How to call people to action with stories in worship

December 1st, 2015

As Creative Director at a large church, I like to tell stories that invite people from the corporate gathering of worship to a next step on the journey of faith. One way to do this is to encourage people to take action. In our worship planning book Taking Flight with Creativity, my co-author Jason Moore and I named a “Desired Outcome” as one of six goals in worship design. The premise is simple: What if each week, worship had a desired outcome, or an invitation for a worshipper to do something as a result of having attended the worship gathering?

Stories of such action, an applied faith if you will, can be told through a Featured Story of the Week. When done well, a Featured Story embodies a worship theme’s concept and gives people a picture of what it looks like when faith is put into action. 

Here's an explanation of the featured story concept.

First, in this four-minute clip I explain the basic premise of a Featured Story to an online class of pastors and church leaders hosted by Northwest Nazarene University in Boise, Idaho. Below the video is a set of steps to do it in your church.

Featured Story of the Week in Worship from Len Wilson on Vimeo.

Here's how to tell a featured story of the week in your worship service.

1. First, name the dominant theme for worship. Most worship services are a compilation of several piddly ideas. I say piddly not because they’re theologically insignificant but because the way the idea is treated is insignificant. In a single, hour-ish long group event, the amount of deep understanding that people can absorb is limited. It’s better to highlight a single idea in multiple ways over the course of an hour than to highlight several ideas.

The need for a single dominant idea is so assumed in the world of TED Talks that it’s not even addressed in most posts about what makes a great TED talk, like this one. Notice how TED people don’t speak or write about your ideas, plural — just your idea, singular.

For more on how to develop a single idea in worship, read Taking Flight With Creativity.

Takeaway: What is the core idea for your worship? This is usually the same as the core idea of the sermon. Write the core worship concept in two or three sentences.

2. Consider an action a person could take to live out the theme. What is something that you would like the congregation to consider for their spiritual growth and development? Something that puts the theme of worship into action — that lives it out?

Consider that in the basic structure of a story, a character is forced into a challenge and must take action. Action verbs indicate energy and a decision. Similarly, what is a decision you want people to make — something specific to do — as a result of experiencing the theme? Note that sometimes, an action may be waiting. It doesn’t always involve movement, but it’s never passive.

Takeaway: Name a life change — a spiritual practice, a meeting, an activity — that you would like to see people make as a result of the theme.

3. Look for a ministry that captures the action. Now, consider the ministries of the church. Is there an active ministry that seeks to help people do the action you’ve named?

One goal as you think of actions is to ask yourself, “What does this theme look like when lived out?” Not what it means theoretically, but what it looks like when applied to our personal lives, to our communities, and to the world?

For example, if your theme is about our brokenness and need for healing, then you might focus on a ministry that provides care and support services.

Takeaway: Try to do this for every week of your worship planning. Map a ministry to each theme. It’s hard to do every Sunday, but strive for two or three opportunities a month.

4. Tell a story from that ministry. In order to help people get a picture of what this action looks like, present it through a narrative. Stories bring theology and doctrine to life. They embody the concept.

For example, ask yourself, what is an image of a disciple? What is an image of community? Stories don’t just illustrate theological concepts. Stories don’t just promote spiritual good and services. Stories paint a picture of a concept, lived.

A warning: Many attempts at storytelling miss the mark because they are trying to sell something. Studies show that nine out of ten people come to church on the arm of a friend. In spiritual matters, relationships are critical and selling limited or even counterproductive. People don’t respond to sales pitches, even if piously presented.

For example, say your big idea for a worship event is a biblical picture of fatherhood. Somewhere in the worship event, tell a story that paints a picture of what biblical fatherhood looks like — not a perfect, Rockwell rendering, but a picture of a man on a journey, earnestly hoping to become a better father, and the positive impact his search is having on his family and those in his care.

All storytelling is at its heart about the action of a changed life.

Takeaway: Look for a story of a person whose life has been changed by the work of the ministry you’ve identified.

3 examples of a featured story in worship

1. The story of a prayer blanket ministry embodies the theme that sometimes it seems as if God is on mute. Even when prayers seem silent, the body of Christ provides community and consolation.

2. A counseling center’s 5k race is built on the idea that people need a spiritual heritage, and that building such a heritage can happen even for people who do not come from a Christian home. This clip embodies a theme from a Mother’s Day worship service on establishing spiritual legacies.

3. A worship theme on the armor of God is a great time to highlight a men’s ministry, and how the regular practice of gathering together strengthens men for a life of faith. This example is doubly effective because it not only connects thematically, but visually, with the imagery of the men’s ministry and the shoot in the blacksmith’s shop aligning with the armor of God imagery from the series.

Do it yourself

Here is a link to a Google spreadsheet showing my strategic planning process: how I try to align themes, find stories, and, over the course of a year, communicate strategic ministry-level initiatives for various ministries in the church. Feel free to link in and use for your own planning.

P.S. Good storytelling will bring interest and requests out of the woodwork. Since it’s not possible to tell every story or promote every ministry activity, ask people, which ones are most important to you? Or, which initiatives bear the most fruit? The conversation invites each ministry area — Support, Men’s Women’s, Mission, Students, Discipleship, etc. — to think strategically about what they’re doing and focus energy on telling two or three stories a year that highlight the best that ministry has to offer.

Len Wilson is the author of Think Like a 5 Year Old: Reclaim Your Wonder & Create Great Things from Abingdon Press. He blogs at

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