Robert is a writer and storyteller, as well as the author of The Original Storyteller, which is a 30 day program designed to help you become better at telling stories. He is also a managing editor at Orange.
What’s In This Session?
- How to track down the worthwhile stories in your church community (7:04)
- Why it’s important to begin capturing stories before you need them (10:28)
- The storytelling “c word” (if you don’t have this – you don’t have a story) (12:45)
- Examples of conflict in Jesus’ storytelling (17:28)
- How to make your congregation the hero of your stories (20:27)
- Using social media to share “micro-stories” (27:58)
- Common mistakes churches make with their storytelling efforts (32:21)
- Why storytelling is the most powerful form of human communication (35:55)
Show Notes & Resources Mentioned
3 Instant Takeaways
- Create a story database. One of the best ways to be prepared is to have a single place where you keep the a list of stories for future use. Whenever you hear a story from someone, just jot it down. This ensures that whenever you need a story, you can find one rather than scramble to come up with something at the last minute.
- Conflict is the fuel for storytelling. It is what gets the story moving forward. Conflict gives your story purpose. It is the reason for change. The reason for resolution. If you don’t have conflict – you don’t have a story.
- Slice stories down into smaller pieces for social media. You can do this by focusing on a single element or moment within the larger story.
The Full Transcript
Brady Shearer: This is the Pro Church Podcast, session number 193, the story-slice technique with Robert Carnes.
Well, hey there, Pro Church Nation, and welcome to the Pro Church Podcast. You’re now part of a small group of pioneering churches doing everything we can to seize the 167 hours beyond our Sunday services. Why? Well, because we’re living through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 [00:00:30] years, and what got us here won’t get us there. I’m Brady, your host, and this is session number 193. You can find the show notes for this session at prochurchtools.com/193, and in this session, we’re joined by Robert Carnes talking about storytelling and, in particular, a technique Robert has created known as the story-slice technique. Let’s do it.
[00:01:00] Welcome back to another session of the Pro Church Podcast. This is Brady, your host. So great to have you along for the ride. We like to start off each and every session by sharing with you a pro-tip or a practical tool that you can begin using in your church or ministry right away. Today, I want to share with you a very popular company that I’ve been following for a couple of years now, known as Product Hunt. You can find them online at producthunt.com. Basically, [00:01:30] Product Hunt is a giant curation of the best new products that are coming out every single day. I actually have what’s really cool and really the tool that I want to share with you today is their Chrome extension that I have installed on my Chrome browser, where basically any time I open up a new tab Product Hunt’s Chrome extension will show me all of the new products that have been launched on Product Hunt that day.
I’ve got one called Photolemur, which is a fully automated photo enhancer powered by AI. We’ve got Gifable, [00:02:00] which is a super simple screen-recording tool that can allow you to make gifs. We’ve got Instagram Analytics from a tool called Social Insider. There’s a bunch of different Bitcoin or cryptocurrency apps that are coming out, which should come as no surprise. We’ve get something called Coming Soon, which is a tool that allows you to build your audience before you build your products, probably some type of landing page software. Tall Tweets, now, which is a thing that now has incorporation of tweets that are longer than 280 [00:02:30] characters. Lots of great stuff on Product Hunt basically because lots of great stuff is being invented and created and shipped out into the world every single day.
Product Hunt curates it all into one easy-to-see location. I highly recommend that you check them out. Product Hunt has been on my radar for a long time, but since installing this Chrome extension, I’ve been finding a lot of fun, new stuff that keeps launching. Feel free to install that Chrome extension, if Chrome extensions are a type of thing that you care about.
With that being said, we’ll transition into the interview for today. [00:03:00] We’re welcoming to the show Robert Carnes, discussing the story-slice technique. Robert’s a writer and storyteller, and he’s also the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. Robert also works as managing editor at the Orange Group in Atlanta.
In this session, we’re talking about storytelling. We talk about how to track down the worthwhile stories in your church community. We talk about why it’s important to begin capturing stories before you need them; the storytelling C word and why, if you don’t have this, you don’t have a story; examples of [00:03:30] conflict in Jesus’ storytelling; how to make your congregation the hero of your stories; using social media to share what we’re calling micro stories; common mistakes churches make with their storytelling efforts; and finally, why storytelling is the most powerful form of human communication. Lots of great stuff in this session of the Pro Church podcast. We’ll be back in just a moment with my interview with Robert Carnes.
Well, hey there, Pro Church Nation. Welcome back to another session of the Pro Church Podcast. Today, we are joined by Robert Carnes. Robert, welcome to this show.
Robert Carnes: Hey Brady, thanks for having me.
