On connecting meaning in our stories for our community

We are part of the best story there is. So how do we cast a compelling vision for our community and connect with the people – even those who don’t believe as we do – in a way that excites them, assures them we care, and connects our story to theirs in a way that shows them the depth of meaning THE story can bring to their lives!?

We are all storytellers, and we are all part of one grand story.

Within this grand story are nearly infinite other stories we could tell at any time.

Jesus was a master storyteller.

My father is an expert storyteller.

I tend to be a bit of a storyteller, myself, but I wouldn’t say I’m “expert” material yet. However, that’s pretty much what the existence of this blog is about. One long and wandering story. One I’m writing down as I go. One I’m hoping to gain clarity on as I write.

Our communities we are a part of are a story. Hundreds of thousands of stories, making up one collective story – much like the gospel and the church.

However, our communities depend on us. You and me.

We have to help shape the story and make it meaningful.

We have to bring clarity to it by casting a vision for it – perhaps multiple visions in different regards. We of course should have a grand vision that makes all other pale in comparison, but we also need smaller scale, appealing visions that affect the everyday lives of the people we’re trying to reach.

These should appeal to them and their stories  – even to people apart from Christ and any connection to our spiritual beliefs on what matters and why we exist.

I do believe this is possible.

The Story In and For Our Communities

So I wonder often, “How do we do this!?”

How do we cast such compelling visions for our communities that they see value in it so much so that they want to be a part of it – even if from a different worldview.

Obviously, it has to connect to them where they are and in what they believe to be valuable already.

You can’t begin to tell a story without understanding why that story should matter for the people you want to serve.
– Bernadette Jiwa

Bernadette Jiwa is an author, speaker and branding consultant from Australia. She wrote a few books on business and marketing, and this quote is one of several excellent points from a podcast on Copyblogger.com in which Demian Farnworth interviews her about, really, doing work that matters.

It’s definitely worth a listen! However, I’m going to excerpt quite a few thoughts from it here (and hope they don’t get mad at me for it).

To plagiarizingly steal some words straight from their show notes:

Bernadette: And that’s what I think we’ve started believing marketing is. This ‘Mad Men’ thing where we put some kind of shine on whatever it is we do, and my view is that we don’t need better marketing, we need better products.

We need more trustworthy leaders. We need people who want to make a difference to the people they serve. And those businesses are the ones that are thriving now.

Demian: So it’s not a love story about marketing, or falling in love with marketing. It’s a love story about falling in love with the customer?

Bernadette: For sure. That’s exactly it. You nailed it.

I couldn’t have said it better. These are two business marketers and consultants, talking about how to connect the story of your organization to the story of your customer’s life. See some parallels, here?

They continue:

Bernadette: I think what makes a meaningful business story is understanding. Going back to understanding the customer. In my books I talk about the distinction between storytelling as a narrative, and storytelling being something also that we do every day, in everything we do.

So our logo’s part of the story. Our staff are part of the story. Our uniforms. It’s all theater. So if you’re going to Starbucks, it’s not just the coffee that’s the story. It’s not just the music, or the seating, or the lighting. And their coffee, and their Instagram, and all of those great things.

It’s everything that goes together to make up that story and changes how the customer feels, creates meaning for the customer, and what they believe.

So if you think of traditional storytelling, it was all about creating, passing valuable lessons on, but it was also about making meaning and helping us to belong in a culture. So that’s the opportunity for brands in businesses: How do we make meaning for the people we want to serve for our tribe of people?

Again the importance of understanding where our communities and our audience is coming from. In a very real sense, the church has customers. We have a person whom we’re trying to “sell” and persuade to buy into something.

Everything we are, what we say, what we wear, what we do, the environment we create, it connects our story to their story… or doesn’t. It “creates meaning” for them and what they believe, or doesn’t.

They continue:

Demian: So would is it fair to say that some people, though, come with a story and clearly they’re not on the same wave length with the customer? And if that’s true, what’s the mistake that people in businesses are making when they do that?

