The Power of Narrative

Everyone has a finite amount of attention. We can only focus on one thing at a time, and often that “one thing” is constantly changing.

A couple years back I began to pay closer attention at what most captured the attention of preteens during our Sunday morning gatherings at Fifty6. While they enjoy drawing and games and competition of any sort, one thing consistently focused the entire room, capturing everyone’s attention, leaving pauses of silence clear enough to hear a pin drop (which is a rare thing in a room full of this many people!).

What kept their ever fleeting focus so finely tuned in? What captured their attention in a way that it didn’t dare deviate to anything else? It was the power of narrative.

It is easy to stand up and talk and lose people. As I give my commentary about scripture or whatever the theme or topic of the day is, they notice everything except the exceptionally profound words I think I am saying. Talking about the story is too easy. And it is too easy to tune out.

But when everything is a story – simply tell the story rather than telling about the story – their attention is focused.

I have seen it happen as we told the story of Paul over six weeks (starting with the line “He was standing in a room full of angry men who wanted to kill him.”).

I have heard a single sniff in a crowd of over a hundred as we read the classic story Bridge to Terabithia, connecting this story about identity, belonging, and mission with the identity, belonging, and mission we find in Jesus as his command to love God and love others.

I have watched a heckling crowd grow eerily silent as a character in costume told their flashback in a fifteen minute monologue.

I have seen the power of narrative. And I have seen it capture the attention of my preteens.

Narrative is the next buzz word. But rather than simply incorporating it into our vocabulary and thinking we’re doing it right, we need to actually learn to tell stories better. (Maybe your next conference should be a storytelling conference rather than another student ministry or children’s ministry conference.) What’s the tension? What’s the hook? Capture my emotions, draw me into the world found within words. Unleash the power of narrative.