Brady Shearer: [00:04:00] It’s great to have you, Robert. If people are unfamiliar with you and the work that you do, can you introduce yourself to Pro Church Nation and all that you’re involved in?
Robert Carnes: Absolutely. Yes, so I live here in Atlanta, Georgia, and I work full-time at an organization called Orange and most people in the church may be familiar with Orange. They’ve heard of the Orange Conference before. They think Orange Podcast, Orange Leaders blog, all those great resources for church leaders. I’m one of the managing editors on the Orange team [00:04:30] here in Atlanta. I’ve been there for about six months now, and I’ve been really excited to create resources and curriculum and leadership training tools to help equip church leaders.
Before that, I worked at two different churches as a communications director here in Atlanta. I’ve also got experience in the trenches, so to speak, doing all the work that a lot of your listeners are probably very familiar with. I’ve been dedicating the past couple of years to helping improve how the church [00:05:00] markets communicates, and all that time, I’ve also been blogging for a number of different blogs, Church Marketing Sucks, ChurchMag, Church [inaudible 00:05:10], church.org, just to name a few. I love being able to share the little things that I learn, pick up along the way to help equip other leaders as well.
Brady Shearer: Amazing. I also know that you have a passion for storytelling, which is where we’re going to spend the bulk of our conversation on in this session of the podcast. [00:05:30] Do you want to just give us a little background as to why storytelling is so important to you or why you’ve dedicated so much of your creative energy towards it?
Robert Carnes: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always loved stories. I think that’s something that a lot of people can relate with, that stories are just, it’s something that connects us. It’s something that speaks to us on a deeper level. Especially once I got kind of into the church communications marketing space, I noticed that stories are something that’s really, really important, that gets talked a lot about, [00:06:00] but I wasn’t exactly sure what exactly is a story, how does that relate to marking, how can the church practically tell stories. I’ve spent the past couple years delving into a little bit of that, researching, reading books and blogs and that kind of stuff to figure out what’s what’s that connection between storytelling and the church.
I’ve uncovered a lot of things and obviously have written a book. I started back in 2016 writing The Original Storyteller, which is just a 30- [00:06:30] day devotional that uncovers a lot of the truths that I was able to discover through reading popular culture stories, stories that we find in our modern-day entertainment, but also stories that are in Scripture because the Bible is the greatest story ever told. That’s one of the things that makes it so important to the church, is that God imprinted each of us with a love and a passion for storytelling. I just want to highlight some of the most important things that God instilled in each of [00:07:00] us, that makes each of us a storyteller.
Brady Shearer: One of the first questions that I usually ask guests on the Pro Church Podcast when we’re talking about storytelling is the process of collecting stories from the people within your church community, because this is where a lot of people get stuck, and if you get stuck here you’re not able to progress into the actual storytelling itself because you don’t feel like you have any worthwhile story to tell. I always ask this question, and I’m going to ask it to you as well, Robert, [00:07:30] because I like hearing each individual person’s process in discovering stories within their congregation. What does it take to track down a good story?
Robert Carnes: Well, I’m glad you start there, Brady, because I suspected the same thing and I actually asked that question on Twitter about three or four weeks ago now. I said, “What’s the biggest challenge that you find with storytelling?” and that was overwhelmingly, the biggest response that I got was, “Yeah, I just don’t know where to get started. How do I practically collect stories [00:08:00] from my congregation?” because we can make up stories all day long, but actually finding examples of real-life stories and putting those in a place is by far the hardest thing.
I guess the advice that I would give and the thing that I usually did when I was working within the church was simply starting a church storytelling database or as a storytelling a list, if you will, just creating one document, one place to go back and pull those stories from that, because you encounter stories on a daily [00:08:30] basis, but if you’re flying at 100 miles an hour, as we so often are because communication directors wear so many different hats within the church, not just that of a storyteller, and so as you’re flying by those stories, making sure to grab them and put them in place so you can go back and find them later I think is something that’s really, really crucial to when you actually sit down and go, “Okay. I’m going to start storytelling, but what do I go back and pull from?”
If you’ve got a storytelling database that you’re building over time, [00:09:00] that’s going to really help. To grow that capacity, it also helps to find other leaders within the church, whether that’s full-time church staff, whether that’s volunteers, whether that’s just regular church members who want to help, recruiting them and maybe making that database like a Google doc and sharing it across your team, if you will, and ask them, “Hey … ” As you get an email that says, “Hey, this ministry and your church impacted my life,” grabbing that copy [00:09:30] and pasting it into your storytelling database, and then asking further questions so you can grow that.