Bernadette: The mistake they’re making is they’re trying to change the customer instead of understanding the customer.

You create value by recognizing the customer’s worldview, and then saying “Well, how does what we do intersect with that worldview, and how do we create value there?” Instead of saying, “How can we change?” You know, like Don Draper might have done, “How can we change what people believe about us?” That’s much harder.

Demian: It costs a lot more money to get that done too, right?

Bernadette: It’s a lot easier to find the people who believe what you believe and then to talk to those people, like you guys do at Copyblogger.

Demian: Right. Exactly. It’s a lot easier to find the parade and get in front of it than to go against it.

Bernadette: I like that.

Amazing insights, right?

I happen to know Demian’s beliefs and that he does approach life from a Christian worldview, but still, the parallels with in this conversation with issues we face in the Church are enormous aren’t they?

Creating Value and Casting Vision

So what do we do? What can we do?

How do we begin to communicate and do work in a way that matters to our communities? Do we even believe we can?

I want to steal one last thing from their show notes. This is from the text they wrote to entice me into listening to the show with Bernadette and Demian discussing meaning in our stories.

“Then there are the other mornings …

Mornings where you roll over and eye the clock. The alarm will sound within minutes, but you have no desire to get out of bed. It has been a long week — and it’s only Tuesday.

On these days — which may turn into months or even years — you hate what you do and feel like you don’t matter. That’s a terrible feeling, and you need someone to come along and tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.”

How many people live like this in our communities, all around us?

I fear it’s most of them.

Sure there are many comforts that money can bring and very few people show this even if they don’t have money, but I think that deep down this is most people, every day.

And, we are the people most equipped to come along and tell them it doesn’t have to be that way!

We have the greatest message for our community.

We can tell them they are a story that matters within the grand and infinite story that is. That just IS.

But, we have to know why it matters to the people we want to serve.

We have to believe it. We have to know it thoroughly. We have to internalize it to the point that this is what excites us to get out of bed with overwhelming peace and confidence in our existence.

Only then will we know why it should matter to the people we want to serve. Only then, will we actually be able to serve them.

It’s amazing to me that so many others, apart from Christ, have such robust, dynamic, and compelling visions for their communities.

I know people and groups in my current community that have awesome desires for our city. For example, one group wants to see our city become the nation’s number one place for healthy people who eat healthy food in a self-sustaining way.

What!? That’s a crazy awesome vision!

They know why it matters to them, they know why it should matter to others. And they have a vision in which they can begin to connect the meaning in their stories to others.

They are seeking to give that meaning to others, and they’re getting it done.

I don’t know Bernadette’s spiritual beliefs at all, but I’m amazed at how many people in the business marketing world understand that we all (individuals and organizations) have a story and people want to connect their story to our’s and find mutual meanings with them – and maybe even new meanings!

Meanwhile, the church can be so out of touch with this.

We’re not tapping into their meanings within their individual journeys, and we’re not casting a greater vision for the collective story. At least not one that can connect with their current meaning and paradigms they live in.

We need to do more thinking on why our story matters to the people we want to serve. Not just why it SHOULD matter as we sit and say so, but why it DOES matter right now.

We can then begin connecting that with others and casting a greater vision.

When Bernadette said, “It’s much easier to find the people that think like you, and talk to them” rather than “trying to change the way they think” she wasn’t talking about the equivalent of finding other “Christians” or people who “believe in God”.

That’d be like a business finding their already-customers and trying to get them to buy the same thing they already have, again!

Rather, she was talking about finding the people who’s interests overlap yours enough, in any regard, that you can begin intersecting with their stories.

So whether that’s music, art, healthy food, fitness, new sidewalks in the neighborhood, safer schools, or any countless other issues and topics that already matter to the people of your community, “find a parade and get in front of it.” 

Watch the stories connect and evolve as deeper meanings are found by us all!


P.S. There are many other gold nuggets in the podcast referenced here by Copyblogger.com. Listen to the whole thing if you wish:

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