The Value of Teaching Story Structure to Understand the Gospel

Like so many of us who use the spoken and/or written word to make a living, storyteller Kendall Haven desired to find the most effective way to communicate his message. He knew by experience that telling certain kinds of stories seemed to do the trick.

But there were two problems.

First, the range of definitions people assign to the word “story” cannot not consistently predict or explain its power to entertain, persuade, and make something stick.

Second, there is now an extensive body of both quantitive and qualitative research on the science of story; so extensive, in fact, that familiarizing oneself with it requires a huge effort.

So what did Haven do?

He read more than 150 research studies on the use of stories and storytelling. One-third of these were literature reviews that reported on the research and writings of more than 1000 others. Haven also gathered research evidence from his own audiences of millions, along with anecdotal evidence from over 100 other professional storytellers like him, as well as from 1800 others whose jobs require them to make extensive use of story.

Here are two things Haven found (among lots of others):

First, there is a better definition of “story.” Haven’s definition:

“A detailed, character-based narration of a character’s struggles to overcome obstacles and reach an important goal.”

Other definitions fail to account for the elements that make a story more than just telling something that happened, or that you might imagine happening. For example, “I saw my neighbor walking her dog this morning” is a narration of events, but it is not a story, not in the way that we mean the word when we talk about an effective form of communication.

Second, training people to understand and recognize story structure improves their ability not just to comprehend and process stories, but also to get the gist and logic of other types of communication.

The Gospel Story-arc Project builds on numerous findings in research on story and storytelling. The two mentioned here stand out, because Gospel Story-arc messaging reflects the elements of story contained in Haven’s definition, and because an awareness of the structure of Gospel Story-arc messaging contributes to its power to more effectively communicate the gospel.

The two also explain why we are so driven to help others understand what’s at stake as we keep on telling more of the story of who Jesus is, of who we are, of what Jesus has done, and of what everyone should do in response.

Note: "Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story" by Kendall Haven 

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Randal Gilmore