If you see great comments on your Facebook page, again, just copying and pasting that, and then engaging in that person’s, a conversation with that person to really find more about that story, but just the process of capturing that really, really helps in the long run when you’re trying to tell stories because it takes a lot of time and effort to do it, and if you spread that out over time, it’s going to become a lot easier.
Brady Shearer: It’s really one of the core tenets [00:10:00] of all content creation, and obviously, this is one of the things that we focused, we focused a majority of our time and energy on at Pro Church Tools across three different brands. We’ve got Pro Church Tools, Story Tape, and Nucleus, and so much content is being created for each of these. Whether it’s storytelling, social media, video, or storytelling injected into any actual content medium itself, it all comes down to having a database or a library or a backlog of prepared material.
This is something that we’re constantly evaluating [00:10:30] and building upon. We now have three different Instagram accounts that we want to be publishing quality content on every single day, and so I’ve got someone dedicated to that, and we’ve got folders on our server. They’re like, “Here’s what we used so far. Here’s what’s in the vault. Here’s what we want to do this week,” and you’ve got to kind of build your well before you draw the water from it. If you get to the point where you’re like, “What story are we going to tell?” and you have no leads, that’s a much more difficult place to be in than if you had an existing library that you’ve been [00:11:00] building upon over the days, weeks, and months. It’s one of those things that every one of us can start this right away. Do you have any practical tips for logging them, Robert? Do you use Evernote, or is there something that you prefer?
Robert Carnes: I mean, I use, like I said, Google Docs, Google Sheets, just creating a spreadsheet and logging all that kind of stuff. The good news is, I mean, you guys have probably got a pretty sophisticated system now for the stories that you’re telling, but any church leader can start where they are, and you can [00:11:30] grow that process as you get better.
It’s just starting at a practical place of whatever tools that you were using, and then just figuring out, well, this worked for me, or I need to start capturing more of this information, or I want to also be able to record photos, so I’m going to put this folder over here and share that with people. The system can get better and grow more sophisticated as you go along, but I don’t think that any church leader needs to just go out and actually create a [00:12:00] database that’s super sophisticated and super expensive to begin with. Just start wherever you are, whatever tools you’re using.
I mean, you mentioned Evernote. I don’t use Evernote personally, but I think that if that’s what tool that you’re already on, do that. Just start creating a bunch of notes. Start, like I said, copying and pasting or just recording whatever stories that you come across and grow it from there. Grow it as your needs grow.
Brady Shearer: Absolutely. I use Evernote, and it’s one of those things I’m just continually updating it as [00:12:30] I go. It’s a little bit of manual work, but it syncs across all my devices, it’s in my pocket whenever I need it, so any time I do that that moment where I’m like, “Oh, I want to capture that,” just pull out my mobile device and lock it in.
I asked Adam Bush, a storyteller at Church on the Move in a recent podcast, Robert, are there stories that just aren’t worth telling because I think we can feel like everyone has a story. We’ve all heard that said before. Are there stories in your church that just aren’t worth telling in video form or in whatever form that [00:13:00] you prefer?
Robert Carnes: That’s a great question. I mean, I think it really boils down to who your audience is and what they need to be hearing. Whatever stories that are going to relate to and be authentic to your audience, those are the stories that are worth telling, and something that they’re not going to resonate with or they’re not going to understand or relate to, those are the stories that may have worth and value somewhere else, but they aren’t really going to be worth spending your time on for your specific church or community.
That really just [00:13:30] begins with knowing who your audience is, knowing that their needs are, know what their interests are, knowing what things that they like and they know. The better you understand your audience, the better you’re going to be able to tell stories that really resonate with them, and you’re going to be able to push to the side the stories that they’re not going to care about.
Brady Shearer: With that being said, I think there is one element of story that often gets overlooked in the church space, probably because we’re a little bit intimated by it. It’s the C word, Robert. It’s conflict. I think that [00:14:00] if you have a story without that, I mean, do you have a story at all? Maybe you could speak to that a bit?
Robert Carnes: Yeah, I mean, I would say no. If you don’t have conflict, you really don’t have a story. I keep saying, and I bring this up in the book, The Original Storyteller, conflict is the fuel for storytelling. It’s what gets the story moving forward. If you’ve got a story that is just kind of light and fluffy and it doesn’t have any conflict, that’s nice and that’s an anecdote, that’s something you tell your friends, but that’s not a story that’s really [00:14:30] worth pursuing and telling within the church because conflict, it gives context to everything else that the story, all the other storytelling elements. It shows what the characters are going through. It gives context to the resolution. It gives a reason for the story to keep progressing.
