Riffing on StoryDrive

I was about to head out of town for a lacrosse tournament with my oldest son, but felt the nudge to record some of the thoughts in my head and heart before I left, so i did.  Here it is, unedited from June 21, 2018.

StoryDrive was birthed out of a ministry we started called the 3:15 Project.  The 3:15 Project is really all about helping Christians know and share their story. We would see these I AM SECOND videos, we'd see these baptism videos that were being done at some mega church, and we said, "Why wouldn't every Christian get the chance to do that? Why wouldn't we want to give every believer the opportunity to know and tell their story in a way that's reverent and relevant, using the tools of the age; the video cameras and the internet?"

And what we found was, there's a lot of inertia, and a lot of apathy, and a lot of busyness. So Story Drive, it was put on my heart. And it really just started as a simple idea like, "What if we started doing what the American Red Cross does with blood drives, except instead of harvesting blood, we'll go to churches and communities and schools and we'll harvest stories?" Then I realized that less than 5% of eligible blood donors give their blood.

And then I realized, "Gee, I wonder what percentage of eligible Christians, followers of Christ would be willing to give their story?" And so far, in six years, that percentage has been far lower than 5%. And I'd be like, "Why? What are we missing? What are we doing wrong? What are we doing that we ought not to be doing, and what are we not doing that we should be doing?" So StoryDrive's kind of taken on a life of its own.

It's asking the question, "How do we help create momentum in a forward direction, through action, through intentionality, that will help people be intentional about being willing, able and ready to know their story, know it here, know it here, be able to tell their story? And at that moment, or as close to that moment as possible, when the Holy Spirit's moving, how do we make sure that we're willing, able and ready to harvest that story and not just on an iPhone or have someone do a selfie video, but with the same reverence and excellence and in care that we'd put into worship or adoration?" 

So StoryDrive's not only about how do we help move the church in a forward direction by leveraging the power of story, but it also asks, "What are the obstacles and the barriers that are keeping us from sharing our stories and harvesting our stories?" And I'm realizing there's obstacles and barriers in each heart, Whether it's the person in the pew or in the Sunday school class sitting in circles and small groups, or the guy or the girl behind the pulpit.

But there's also obstacles in the church itself, with the management of the church, leadership of the church. Anytime you get an institution or an enterprise, it's hard to change, sometimes it's impossible to change, especially when it's a new idea. What's ironic is, like this isn't a new idea. Wesley did it hundreds of years ago. He'd collect stories and publish them in books, and Paul wrote letters and sent them out. So, this idea that helping people testify to what God's done for them and capturing it and getting it out to the ends of the earth. How can this be a new idea?

I would submit and challenge us to think, this is what the church did in the first century, this is how Christianity spread. Revelation 12:11 says, "We overcome the him (the enemy) by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony." So if we want to overcome the enemy, if we want to take back territory, we've got to be willing, able and ready to tell our story. 

And what good is just telling our story if there's no one there to hear it. With social networks and video platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest (and the list goes on), we've got all these platforms and that literally connect us, not just to the community we know, but the community that they know, and even the communities that they don’t know!

It's like viral word of mouth marketing with the greatest message ever in the history of the world: God loves us. God is real. God can transform your life. So, we're walking this thing out everyday missionally saying, "What can we do to help other people become willing, able and ready to know and tell their story? And what can we do to make sure that even if the local church isn't willing, able and ready to harvest those stories, harvest them, direct them, edit them, get them out there on the internet, that a group of lay people from all different denominations could come together in a community and make sure that we are willing, able and ready to do it?”

And with or without the church, and sometimes in spite of the local church, we're doing what we can as lay people, coming together from all different denomination and walks of life to make sure we're willing, able and ready to harvest those stories in love, of washing their feet, directing those stories, capturing it on film, good video, good audio, and teaching and equipping young people and adults so that they too can become story harvesters.

If people can make a Wednesday night's supper like nobody's business, if people can dribble and coach basketball games and leagues and sell Christmas trees, and all these wonderful things that we get human capital and volunteerism to pull off, if you will, at these local churches, I know, I know without a doubt we can do this with video cameras and iPhones and just basic video production skills. We're not looking to find people that are award-winning video people, we are looking for people that don't mind holding a hammer on a habitat project or hauling lumber or cooking a bunch of spaghetti or barbecue.

