For most of the year, Jonesborough is a small town of around 4,000 people in northeast Tennessee. But once a year, the population triples as the community hosts the National Storytelling Festival. For almost 40 years, thousands have arrived each October to hear the greatest storytellers in America tell their tales. Organizers attribute this event’s popularity to the belief that “there is no substitute for the power, simplicity, and basic truth of the well-told story.”*
People do love to hear stories, and for good reasons. First, stories build bridges across generational lines. Many families have enjoyed times of great connection as they recall episodes from the lives of those who have gone before. Second, stories deepen relationships. When people share from a personal experience, they are letting the listener into their hearts and minds.
Stories also engage listeners. A video clip, reading aloud, or scrolling through photos all allow for the mind to wander and concentration to be lost. The constant eye contact and personal excitement of the storyteller increases the attention span of the listener. Finally, telling a story is something everyone can do. When a person tells a story, he alone is the expert. Their story doesn’t have to be researched and rehearsed because it is their own.
Using stories is a great way to breathe energy into your Sunday School class, deepen relationships, focus listeners on the task, and involve many more people in the process. There are five types of stories that can be used regularly in Sunday School to accomplish those goals.
· A Bible Story
In his book, Truth that Sticks, Avery Willis describes a highly effective teaching method that encourages leaders to tell the story from the Scripture before reading the verses out loud. A well-prepared story will engage learners and bring freshness to their hearing of the passage, perhaps as if they were listening for the very first time. Following the telling of the story, the class can open their Bibles to the passage of Scripture and work through a series of discussion questions that focus on what the story teaches us about God, how we relate to Him, and how we live the story in the world. For Scripture texts that are non-narrative, the leader can share a case study or personal story that will lead the learner into the Bible study passage.
· A Salvation Story
One of the favorite hymns of all-time, “Victory in Jesus”, begins with the writer’s having “heard an old, old story.” The gospel has always been referred to with storying language - it is good news that is meant to be told. Behind every salvation is a personal story, unique and precious to each person who has found hope, forgiveness, and purpose in Jesus. Yet far too often, these incredible stories of life-change are never told. Sunday School is a perfect opportunity to allow people to tell their salvation stories. Create a regular schedule that provides opportunities for all class members to share their testimonies with the group. As the leader, begin by sharing your own testimony and providing training for the class to write their story in a clear and concise manner. As testimonies are shared, you may be amazed at the incredible stories that are in your room. Relationships will be strengthened, confidence in sharing testimonies will increase, and maybe someone in your group will realize their need to have their own testimony.
· A Disciple’s Story
Salvation is the beginning of a lifelong journey of walking with the Lord. Our lives are designed to be living pictures of Jesus, filled with experiences of His presence, providence, leadership, protection, comfort, and any number of other ways that we are allowed to encounter Him on a regular basis. As you lead Sunday School classes, intentionally build in opportunities for learners to share stories of how they have experienced God throughout the week. Develop the expectation in your class that these stories will be shared, and earn the right to ask for stories by sharing many from your own journey. If you hear of something that God has done in someone’s life, home, or workplace, personally ask him or her to briefly share their experience with the class and celebrate God’s activity together. As stories are shared, others will be encouraged to seek God’s presence in their own lives.
· A Prayer Story
Nearly every class has some kind of prayer list. In addition to remembering the sick and the traveling, Sunday School classes are a great place for sharing stories involving God’s answers to those and other needs. Ask members to share an insight from their own personal devotional time with God. Seek to expand prayer requests to include prayer for unreached people groups, new church starts, revival in your own church and community, and opportunities for personal encounters with God. Give class members opportunity to share how God has answered prayer and then give Him praise for that response.
· A Witnessing Story
Finally, Sunday School classes can include stories from class members who are sharing their faith. Build a culture into your class that understands that success is not leading someone to Jesus, as that is something that only the Holy Spirit can do. Rather, success is being obedient to engage someone in a spiritual conversation so that as we are willing to tell our story, God will provide opportunities to share the story. Inviting people to tell witnessing stories in class will create expectancy for evangelism, challenge others to share, and sharpen the class’s focus on others rather than on themselves.
Intentionally bring stories into your Sunday School, and you will find learners engaged, energized, and eager to attend and respond to the lesson.
*Information obtained from www.storytellingcenter.net/festival