If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story. It’s the narrative framework through which all stories are told. I think that, so often, [00:15:00] that’s important within the church because we usually shy away from tension, we usually shy away from those kind of conflicts. They’re scary, they’re messy. It takes some time and effort to really worth through those conflicts and be able to tell them in a way that isn’t too much of a downer or isn’t too much of a, focusing on the bad stuff, but if we don’t really bring up those true issues that our audience is facing and that our audience is going to understand, then it’s not going [00:15:30] to come across as authentic.
It’s just going to come across as it’s just some fluffy piece that the church wanted to throw together just because, but if we’re really diving into the conflicts that our audiences are facing, we really live for a little while within the tension that real people feel, then it’s going to speak to people, it’s going to connect with people. They’re going to say, “I get that. I understand that I went through that,” or, “I know somebody who went through that,” and then it’s going to point them to the resolution of Christ.
[00:16:00] If we speak about our ministries and we say, “Hey, this ministry exist to deal with this real issue. Here’s an example of a conflict that this ministry deals with, or this is the reason we went on this mission trip to really reach out and deal with this conflict that either our community’s dealing with or a foreign country’s dealing with,” those are the reasons the church exists, is to help resolve conflict through the power of Jesus Christ.
Brady Shearer: Awesome, awesome. I love that. It’s something that I think we … [00:16:30] It feels uncomfortable to approach conflict or to dive too deep into it, but I think that, I call this the “finding the bruise” technique where basically, you’re feeling around on your arm or your leg or something, and you find a bruise. A lot of times, you’re like, “Oh.” You push down on it, and it’s tender, and it hurts. There’s an immediate discomfort, and so we react and say, “I don’t want to do that again.”
When we’re telling stories, what you want to do is you want to find that bruise and then just push harder into it. Get to the real depth of it. Find the source, find the origin, [00:17:00] and because without that conflict, you can’t really have the resolution. We talk about it as this yin and yang. You need both, and without the tragedy, you can’t have the triumph. That’s what we often say at Pro Church Tools, at least two Ts. You need the tragedy to have the triumph because without the tragedy, there is no triumph of Jesus. Jesus can’t be the hero if there’s nothing for Him to be the hero of. Don’t shy away from the conflict. Dive deeper into it, and just be okay with that. Do we have any biblical examples that [00:17:30] we can point to in this respect, Robert, because one thing that I say all the time is, we look at Jesus’ teaching, He use story so much. I mean, 35%-plus of His teaching in the Synoptic Gospels is storytelling. Is Jesus using conflict in His stories as well?
Robert Carnes: Oh, he absolutely is. I think there’s a lot of examples you can go to and a lot that I explore in the book, but one of the ones that I always like to point to first, I mean, it’s one of those parables that Jesus spoke to His disciples about, [00:18:00] it’s the Prodigal Son. It’s this young man who takes his inheritance, he runs away from home, he spends it wastefully, and then he comes back to his father, and his father receives him and welcomes him back home. That’s a great metaphor for our lives, for what Christ did for us, but one of the things I like that kind of shifted my perspective on this story because it’s one we all know within the church, but the word prodigal doesn’t refer to [00:18:30] anybody running away from home and returning home from a long absence. The word prodigal actually, by definition, refers to being bad with money.
Rather than focusing, the title of the story doesn’t focus on the resolution. It doesn’t focus on the return home. It focuses on what the conflict is. It focuses on the fact that this young man was wild and wasteful in his spending, and Jesus tells us that he got to the point where he was so [00:19:00] low where he was actually sleeping and eating with the pigs, that he had to take this job that was way below his station just to make end’s meet. He dealt with this deep internal conflict of, “Oh my gosh, I’ve wasted my inheritance, I’ve turned my back on my family. I’ve got to go back to them just to be able to continue to survive, but I’d be willing to take a servant’s position in my father’s household just to get back there. I just, I hope my father is willing to let me just do that.”
All of that tension [00:19:30] and all those external things and internal things that he was feeling all comes to ahead when he returns home and his father embraces him and says, “Hey, we’re going to slaughtered the fatted calf, and we’re going to celebrate you. I welcome you back because I love you, and I don’t care about what you were doing with your money and with the inheritance and all that kind of stuff. Forget about that conflict. I’m just glad you’re home.” That resolution of the welcoming back, the acceptance is made all the more powerful because we know what that young man went through, we know the conflict, and Jesus [00:20:00] left us there in that tension for a little while before delivering the uplifting part of the message. He didn’t just, he didn’t leave with that. He led with the conflict.
