Everybody loves a good story. Stories of faith engage listeners differently than a list of facts or good ideas. When people share their faith journey with others, it offers powerful encouragement to both the storyteller and the recipient. I’ve been there too. We’re in this together. Parishes that limit their stewardship discussions to theological discussion and ignore the personal connection will have a difficult time fully engaging everyone. Finding and telling the right story is possible for every parish.
FIND THE RIGHT CANDIDATE
If you ask various parish leaders, good candidates for such a task will usually be clear. Some will jump at the chance! Others will be apprehensive and need encouragement. Some will express fear and should be given more time before sharing publicly. The sharing of one’s faith journey should be an uplifting exercise for the writer and an encouragement to the reader. Anyone who doesn’t agree freely to write about himself or herself should be respected.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Once you’ve determined who will write, make sure you’re asking the right questions. Invite the writers to share how parish events or ministries have affected their lives in a specific way. For example:
- How did the parish retreat help you grow in your faith?
- You’ve been volunteering for the soup kitchen for a long time. What effect has that had on you?
- How have you changed over the years as a result of being a lector at Mass?
If the crux of someone’s story lies outside of parish life, ask them to hone in on the main story. For example:
- How has battling cancer tested and strengthened your faith?
- How has your relationship with God changed as a result of your time in the military?
- What have you learned about your family through the experience of adoption?
SHARE THE RIGHT WAY
When it comes to the actual writing, the key to an effective testimony is economy of words. A piece that offers too much information takes too long to read. A writer over-sharing can have the opposite of the desired effect.
Because testimonies can be so powerful and moving, caution must be exercised. A person’s story must be respected, but a good editor has the responsibility to edit something that might be hurtful or offensive to others. The audience for testimonials can be very diverse. All possibilities of negative reaction should be taken into account. This is usually not a problem, but sometimes a person will say something that does not enrich the community and can have a negative effect.
Any stewardship campaign or process of increasing engagement can be enriched by the story of a lay witness. Offering these testimonies in your bulletin or parish newsletter can reach everyone on your mailing list, including those who are homebound or those who have drifted away from regular Mass attendance. Personal testimonies invite everyone to discover faithful stewardship as a matter that relates not to their wallet, but to their hearts.
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World 41)