Making the Audience the Hero of Your Story
A Heroic Story
Once upon a time there lived a normal guy in a normal town. Then one day, things weren’t so normal anymore. There was an evil villain that threatened the town. Or maybe it was a natural disaster. Or an army of robots.
Whatever happened, it was clear that the normal guy had to do something to save his way of life.
Before he could start his epic adventure, the normal guy met a wise, old mentor. He was probably a wizard. Or quite possibly a short, green alien. The important thing is the mentor helped train the normal guy into a real hero.
Thus prepared, the hero stepped confidently into the adventure. He faced many trials, braved many dangers and made a few friends along the way for the purposes of comic relief.
Right before he could face the evil villain, the hero suffered a setback. He got lost, or wounded, or maybe both. As luck would have it, that setback was just the thing the hero needed to find the courage he was looking for all along. He bounced back and faced his foe in one final, climactic scene.
Victorious, the hero eventually returns to the once-normal town to find himself a changed man. The trials and challenges he endured along the way transformed him into something greater than he ever could have been before. The end.
The Hero’s Journey
Does that story sound slightly familiar? Even though it’s completely made up and ridiculous, it probably has traces of other stories you’ve heard. That’s not a coincidence. That’s because it follows a pattern called “The Hero’s Journey.”
American mythologist Joseph Campbell first coined this term back in 1949 in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell recognized that most mythological stories shared many characteristics. He boiled these similarities down to a few basic ideas that comprise this heroic framework.
The Hero’s Journey hinges on a seemingly normal hero being thrust into a series of conflicts and being guided by a wise mentor. The hero almost always triumphs and returns transformed by the experience. It all adds up to a story we can all understand and relate to.
Make Your Audience The Hero
This matters to the church because The Hero’s Journey teaches us how to tell better stories. Often when storytelling, churches tend to place themselves in the role of the hero. It’s always easier to see the story from your own perspective.
However, if we want our audience to relate to the stories we tell, we should make them the hero instead. Do this by focusing on someone similar to the audience you want to speak to. This could be a long-time church member, a volunteer or a potential new guest.
Tell the story from their point of view. What conflicts arise in their lives? What tensions do they have to face? What normal town do they have to leave in order to address these challenges? When someone sees themselves in the shoes of the story’s hero, they immediately connect.
Set Your Church As The Mentor
So where does this leave the church? If we are no longer the hero of the story, who are we? The church is better suited of playing the role of the hero’s mentor. We are the ones helping to show our audience the right next steps toward vanquishing their challenges.
By making this subtle but important shift, church leaders can connect with an audience while demonstrating the value of the church. And I don’t have to tell you that the resolution the mentor should be pointing all heroes to is Christ.
In the stories you tell, show how your church or a specific ministry guided an everyday hero toward the end of their journey. This places the church into the context of the trusted advisor.
Practical Examples of Using The Hero’s Journey
Here are some examples of stories you can tell of heroes within your church. There are endless stories that you can tell within your church, but these are a few places to start.
- Testimonials from those who recently dedicated their lives to Christ
- Volunteers who have helped themselves by helping others
- Families who were impacted because of the church’s local missions
- Kids whose lives were changed in the children’s ministry
- Tithers who transformed their finances by giving first to God
- Small group leaders who found their true leadership potential
Any church with people is a church full of stories. Everyone within your community has a story to tell. And they should be the hero of their own story. Your church can be a mentor within each tale—a helpful guide that leads people to the appropriate resolution.
The Original Storyteller
I care so deeply about storytelling and helping churches tell their stories better. That’s why I wrote a book called The Original Storyteller. It’s a 30-day storytelling guide for church leaders.
Each day features a storytelling principle, an example of a story using that principle, ties that story back to Scripture, then gives the reader an action step on how to put what they learned to use.
The Hero’s Journey is just one of these 30 principles. There are so many more elements of storytelling to explore and unpack. Join me in telling better stories within the church.
What stories are you telling at your church? How can you become a mentor in the stories of your church’s heroes?