mean, hopefully you're able to capture enough elements of a story if you sit down with somebody and hear their amazing testimonial, again, maybe just using the baptism example because that's such a tangible one. Capturing that video in the moment, which also means likely you've captured the audio of it.

Robert Carnes (27:27):

Capturing maybe still images of you sitting down with that person and even dunking them in the water, turning all the written interviews and all that kind of stuff into a text that you're able to then pull quotes out of for later. Just preparing the groundwork so that you've got all the assets because really every different online platform can be a storytelling platform if you're using it.

Robert Carnes (27:51):

Really, it's just the content that you're sharing. If you think about social media, well, okay, I can grab a short 30-second snippet of that testimonial video and I can throw that up on Facebook and Instagram.

Frank Barry (28:03):

Totally.

Robert Carnes (28:03):

Okay. Well I can also grab-

Frank Barry (28:07):

TikTok. We got to get on TikTok for sure.

Robert Carnes (28:07):

Exactly. Oh for sure. Yeah. You can also grab small quotes and turn those into graphics that you're then sharing on Twitter and Instagram as well and putting them up on the website and then, okay, great. Now we have the transcript from his testimonial and we're going to put that up on our blog, along with the embedded video. It's really just gathering all of those assets and then just understanding which ones fit on the right platforms and mixing and matching them.

Robert Carnes (28:33):

Because ultimately you're just trying to reach the audiences that are on that platform. There's a lot of overlap between the people who are looking at your website and looking on social, looking on email. They're probably going to get that story multiple times, but that's okay. If you're spacing them out the right way and if you're sharing the right pieces of content, people aren't going to be annoyed that you're telling that story.

Robert Carnes (28:52):

They're going to be like, "Oh my gosh. Yeah. I remember they talked about that guy on Sunday morning and now I'm getting an email about watching that video again. Let me share that video with some other people that I know." It usually takes multiple times of people hearing a message for it to really sink in and so don't be afraid to share in multiple different places, because more than likely somebody's already forgotten about what you had to say on Sunday morning.

Robert Carnes (29:17):

Or you're just reinforcing that same message over and over again. That's ultimately what it is. It's just gathering all your assets, reassembling them in the right order for the right audience on each of the social platforms and just being consistent about it.

Frank Barry (29:31):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think the foresight to think about I'm recording this baptism story or I'm recording this story about VBS in a two-minute video promotional format, but there's all the other content that you might have captured to produce that thing. Then there's taking that thing and slicing it up and making it work in the vertical video format for Instagram or YouTube shorts or TikTok or Facebook. Then there's putting it on YouTube.

Frank Barry (30:04):

But somebody that's thinking about both getting the great stories and then thinking about all the assets that you can take that story and carve it up into to put it out in social and then doing that on repeat as often as you can... And it could be small. It could be just like, "Hey, we're going to post a story to our Facebook page because we're a small church. We're 50 people and we have a Facebook group."

Frank Barry (30:28):

Great. You're going to post it in there. I think a lot of it just takes that spark of, okay, we want to do this. Then having somebody who's thinking about the future. Thinking about where we're headed and what kind of assets we need to create with all the stories that we're trying to tell, you know?

Robert Carnes (30:49):

Yeah. I think you nailed exactly those two steps. It's like having the intentionality and having the mindset that we're going to do this and then having the person, or maybe even group of people who are going to be the ones to execute it. Because it's great for you. I mean, if you're the senior pastor or the executive pastor to like, "Oh my gosh, we need to be doing this."

Robert Carnes (31:07):

But it's probably not going to be you the one doing that. There's enough other things going around at senior level, so having a communications director or having a communications volunteer or having somebody who's your storytelling volunteer, knowing who that person is and giving them the right support and resources that they need to do it all.

Robert Carnes (31:26):

Then also just understanding what the capacity is. Maybe you can only do one story at a time. Maybe that's one story every quarter that you're really drawing out. You're really intentionally identifying what that one is, but as you do it and as you get better and develop processes and you develop those skills and you realize, "Oh, yeah, we did that video shoot, but we forgot to get still images. Okay. Let's do that next time."