Brady Shearer: Conflict is one of the core elements of every story, of course. Another core element is the hero of the story, the subject of the story, the protagonist, the individual or organization that we’re following throughout the story, and we’re empathizing with them. Really, the way that we interact with stories as humans is we actually see ourselves as the protagonist. When [00:20:30] we’re watching Star Wars, we see ourselves as Luke Skywalker, we see ourselves as Rey, like, “Oh, that’s me,” because, of course, we don’t want to be the villain, and so we naturally put ourselves as the protagonist. Who wants to be the antagonist?
This is a little bit problematic when it comes to church storytelling because at the end of the day, we don’t want make our church as the story. I think what we want to do is not make the church, the organization as the hero of the story, but make the individuals within our church the heroes of the story. [00:21:00] I know this is something that you believe, and it takes the StoryBrand approach made popular by Donald Miller. Can you unpack that for us, Robert? If it seems a bit abstract, can you break it down so it becomes a little bit more pragmatic?
Robert Carnes: Absolutely. I think it’s funny that you use the example of Star Wars because that’s a great one. George Lucas actually talks about how he used this framework of The Hero’s Journey in developing some of the storylines for Star Wars, and so that’s a great example, but there are so many, from the [00:21:30] Odyssey and Beowulf back in mythological times. Even today, with the Harry Potter series, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, all that stuff, they have so much commonality, and there are so many key elements that are similar through all these popular stories. That’s one of the things that makes them popular because it kind of resonates with a core part of what we understand about storytelling.
The Hero’s Journey comes from a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces that was written by Joseph Campbell back in the 1960s, and like [00:22:00] you said, it’s been popularized more recently by Donald Miller and the StoryBrand. He delves into that whole idea of how do we highlight the hero, how do we talk about our business and our organization and our church as in relation to the hero.
I think the practical application for us is that, like you said, making the audience the hero of the story, putting them in the shoes of the protagonist. They’re the ones who have the first-person perspective. They can really relate to [00:22:30] the story that we’re telling, so where does that leave the church? What do we do now because we so often want to default to ourselves being the hero of the story. It’s easy to tell the story from our perspective rather than from that of the audience, but The Hero’s Journey gives us the other character of the mentor.
In the Star Wars universe, that’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, that’s Yoda, that the wise, sage person who’s giving advice to the mentor, helping them, lead them along the journey that they’re going down, helping them deal [00:23:00] with whatever conflicts that they’re facing. That’s exactly what the church can be doing in the storytelling world. Putting our audience in the perspective of the hero, and then setting ourselves up as the church as church leaders, as individuals, as the mentor and say, “Here’s how we can help you accomplish this journey. Here’s how we can help you to deal with these conflicts,” and then again, pointing them to the resolution of the conflict, which is Jesus, which is God, which is Scripture, [00:23:30] all that kind of stuff. That’s kind of the better relationship that can really help us to gain leverage and to gain power by using stories within the church.
Brady Shearer: Do you have any practical examples of churches using this in action because it’s one thing to talk about it as an idea, but how do we actually play that out in a real church context, whether that be via video, be a social media, via some type of story from stage within a pastor’s sermon?
Robert Carnes: Yeah, I mean, I think [00:24:00] those are a lot of great opportunities right now. I think that video, obviously, is so powerful, and it gives us such a great opportunity. If you’re trying to tell a story from the audience’s perspective, what better way than just to interview them on video? One of the ways that that plays out so often is baptism testimonials. Every time you get to a Northway campus and see it, somebody’s about to be baptized, you get a three to four-minute little snippet [00:24:30] video of them telling their story, of them diving into why they gave their life up because any time somebody makes that decision to follow Christ, there is a story behind that, there is some decision that was made, there was some sort of conflict in their life, whether that was external, internal, or both, something that they felt that compelled them to come to church and to give their life up. That’s just one great opportunity that any church can practically do.
Northway and Elevation and all those guys, yeah, they have the [00:25:00] big budget for video, and they’ve got the really high quality, high def cameras, but any church can do that, even if it’s not a video, even if it’s a blog post or a social media post or even if it’s a person getting up on stage and talking a little bit about themselves and their story of why they decided to be baptized before the baptism, after the baptism, whenever. I think those are the opportunities that any church can leverage to really tell true and authentic stories [00:25:30] from the audience’s perspective.
Brady Shearer: We’ve talked about conflict. We’ve talked about making your church, your congregation, the individuals within your church the hero of the story, the protagonist. What other elements of story are we missing that people need to know about?
Robert Carnes: I think one of the ones that we’ve touched on a little bit, but that’s of character. Any time that you talk about a protagonist, you talk about an antagonist, I think that the characters in the story are so, so important because that gives [00:26:00] a face and a personality for our audience to connect with. It’s somebody that they can put themselves in the shoes of because that’s the person whose perspective is on the story, that’s the person who is walking through this journey.