We can teach and equip the people to just use best practice skills and create an army of story harvesters. So, you've got like this chicken and the egg thing, either get a bunch of story harvesters and video capacity and competency, create it in hopes that the local church will start equipping and encouraging their people to be ready to share their story in front of a camera, or, and we start a movement of discipleship where we help everyday Christians remove the obstacles and the barriers that are in their head and their heart and their calendar and their priorities, and help them become willing, able and ready to tell their story so that there's this tsunami of testimony, like, are we not going to harvest these things?!

We're not overthinking it, we're just seeing it, and seeing the problems, seeing the opportunity, and we're doing what we can every day to just advance the cause. For six years since we started the ministry, we've been praying, "God, please open the doors to the local church." Whether it's the guy behind the pulpit or the person in the pew, we don't care. It can go top-down, grassroots, bottom-up, but give us some folks with an open mind and open heart, moved by the spirit, that would say, "We ought to be doing this. This clearly could and should be done."

And it's been a slow go because the church doesn't move that fast and the church is largely filled with congregants who are, let's be honest, they're customers, Churches get 90% of their funding from the people in the congregation. Well, by definition, and I don't like talking about the church as a business, but the local church is acting more and more like a business from what I can tell as a 45 year old guy.  The customers are always right. That's the first rule of business. The customer is always right.

So, if 95% of your customers don't want to share their story, they're not willing, they're not able, they're not ready, why in the world would church leadership make it a priority, or even make it a thought? There's so many other things that the congregation wants to do; great worship, great programs, great service, great children's ministry, great Sports ministries. And those are all awesome ways to build community and share the gospel, but the one thing, the one thing that will overcome the enemy is what Jesus did on the cross and the words of our testimony.

And when I read Acts 1:8, it says, "When the spirit comes upon us, we will be witnesses to Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth." The amplified Bible says, "We'll have the power and the efficiency," and I see it. I see, yes, there is a person with the Holy Spirit inside them, they have the ability to witness to what God's done for them, and in 15 minutes and a couple of clicks, that story, that witness could reach the end of the earth and transcend time and space. We have this unlimited historic power and we're hardly even touching it.

The biggest threat to this movement is that church or that church leader that says, "We already do this," to which I reply, "What is 'this'? Is it filming a couple testimonies and sharing them in service? Is it filming a couple testimonies and putting them on Facebook? Or is this an intentional, persistent and pervasive movement, a change in culture, a change in the DNA that says, 'if we're not doing everything we can at all times to help lift up and encourage each other, to become willing, able and ready, to tell our stories with our whole heart ,and capture them on video and send them out as a weapon against the enemy, a weapon to take back culture, a weapon to get God back in the conversation ... “  Personally, I think it's a sin of omission. I think we know we could do it, I think we know we ought to do it, and I think there's just busyness and culture and listening to where congregations want to go instead of where Jesus needs us and asking us to go is a big reason why this movement gets snuffed out before it even gets started.

We had a major breakthrough earlier this summer. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board, they're helping over 3,700 churches in Georgia help their youth pastors, help their students tell their story.

It's an initiative they're doing called, This Is My Story. So we created a little survey, and the survey results are coming in, and the results are heartbreaking, yet exciting. We asked the youth pastors, "What do you think is the reason that more youth don't share their story?" And it wasn't ability. It was a lack of desire and a lack of willingness. And then we asked the youth pastors, "Why do you think your church isn't harvesting more stories on video?" This time it wasn't a lack of desire, it was a lack of time and knowledge and resources.


The American church was given a $114 billion in the single calendar year of 2014, yet most pastors and church leaders that we're serving are telling us they lack the resources to help their people share their story on video. So this all just drives me nuts. So I keep doing some research, and I researched, how are pastors paid? If you're going to change the status quo, let's at least take a hard look at what status quo is. So, how do church pastors get paid? I didn't know what I would find, but the answer didn't surprise me. Church pastors by and large get paid based on the attendance and the size of their church.

So the customers that are giving them money to the church to fund it, and the elders and the leaders that are setting the finances and the budget and the strategy for the financial stewardship of the church, apparently are saying, "Grow the attendance in our church, and that will be the largest single predicting factor of your salary." So we're sending this clear message to church pastors that say, "Grow our church and attendance and size, and that's far, far, far more important than whether the people in the church are willing, able and ready to tell their story or that we harvest those stories and get them to the ends of the earth."

Then the internet marketing consultant egghead in me from my previous life says, "Well, you can't improve what you don't measure. And if you're not measuring it, you're not paying attention to it." So what are the top metrics tracked in churches? Well, people being willing, able, and ready to tell their story didn't make the top 15. I doubt it would make the top 100. And this problem or opportunity is not unique to any one denomination. We've seen this in every denomination we've come across, in churches of all sizes, big or small, contemporary or traditional. 