Frank Barry (31:45):

Next time. Right. Yeah.

Robert Carnes (31:46):

You're naturally going to get better and learn from it if you know who it is, who's doing that. Again, you keep that intentionality and that mindset of being a storytelling.

Frank Barry (31:54):

Because it'll take time to get good at it, right?

Robert Carnes (31:56):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (31:57):

It doesn't just boom, all of a sudden, first one you ever do be awesome. But if you decide to do it and yeah, one a quarter, you don't start crazy, or even you could pick two or three of your main things that you do as a church during the year and go, "Okay. Maybe it's not one a quarter, but it's one per each of whatever." Maybe there's two major things you do a year. Baptism stuff, or it's a big event that you guys do or it's a mission trip you do.

Frank Barry (32:28):

You just say, "Okay. We're going to start really small, but we're going to try to do these." Then next year you can add a little bit and you learn some things so that when you produce the next one, you get a little bit better. Over the course of a few years, you develop proficiency in doing this as a church, but it really does take time to get good at it and to stay focused on it.

Frank Barry (32:49):

Do you find that the big key in all of this is leadership being bought in? Them being the driver? Not necessarily the ones that have to do it or even can do it because maybe they don't have those skills, but is it leadership buy-in and excitement around this?

Robert Carnes (33:08):

I'm sure that, I mean, if you really had a tenacious staff member who wanted to do this thing and get it done, maybe you could sidestep some leadership buy-in, but ultimately, yeah. I mean, I think anything to happen within a church, you need the leadership to agree with it, to be able to support it with giving the person the time and giving them the resources.

Robert Carnes (33:30):

Yeah. I mean to really get it off the ground and to make it work, yeah, the senior pastor, senior team, elders, all those people need to truly be on board even if they're not directly involved. Even just that level of encouragement and going, "Hey, they're going to be willing to share this video on Sunday morning or they're going to be able to talk about it from the stage or they're going to encourage it with other staff members and other volunteers within meetings."

Robert Carnes (33:53):

All that stuff. Yeah. I mean, that smooths the path so much more to actually make it viable and... Yeah.

Frank Barry (33:59):

How do you get the buy-in is where I'm... What helps the church communicator or just the person on staff that really believes in this? What can they do to help get that kind of buy-in?

Robert Carnes (34:13):

Sure. Sure. It depends on the senior leader, but ultimately I find with so many pastors, if you can show them results and show them that, "Hey, we tried this thing and it worked. We tried to tell a story instead of giving an announcement and before we had 25 event signups and then we jumped to 85." A tangible return on the investment for what it's really doing, I think that really makes a difference.

Robert Carnes (34:39):

I mean, it feels good to be able to tell a story. It looks really cool to be able to show those polished videos or testimonial quotes or whatever online. But when it boils down to it, a senior pastor is trying to grow their church, they're trying to reach more people for Christ. They're trying to get more baptisms and more people signing up for volunteers and all those things.

Robert Carnes (34:56):

That's why connecting each story to some sort of action step afterwards is really, really important because then you can really measure the success of the story. Was it effective in actually reaching people and persuading them to take this next step?

Robert Carnes (35:12):

If you can have a couple of those that you've tried out and you can gauge the results on and then go back and say, "Hey, it'd be great if we had a little bit bigger budget, it'd be great if we had more volunteers, then we could grow this thing even more." That's usually where again, a senior leader is going to be able to buy in.

Frank Barry (35:27):

The first one you just got to be really good at persuading.

Robert Carnes (35:30):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (35:30):

Then from there you just got to be good at knowing you need some results. You got to be able to track it and demonstrate the impact along the way.

Robert Carnes (35:39):

I think so. That is usually one of the simplest ways to do it. Again, there may be workarounds that you have to do even just coming maybe with a plan, "Hey, we haven't told this story yet, but here's what we'd really like to do. Here's what we think that it could have a result from."

Robert Carnes (35:54):

In lieu of actually having done it, that could be another workaround, but yeah, I mean just presenting that senior leader with, "Hey, we've thought about this. We think it can work. Do we have your blessing to move forward? Actually we'll take care of it ourselves."