I think one of the important things as well to consider is the development of these characters. A story begins and a story ends at point A and point B, but a character usually isn’t the same from the beginning to the end so any time you can work in development of the character … [00:26:30] We’ll go back to that example of baptisms. At the beginning of the story, the person probably was away from church, wasn’t a believer, something like that, but by the end of it, they’re dedicating their lives to Christ. When you can show that transition … Usually that transition comes as a result of that conflict. They’re kind of grappling with something, and they have to change and adjust themselves to better deal with that conflict, but that brings them to the resolution.
Any time that you can paint a great picture of a character [00:27:00] within a story and then show how that character transforms throughout the course of the story … That’s a lot harder to do if you’re telling a short little snippet, something on social media or something within a blog post, you can still do that. There’s still little elements of character development that you can tell in those stories that could really resonate with people. Again, it shows people, it gives people handles, that they can hold on to it and say, “I can see myself in that position,” or, “I know somebody who went through that exact [00:27:30] same thing.” It gives something that real people can really relate to, and that’s why stories connect with people.
Brady Shearer: I think that one thing that churches often feel as though if we want to tell a story, we need to create, like we’ve made reference to it a couple of times so far, we need to cretae this four to seven-minute epic story/video that’s going to take place production over multiple months, and it’s going to be this crazy, amazing story. What I’ve seen other churches starting to do, and I really love this. Specifically, [00:28:00] I’ve seen Church on the Move and Elevation Church do this, is leverage social media, long-form content, images with captions that share the story, even just quotes from an individual that tell a portion of their story or the whole story in a nutshell. We don’t need to always think of storytelling in this epic, grandiose nature, but we can do it via micro content as well. What are your thoughts on that?
Robert Carnes: I think that’s great point. I worked for a couple years in the nonprofit [00:28:30] organization Make-A-Wish. I was in the marketing department there, and one of the things that we were focusing in on doing was, I mean, that exact same principle was slicing our stories, so taking a big story that had lots of different elements in it and a couple of different things, but then pulling out different elements to tell on those different platforms, focusing in on the interaction between a kid who’s receiving a wish and the volunteer and pulling that out, maybe, and telling a blog post from that volunteer’s perspective, [00:29:00] and then maybe the diagnosis of the kid and how they dealt with that, and what impacts it had on their family. Maybe pulling that aside and letting that be a video testimony, or they told the back story of their illness and how they impacted them.
There’s so many different layers that, once you dive deep into a story, that you can start to peel back, and that does give you the ability to tell snippets of a story and to leverage different platforms that don’t need to tell the entire [00:29:30] story, that are a lot shorter-form content, but you can still touch on those things, and if you start to piece those together over time and people start to see different elements of a story and start to connect them in their mind, that starts to tell a really more powerful story altogether of that individual but also of the community as a whole and what your church is doing to transform lives.
I love that idea of slicing down, and not necessarily telling the entire story, but focusing [00:30:00] on one little moment or one little element within a story, and putting that on a digital platform.
Brady Shearer: I am fascinated to hear more about this story-slice technique that you just mentioned. You’re talking about a former organization that you used to work at where you guys would use this technique, sounds pretty frequently. How would it start? Would it start with capturing a giant story, or would you have people submit stories of any length, brevity, size, and still use the technique?
Robert Carnes: I mean, it really depended on the story itself. [00:30:30] Make-A-Wish grants thousands of wishes per year. I worked for the Georgia Chapter, and so we were granting anywhere from 300-400 wishes a year, and that’s obviously quite a few stories that were going on. Any time we got the opportunity to see pictures from A Wish or we got a video from A Wish, we would try to, as much as we could, dive into that and find out more about the story, but what we were, the principle that was behind that was the idea of content recycling. Rather than trying [00:31:00] to tell each and every one of those stories and tell them a unique story on each every platform, we would try to do what we call the 10 to one rule and take one story and tell it in 10 different ways from 10 different perspectives on 10 different platforms what it was.
If there was one story that we had a great quote from, turning that into a graphic that we could post on Instagram, if we had a video pulling out a 20-second snippet that we could throw up on Twitter and connect with that audience, and maybe [00:31:30] pulling out, again, the volunteer’s perspective and writing that up as a blog post. Basically, saving us time and energy by taking one story and slicing and dicing it however we could to be able to share that across multiple different platforms, and so that way, our audience, if they’re only plugged in via email on the blog, well, they’re still getting a piece of the story and they’re hearing similar pieces and elements of it as somebody who just follows us on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, something [00:32:00] like that, so being able to spread out those different pieces of content across platforms because it can really feel overwhelming if you’re trying to create unique content for each and every different platform. The idea of hunt it, recycle it was one that really help save us a lot of time and energy. It helped spread those stories across multiple different avenues.