In 2014 Americans gave the southern Baptist churches in this country $11 billion, and yet the leaders are telling us they don't have the time and the resources. And of course we all know that it's not that they don't have the resources, is that they're choosing to spend those resources in other areas. And we're not judging the churches. We're not here to say, "You should be spending here. You shouldn't be spending there," but clearly, there's a ton of generosity, there's a ton and abundance of capital that is pouring into these churches, and we have no problem as a church spending money on buildings or bricks or carpet or landscaping or mulch.

So if we could just find some people, a few people, that would be willing, able and ready to say, "What if we just started shifting just the smallest amount towards intentionally measuring and helping our people be willing, able and ready to tell their story, and us as a church being willing, able and ready to harvest those stories?" And people will say, "Man, you make it sound so easy, but shifting the money, that'll cause all sorts of internal strife, and I just can't even imagine our next church meeting. People will go through the roof."

And they would because 95% of them do not want to share their own story. But you can take that whole problem off the table and just say, "Hey, our God is big enough and our people are generous enough that we don't have to make an either/or decision. This can be the power of 'and'." If a church leader or a lay leader says, "We need more resources so that we can help our people share the gospel by telling their story and putting it on video," I cannot imagine there is not at least a couple, if not half the congregation might raise their hand and say, "Brother, sister, that is worthy of being funded."

But here's the irony; how much money should it take to help people be willing, able, and ready to tell their story and to have someone be willing, able and ready to film it? I believe the answer is zero because we've all got a testimony and we've all got amazing spiritual leaders in our church, great communicators, great pastors, great shepherds, great iron-sharpens-iron types of guys. We have everything we need in the gifts and talents of the human beings in our church to help people be willing, able and ready to tell their story for $0.  It's just intentional discipleship

Someone may say, "Well, that may be true, but how in the world that we're going to film and edit all this stuff?" Have you seen the video work that your high school kids are putting out on YouTube? They're hype videos, school videos, these news programs. The next generation has the heart, the drive, and the talent, all usually unharnessed, unmobilized and unleveraged to film tons of stories. I have high school kids coming to me saying, "We cannot find a place to get an after school work, study opportunity in video production."

Most of these churches with the bigger budgets are hiring freelancers and contractors and adding staff instead of equipping the high school kids in their own congregations to do this. And I understand why, I'm a videographer, I'm a marketer. As a church communicator, as a marketing person at a church, you can't afford to have poor quality work on potentially a missed deadline when you're trying to get a big strategic video up on your Sunday service.

But this has nothing to do with that. Go ahead and do those things. You're already doing it. A church does a great job at getting strategic videos up in service. I'm talking about the stories that are otherwise never going to be told. The stories that need to be told, the stories that we're commanded to tell you. Yet, there's a stronghold, and it's nobody's fault. The church pastor says, "Hey, we can do this. We've got people at our church that already film video."And what they're really saying is, "Hey, we're able to harvest these stories.  And I say, "But are you ready to harvest the stories? What happens this time next week if your men's ministry leader comes in and your office and says, 'Hey, praise God, I've got 12 men, they want to go public with their faith. They want to share their story on video.'" Well, that media team, those freelancers, those contractors, they can't just snap their fingers and clone themselves, so those stories usually get left on harvested.

So I don't know where this is all heading. These are just the questions that I'm asking myself and I'm looking for answers. I asked God, I said, "God, what do you want me to do?" And he says, "Keep the ideal alive. Keep this idea alive and bear the torch, and be ready to pass the torch to others." So we need people that are willing, able and ready to fund this thing. We need people that are willing and able and ready to have the courage to take their pastor out for coffee and ask him some of the questions that are on your mind after seeing this video.

Ask your church finance committee, "What percentage of our budget are we allocating for helping people share their story on video and getting it out there on the internet?" And then compare that answer to what the church is spending on, what I call consumables; styrofoam, cups, carpet cleaner, toilet paper, all important things, but capturing someone's story one time and letting it spread virally on the internet, transcending time and space; that's infinite ROI.

So how are we going to run our churches like businesses and then leave our ROI brain at the door?  The local church needs funding to be sustainable, but it also needs the brains and the common sense fiscal stewardship that we leave at the office Monday through Friday because we're there on Sunday to get spiritually fed and God knows that's important. But we can do both. Let's help our pastors. Let's help our churches, let's help the next generation. Let's help the Church be willing, able, and ready to tell its story, and willing, able and ready to harvest them and send those stories out to the ends of the Earth for God's glory.

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