Frank Barry (36:07):

I think showing initiative and putting a plan together that shows you've really thought about it and you know how you can execute it and there are the resources around somehow to pull it off and you've got ideas on the four people you can interview for your story.

Frank Barry (36:27):

Really showing the initiative, the plan and taking on responsibility and being accountable for it I think demonstrates... For the first time of doing something or jumping into this, I think that goes a long way with senior leadership. Really owning it, really showing that you can do it and demonstrating that you're going to do it excellently and it's thought about, that helps with buy-in.

Frank Barry (36:51):

I would encourage people, that's a big way to help your cause. If you're someone listening and you're like, "Okay. I want to do this stuff. I believe in it. I've thought about it. It's something that's been on my mind." You want to take that next step, put together a really good plan that demonstrates that you can pull it off. I just think that helps with getting buy-in.

Robert Carnes (37:11):

Yeah. Make sure to tell them that you listened to this episode of the podcast and that we said it was okay. We give you permission to tell stories.

Frank Barry (37:19):

Well, man, this has been awesome. I got a few quick rapid fire questions to ask you before we end here.

Robert Carnes (37:25):

All right. Let's do it.

Frank Barry (37:27):

The first one, I mean, you've written some books, so this one's just an easy one, but I know you have one coming up so I guess you can't really talk about that one yet because it doesn't exist. But what's a great storytelling book that you've written that people should check out?

Robert Carnes (37:43):

That I've written? My first book is The Original Storyteller, which you can go to originalstoryteller.com to check more about it and to get a copy. It's a devotional that's all about going through 30 days of different storytelling elements where we see it in pop culture and then also where we see it in scripture and how it ties back into again, God being the original storyteller.

Frank Barry (38:06):

Love that.

Robert Carnes (38:07):

Yeah. If you don't want to read my book, another one, Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller is another really good one. It's not focused on the church specifically, but it's more business and organizationally-focused, but it's a great resource for storytelling.

Frank Barry (38:23):

Like practitioners, right?

Robert Carnes (38:23):

Yes.

Frank Barry (38:23):

For the folks that are really into this. That's a great book to take it to the next level.

Robert Carnes (38:28):

That's right.

Frank Barry (38:28):

That's great. What's another book, it doesn't have to be communications or storytelling, but just a book that you've read, that's had a major impact on you? Don't say the Bible, like I get it. We know, the Bible. Yes.

Robert Carnes (38:42):

Gosh, no. I mean I'm an avid reader, so it's almost harder to just narrow down the list to one. I mean I'm such in the storytelling mindset, so it's hard to get out of that. I guess I can just mention two that are still in that lens. I just finished, I think last month, a book called Story or Die by Lisa Cron, C-R-O-N. She's written several other storytelling books and she's just fantastic. That was a really interesting one.

Robert Carnes (39:13):

Then more church-related is Less Chaos. Less Noise by Kem Meyer. It's probably one of the best books about church communications and again, how to navigate those troubled waters of different ministries and different volunteers and all that kind of stuff. That's for the specific church context.

Frank Barry (39:34):

Love that. Love that. What's a podcast you're listening to right now?

Robert Carnes (39:38):

Ooh. I think one that I really like is called How to Take Over the World. It's profiles of different individuals who really made an impact on the world. He'll do either single episodes or multiple episodes featuring a person. I mean, people like everybody from like Napoleon and Genghis Khan, to Steve Jobs and the most recent episodes are about Walt Disney. Certainly fascinating figures in history.

Robert Carnes (40:08):

I mean just his style of telling the stories about these people it's almost just like a friend just reading the Wikipedia page of the highlights of these big figures. It's a really cool way to get a historical context of, again, really important people that we can learn from.

Frank Barry (40:23):

Right. Yeah. I love that. I love hearing people's stories. Whoever it is, just hearing the story, I guess you could read their autobiographies too, but podcasts [inaudible 00:40:35]-

Robert Carnes (40:35):

This is much shorter. A much quicker way to be able to do that.

Frank Barry (40:38):

Right. To digest it. Well, Robert, this has been great, man. Thanks for coming on the show and sharing a little bit of your expertise and we'll look forward to the next book coming out.