Brady Shearer: Can you talk about consistent or common mistakes that you see churches making within their storytelling efforts?
Robert Carnes: Well, [00:32:30] I think probably the most common mistake itself is just not storytelling, is defaulting-
Brady Shearer: Or thinking that we’re telling stories but no, that’s just an illustration from stage. That’s not a story.
Robert Carnes: Yes. Yeah, and that was one of the reason I talked about conflict before is because so many times, a pastor will get up, or somebody will try to share something on social media and just start rambling about something. It’s just an anecdote from their daily life, which is great, and that’s fine, but if there’s really none of those storytelling [00:33:00] elements, then you’re just wasting everybody’s time. It’s not something that actually has a practical application. It’s not something that necessarily connects with the audience. We often default to that because it’s a lot easier just to give info or to make an announcement about church event or an upcoming ministry or mission trip or something like that.
We default to those things because they’re a lot easier, and we fall back on information rather than inspiration, [00:33:30] but if we actually take the time to, again, dive deeper into it, find the elements of conflict, really identify who the characters are and how they can connect with our audience, really start to layer what we’re doing with storytelling elements, then it’s going to connect with our audience rather than just bouncing off of them because they, we all hear so much information on a daily basis.
We’re so bombarded with information, and so if the church just defaults to that and just defaults to a bunch of announcements on Sunday morning or [00:34:00] in the email newsletter or on social media, which is so often the case, then all that information is just going to file in with the rest of the white noise that we hear from all those different other channels, but once we actually start telling stories and once we actually start leaning into that and taking the time and putting in the effort that it takes to tell a story, that’s when people’s ears perk up a little bit. That’s where they actually start to notice what we have to say, and they actually start listening to us, which is a scary thing [00:34:30] within itself, but that means we’ve got their attention. Like Gary Vaynerchuk talks a lot about, today’s capital, today’s biggest asset that you can have is people’s attention. Storytelling allows us to grab that and actually be able to tell people what we want to say.
Brady Shearer: I always that attention is the most valuable commodity that your church can possess because if you don’t first have that commodity, doesn’t really matter if you have the greatest story of all time, greatest story ever told because no one’s paying attention to it-
Robert Carnes: [crosstalk 00:34:58].
Brady Shearer: You’re right in saying that we’re living [00:35:00] in this time, which is also why I say we’re living through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 years, where the level and pure volume of messages that we’re getting bombarded with on a daily basis is something that’s never been seen before, and that’s why the millennial generation is so different than the one before it, because we grew up in a world of communication that no other human generation had ever seen.
I’m fascinated to see generation Z, gen z behind us, whatever they get titled or if they stick with gen Z moniker [00:35:30] because they grew up, I remember getting a phone in high school. They grew up getting their phone in the third grade or whatever it was. I still remember pre-Facebook, pre-internet, whereas the generation behind us doesn’t. They’re going to be like us, the millennials, but even to a whole nother degree, and so it’s so important for us as church leaders, as people that are volunteering and serving within our local church to understand how to capture attention. We talk about storytelling as the most powerful form of human communication because it’s really the only [00:36:00] type of human communication that is proven empirically to force people subconsciously to pay attention.
Robert Carnes: I mean, there’s a reason why we can barely hold a conversation with somebody. We’re getting distracted by our cellphone, we’re getting distracted by all these other things that are going on, but when we turn on Netflix and we watch Stranger Things, we’ll sit there for 8-10 hours and binge-watch something, and actually, it’ll captivate our attention, and we’ll be focused on that. It’s [00:36:30] because that’s a story. It’s because that’s actually connecting with something that we want and something we can relate to.
I think our generations have just, we have these built-in filters because there’s so many things. We can’t take in all that information at once. We can’t receive all that content, so we have to be able to siphon it out and filter through everything and grab hold of what we actually want and need to hear. If churches can start actually telling stories, [00:37:00] then they’re actually going to be get our attention because churches aren’t competing with one another. They’re not even really competing with other religions for people’s attention. They’re competing with Facebook and Netflix and cellphones for people’s attention. That’s the real thing that churches need to understand is that this is too important for us to just sluff off and put in half efforts on. We really need to be able to speak to people and use whatever tools are at our disposal to be able to reach people and tell them, “Hey, this is the greatest story ever told. It’s worth paying attention [00:37:30] to.”
Brady Shearer: Robert, you’ve got this great book, The Original Storyteller. Can you tell us more about it, why we want to pick it up?
