Telling the Stories of Changed Lives

August 1st, 2015

This article is an excerpt from Scott’s upcoming book Generosity Rising: Lead a Stewardship Revolution in Your Church (Abingdon Press, March 2016).

I’ll always remember a conversation I had over breakfast with my friend Steve. Steve had been a faithful giver to his church, but he told me during this particular breakfast that he was beginning to question giving his tithe to the church because he did not see lives being changed. He said he did not see evidence of real transformation of peoples’ lives in his church and could no longer just assume it was happening. He went on to contrast that with what he saw in other nonprofit organizations, where the examples of change and improvement were communicated constantly and in compelling ways. I’m pretty sure that many lives had been changed in Steve’s church, but no one was telling the story. In Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, I found an interesting article entitled “Why I Won’t Give to Your Church.” Robert Jewe begins his open letter to churches with the following line: “I am a 23-year old who refuses to give to your church.” He then continues:

"Where exactly is our money going? Is it helping others? Or is it being spent on elaborate Christmas pageants? Are you building the kingdom? Or are you building your kingdom? . . . What are you doing in your community? Are you feeding and clothing the homeless? Are you hosting support groups for addicts? Are you finding childcare for single parents? These are things my generation respects. We want to help the people around us. You’ll win us over if you do the same."

The second sentence in this letter is perhaps the most important one: “Is it helping others?” Most churches do help others, and lives are being changed. But no one tells the story. During a presentation on vision at a local church a participant said, “Here is our newsletter. It is well written, in fact, beautifully put together, but we tell no story of change or transformation. We talk about the upcoming sermon series and our upcoming events but nothing about how our church changes lives.”

One of my all-time favorite stories is the story of the golden Buddha of Bangkok. When the Burmese were about to attack Bangkok, the monks took their prized possession, a solid-gold Buddha, and covered the priceless statue in mud and plaster. Tragically, all of the monks were killed and there was no one left to share the golden statue. This priceless treasure was lost, overlooked as a heap of mud and plaster. How many of our churches allow their priceless stories of changed lives to become obscured with details of the church’s busyness rather than intentionally letting their changed-life stories shine? We talk and talk about our activities, meetings, and opportunities to serve, but how often do we talk about—or demonstrate—what happens as a result of all that ministry? When we fail to tell our story, people like Steve stop giving. No matter where your church is, no matter its size or social context, you have multiple opportunities to share your stories of change and transformation. And as an aside, if you can’t come up with any, you should put a for-sale sign in front of your church.

Suggestions for Telling Your Story

If, like most churches, you are not effectively telling your story, here are some practical suggestions.


Every staff meeting and every leadership meeting should have time on the agenda for sharing stories of change and transformation. One of my finance chairs now deliberately begins every meeting with stories of ministry, change, and transformation instead of looking at the balance sheet. He will tell you people actually look forward to their meetings! Can you imagine a finance meeting that people actually look forward to attending? One senior pastor said the sharing of stories completely changed staff morale and brought staff together in ways never before seen.


  • Do we include time at meetings to share our church’s stories of transformation?
  • What would it take for us to make this a part of our meetings?


Look at every communication piece your church has produced over the last six months and ask the following question: How often are we telling stories? How can we use our newsletter, our web page, our Facebook page, our Twitter account, and our all-church e-mails to tell stories?


  • Do we intentionally include our stories of change in every means of communication?
  • What would it take for us to begin using every opportunity to communicate those stories?


Use video clips and other creative ideas to give people opportunities during worship to tell the story of how God changed their lives. A development office for a university told me he would die to have a chance to bring all of his donors together once a week and hear students and former students tell their stories. We have the opportunity. Why don’t we use it?


  • Do we use media, music, visual imagery, and other creative expressions to tell and show what has happened as a result of our ministry?
  • What would it look like for us to begin sharing stories in these ways during weekly worship?


At least once a year have a major celebration of ministry and changed lives. Consider something like cardboard testimonies. There are many different creative ways to present your stories of transformation at a celebratory gathering. Tap the creativity of your congregation, and see what you can come up with together. Cardboard testimonies can be done in many different ways—you don’t even have to use cardboard!—so it’s a good concept to use as your starting point. If you have never heard of cardboard testimonies, Google it. In Bounty there is an extensive discussion of how to effectively use cardboard testimonies in your church.(1) You can also find examples of cardboard testimonies on my website,

This sort of storytelling at a gathering of your congregation can make a tremendous impact. I’ll share just one example:

During a recent capital campaign, a potential major donor made it very clear she was not going to participate in any meaningful way. She would not attend any of the campaign meetings, and she would not pledge. Then something happened: her church used cardboard testimonies during the campaign. When the service was over, she shook the pastor’s hand and said, “That was the most meaningful service I have ever witnessed. You need to show the video of those testimonies tonight at the campaign meeting, and I will be there.” Of course they showed the video, she was present, and a significant gift was made. The mud and plaster had been chipped away and the glorious, priceless, golden statue of change and transformation was there for all to see.

Tell your story, tell God’s story, and the flickering flame of a revolution of generosity will begin to burn bright in your congregation.

1. Kristine Miller and Scott McKenzie, Bounty: Ten Ways to Increase Giving at Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 2013), ch. 7.

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