Robert Carnes (40:47):

Of course. Thank you so much for having me, Frank.

Frank Barry (40:48):

Yeah. Yeah. Appreciate everyone listening in. We'll catch you next week on another episode of Modern Church Leader. See ya.

Narrator (40:54):

If you enjoyed this episode of the Modern Church Leader, consider sharing it with a pastor or minister you think would benefit the most from listening to this conversation. You can send them to modernchurchleader.com, or share this episode directly from your podcast app. Be sure to subscribe for free, on YouTube, Apple Podcast or Spotify so you never miss an episode. We'll see you again next week with another conversation here on the Modern Church Leader.

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Why Storytelling Works in Church with Robert Carnes

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Why Storytelling Works in Church with Robert Carnes

If you're a leader who wants to learn how to use stories to build relationships, motivate audiences, and make an impact, this is a great chance to learn from an expert.

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Why Storytelling Works in Church

Church leaders have long known the power of storytelling to communicate biblical truths, engage people’s hearts, and invite them into a relationship with God. But what is it about storytelling that makes it so effective? 

The answer: stories don’t just communicate facts; they communicate truths. 

A fact can be disputed, but truth cannot. And since we all want to live in alignment with truth, we find ourselves drawn in by stories that reveal truths about our own lives and God.

The Bible is full of stories—all of which reveal truths about God. Whether you're reading about the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, Jesus' parables, or Paul's letters to the churches, there are some commonalities between them: they're all written as narratives, and they all communicate a message that goes beyond the story itself.

When leaders use storytelling, they are tapping into a powerful way to engage people’s hearts and minds. Storytelling can help people understand and remember what they hear, making it an effective tool for teaching and discipleship. 

Most importantly, no matter what kind of story leaders tell, it is important that they aim for authenticity. Stories are more powerful when they are grounded in truth.

To know more about using storytelling effectively, we're joined by Robert Carnes, a storytelling expert who has experience in business and ministry contexts. He will share the process he uses to write and tell stories that resonate with audiences.

“The good news is every person has a story. And because churches are made up of people, your church has stories. You just have to start looking for them.”
-Robert Carnes

Robert is a writer and storyteller who also wrote The Original Storyteller, a 30-day program for improving storytelling skills. Robert has worked for several years in marketing and communications for both churches and nonprofits. He currently serves as Marketing Manager at GreenMellen, a digital marketing agency in Atlanta, Ga.

If you're a leader who wants to learn how to use stories to build relationships, motivate audiences, and make an impact, this is a great chance to learn from an expert.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • How to find meaningful stories in your church community
  • The key components of effective storytelling
  • What storytelling can do for your church
  • Ways to tell better stories in your church
  • How to create storytelling assets for your church
  • An overview of Robert’s book, The Original Storyteller

Resources Mentioned:

Read his book: The Original Storyteller
Know more about GreenMellen Marketing Solution: greenmellenmedia.com
Follow Robert on Instagram: jamrobcar
Like Robert on Facebook: Robert Carnes

Other Episodes You May be Interested In:

How Churches Can Become More Effective Online with Trey Van Camp
The Role Marketing Plays in Church Growth with Kelvin Co
How to Impact the Community with Ministry Resources with John Craft

Here's a glance at this episode…

[12:59] I think it begins by listening. We often say focus on the storytelling part of it, like we want to, we want to share, and we want to create a video and all that kind of stuff, which is fantastic. And that's an important element. But we have to listen first, especially churches telling the stories of real people, you know, people within your congregation.

[14:25] Write down everything or take pictures or videos or whatever you need to do with the assets in order to actually create a good story.

[14:36] The good news is every person has a story. And because churches are made up of people, your church has stories. You just have to start looking for them.

[17:04] God put this love of stories in this connective tissue deep within us. He's a storyteller, and He created us in His image. I think we all innately have that as human beings.

[27:34] Turning all you know, the written interviews and all that kind of stuff into a text that you're able to then pull quotes out of for later, like just preparing the groundwork. So you've got kind of all the assets because really, every different online platform can be a storytelling platform.

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