Robert Carnes: Absolutely. I mean, it’s a 30-day devotional that’s got 30 practical steps and tips on storytelling principles. I just, I decided I wanted the most practical guide I could come up with so that, equip people to become better storytellers. Each and every day focuses on one storytelling principle, many of which we’ve talked about on [00:38:00] this podcast but focuses in on that one principle, uses an example of a real-life story that people could relate to, and then ties that back into Scripture and says, “Hey, this comes from God. This is something, that storytelling element that has been put within us because that’s an element of who God is,” and it uses an example from Scripture to say, “Hey, this is where we can find that,” and we can tie that back to God who’s the original storyteller.
I also give, at the end of every day, a practical step, a practical [00:38:30] application tip on how to actually do that and go and carry it out. I just want to give somebody a real easy course, training example of how they could walk through and become a better storyteller. I mean, I just hope it’s something that people can go and get hold of and take. That’s the feedback that I’ve gotten so far is that it’s hopefully helping people make a small difference because every little bit counts and it’s because it’s [00:39:00] worth it to be able to tell stories within the church.
Brady Shearer: Originalstoryteller.com is the URL to get access to that book, that devotional. This has been a great conversation. Robert, I always love talking about story. It’s one of those conversation topics that I don’t feel like we can ever overdo because I think without hyperbole, I would say it’s the most important skill any person can learn to help their church, one, because it is timeless and it’s not going anywhere, and two, because it can be applied to literally anything that you’re doing [00:39:30] within the church. Is there anything that I have not asked you yet that you’d like to leave with Pro Church Nation before we sign off?
Robert Carnes: No. I mean, I’ll say that I couldn’t agree with you more. That’s one of the reasons that, again, I love storytelling is because it’s not going any way. It’s been part of human history forever, and it probably will be in perpetuity. I’ll also say that you can get the book at originalstoryteller.com, but I also have uploaded the first seven days of the book as a devotional on the YouVersion [00:40:00] Bible App that just launched a couple of weeks ago, so if you’re interested in learning more about the book before you purchase it, go on The Bible App and just search Original Storyteller, and you can check out the first seven days there.
Brady Shearer: I love it, Robert. Thanks so much for stopping by the Pro Church Podcast and sharing so much valuable information with us.
Robert Carnes: Of course, Brady. Thanks again for having me.
Brady Shearer: There you have it, my interview with Robert Carnes talking about the story-slice technique. To do just a quick summary of what we talked about in this conversation, we talked about how to track down [00:40:30] the worthwhile stories in your church community, why it’s important to begin capturing stories before you need them, the storytelling C word, conflict, and why if you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story. We talked about examples of conflict in Jesus’ own storytelling, how to make your congregation the hero of your stories, using social media to share micro stories, common mistakes churches make with their storytelling efforts, and why storytelling is, indeed, the most powerful form of human communication. Lots of great stuff in this session of the podcast, and a big thank you to Robert for [00:41:00] stopping by and sharing so much great information with us. We do appreciate it. Always appreciative of people coming on the Pro Church Podcast and sharing with us the stuff that they’ve learned in their specific areas of expertise.
With that being said, it’s time for our review of the week. This one comes from Eric Cressman from the USA. It says five stars. “Brady and his team do a great job putting out quality content that is both informative and fun to listen to. His high energy and insight always makes the world of church communications fun while dealing with the very real eternal ramifications [00:41:30] of what we do on a daily basis. Thanks for all you do to further the kingdom of God. Blessings from Eric Cressman.” Well, thank you, Eric Cressman, for that review. Means the world to us inside of Apple podcasts.
If you go to prochurchpodcast.com, you can leave a review inside of Apple podcast, and you could also subscribe to the Pro Church Podcast there, as well as on a number of different podcast-listening apps, including Spotify. That’s right. The Pro Church Podcast is now on Spotify. Just searched it the other day, and it came up, so I do [00:42:00] believe it is there. If you have been hankering to listen to podcasts on the Pro Church Podcast, but, I’m sorry, listen to podcasts on Spotify, but let’s say the Pro Church Podcast has not been there yet. Well, now, it is. You can find it. Just search for Pro Church Podcast, or search for Brady Shearer, and you should be able to find it there.
But remember that in just a couple of weeks, we’re going to be going daily with the podcast. The total volume of listening time will remain about the same so you don’t need to worry about setting aside more time to listen to the podcast [00:42:30] each and every week, but we’re going to be doing shorter, more punchy episodes going daily starting on Monday, January the first, 2017. We’re super excited for that. We’re putting a lot of work into that as we get prepared for the new year, 2018. Lots of great stuff ahead. Thanks so much for listening and being a part of Pro Church Nation. We love you, and we’ll talk real soon.