The 4 Questions Every Great Story Answers
Many years ago, before I was a creative arts pastor, I got my start in creative ministry as “the video guy.” At the time, that meant that I mostly creating highlight videos from camps or mission trips. Honestly, it didn’t take a whole lot of skill to do what I was doing. I would just film moments that were happening on the trips, edit out the bad stuff, keep the good stuff, throw some music under the footage and call it a day.
Once I wrapped up a few highlight videos, the pastor I was working with shared that he needed some help in making some testimony videos. As the video guy, this is where I came in. However, there was one small issue… I knew how to hit record, make things look descent in the camera and make highlight videos, but I didn’t have the first clue about how to tell a story.
Nobody ever taught me anything about that. I never had anyone teach me about what makes some stories memorable and other stories forgotten.
What I had to learn and discover the hard way is that effective storytelling isn’t as simple as hitting the record button.
It’s more than just picking out the right camera, or buying the right editing software. It’s about tapping into the power of storytelling.
It took me awhile to learn that the effectiveness of your video is far more dependent on how you’re crafting the story than it is on what equipment you use or budget you have. If it was all about the budget and equipment, you would think films like Battleship (where they had an estimated $220 million budget) would have been the best movie of the year. Turns out, if the story isn’t compelling, it doesn’t matter how great the equipment or budget is.
That’s great news for many churches out there! Stories play a crucial role in our churches today, just as they have since the beginning of time. It was Jesus’ chosen method of teaching as He did throughout scripture with parables.
If we can become more effective as storytellers, we have an opportunity to create compelling videos that are effective for our churches.
WHAT IS A STORY?
I define story as “the journey and response of a character facing a conflict.”
For some context, here are a few stories we’re sharing right now in my church.
Sometimes, the character is a person. That story may sound like: a man, whose life was falling apart with drug and alcohol abuse, had to take a bold step to keep his life and family together.
There are times where the “character” may be your church. As an example, our church is adopting a new village in Guatemala. That story for us would look like: the journey of our church, transforming a village in Guatemala that is consumed with poverty and a lack of clean water.
Other times, the “character” is broad and the goal is that the audience puts themselves as the protagonist in the story. For example, that may look like: a person who thinks they have nothing to offer God or the church has the opportunity to serve and use their gifts.
Every story is different. But at the end of the day, stories tell the journey and response of a character facing conflict.
Now that we have the concept of what a story is, there are 4 specific questions that I believe every effective story answers. These are the questions I work through before we ever hit record on the camera.
Question #1: What is the conflict?
What’s the conflict or problem that the character is trying to solve?
Conflict is simply the struggle between two opposing forces. That might be an internal conflict or an external conflict.
Without conflict, you don’t have a story worth telling. Think about what kind of story Star Wars would be if Luke Skywalker never dealt with his past and never faced off against Darth Vader. Think about what kind of story Shawshank Redemption would be like if Andy Dufresne never ended up in jail for crimes he didn’t commit.
Conflict shapes who we are as people and is the key to relating to our audience. When you skip over the conflict, you cripple yourself as a storyteller. When your story sounds too-good-to-be-true, it’s too hard to relate to.
As you identify the story you want to tell, first, identify the conflict in the story.
Question #2: What is the solution?
For the internal or external conflict in the story, what was or what could be the solution?
What’s going to fix the problem that the character is facing?
Here’s the cool thing here. We serve a God who is in the solution business. We have the Bible that lays out the very word of God which provides a path for us. In the stories we share, we can point to Jesus as the solution.
This was groundbreaking for me, because it changed what I looked for in the type of stories we were sharing as a church. Instead of just focusing on the most sensational stories, I began searching for the simple but relatable stories of people who were facing a conflict and found a solution in something that we had to offer as a church.
After you identify the conflict in the story, find the solution – whatever that is.
Without it, your story won’t connect.
Question #3: What are the barriers?
There is a bridge between the conflict and the solution. What lies in between the conflict and the solution is barriers. These barriers are the things that so often hold us back from reaching the solution to the conflict. Those barriers that get in the way might be things like fear, anxiety, hopelessness or doubt.
When you speak to the barriers in the story, you have the opportunity to create a “that’s me” moment with your viewer, because you can speak to the very barriers your audience faces in their own lives.
Question #4: What is the call to action?
Sometimes we need another character, a guide, or an external force for us to overcome those barriers and seek the solution.
When you find the call to action in the story, you identify the thing that compelled someone to change and overcome the barriers they face.
This is critical for us as the church to zone in on this, because the answer to what compelled someone to change is often the same next step that others need to take in their own lives.
WE’RE ALL STORYTELLERS
I found that as I focused on identifying the clear conflict, solution, barriers and call to action in the story, the impact and reach of the stories we were telling was greater than ever before.
By answering those questions, you have the building blocks for telling meaningful stories that can inspire your audience.
We’re all storytellers. Now go, and tell your story.