Tell a Compelling Impact Story

Share the story of what God is doing in your congregation

Published

“The month I serve on altar guild is the most spiritually enriching month of my year!” My friend Stacy shared these words with me and I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. When I was eleven, it was the altar guild ladies who told me God didn’t show up for the worship service because I lit the candle on the right before I lit the candle on the left. At least that is how I remember the story.

Stacy went on to share the reason for her statement. She set up for communion on Friday afternoon when there is nobody in the sanctuary. This allowed her to experience sabbath rest. In the quiet reflective time she is refreshed and can listen for God’s voice in her life. For Stacy, it isn’t work to set up for communion, in fact, she feels more refreshed and alive in her faith as a result of this altar guild quiet time.

Too often, we focus on the tasks we need to accomplish in our churches. We hear things like “the same 10% of people do all the work!” We don’t focus on the stories of impact resulting from the work we do. As adults in mainline protestant denominations, we eagerly share our “church résumé.” We tell everyone about all the committees we serve on. The reality, though, is: nobody cares. What is important is the impact of our work.

Sharing the story of what God is up to

The key to stewardship for me is sharing the story of what God is up to in people’s lives. Ultimately, nobody cares about busy churches. People care that God is doing something through the ministry of our congregations. This is the impact of our ministry.

As I evaluate communications in churches, I see a lot of information sharing. I see a lot of asking people to do stuff—volunteer for this, give to that, show up for this event. What I don’t see is much sharing about how God is making a difference in anyone’s life, but it is precisely this that compels people to invest in their congregation. 

Donors, visitors, potential members, fringe members, and lifelong members all want to know that the ministry we are doing makes a difference, and often we hide the story. It is easy to tell people what we do—the facts of our events, where it happened, who attended and when it took place. 

What we fail to do is share what God does through our ministry.

Focus on impact

The key to telling an impact story is telling about the transformation between the before and after of ministry. What was the reality before and what is the reality now? For my friend on the Altar Guild, “before” was a feeling of exhaustion. “After” was an experience of sabbath rest and a renewed focus on what God was up to in her life.

My congregation often asks people to pull weeds on Saturday mornings. Two people pulled weeds together during Covid lockdowns, and together, they processed the grief they had after losing a loved one. Pulling weeds allowed them to heal from their losses and experience community in a time of loneliness. I would pull weeds if it helped me recover from loss.

Next steps

Talking about this change takes vulnerability and trust. Pastors are well placed to discover these changes as we seek to care for people in the midst of their lives.

How do you tell these stories at church? Here are some ideas:

  • Make sure the pastor is involved
  • Before collecting the offering, the pastor (or another leader) tells a story about how God showed up for someone because of your ministry
  • Share an impact story written by a congregation member in your written communication (newsletter, email, appeal letter)
  • Send out a story once every three weeks that is simply a story about how your ministry is making a difference
  • Post stories and pictures on your website so visitors and others will see that you aren’t just busy, but God is at work transforming lives
  • Produce bulletin inserts that tell the stories of how God has been active and moving in the lives of your members

More info

For more on Outcome Stories, Appendix A of Mike’s book Abundance: Creating a Culture of Generosity (Fortress Press, 2021) is full of them. Abundance is available at Fortress Press, Amazon, and many other booksellers.

  • Rev. Mike Ward, CFRE

    Rev. Mike Ward, CFRE is the fourth partner in the 44-year history of GSB Fundraising. Mike began his relationship with the firm as a client while serving as VP of Advancement for NovusWay Ministries in Arden, NC. Prior to his work at NovusWay, Mike was a parish pastor during two congregational capital campaigns. As a part of the North Carolina Synod, Mike is involved in full-time stewardship ministry. His clients include congregations, camps, seminaries, and social service agencies. He is a popular speaker at conferences in the areas of annual funds, campaign, congregational partnership, major donor development, and more. His first book, Abundance: Creating a Culture of Generosity was published and released by Fortress Press in January, 2020 where it became the publisher's #1 title of 2020. Mike’s previous service on boards includes the ELCA National Church Council and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. In his spare time, Mike is a beekeeper and manages between 12-15 hives per year. While his wife teaches Spanish, Mike’s daughter is in graduate school and his son is in college at NC State.

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