Every one of us has been hard-wired to experience life through stories. We tell stories. We live in stories. We are stories. We intrinsically know what the scenes look like, even if we can’t speak the language of story.
A “story arch” provides the basic scenes and movements to these stories.
The first scene usually begins with something normal, introductory, and even mundane. Our world is normal or fine or happy.
But in the second scene, some sort of conflict is introduced. Whatever the conflict may be, it takes us out of our normal or fine or happy world. It disrupts and threatens that world.
In the third scene, there’s a resolve. Not a cheesy resolve where everything turns out better than before. Rather there’s a movement toward redemption. The conflict may not have been entirely overcome, but it no longer holds the power over our story in the way it once did.
So I got to thinking…
What might a worship service look like if we employed a basic story arch? What if we took a topic, or a doctrine, or a series of grand themes from the Bible and created a story arc to most effectively communicate these things?
That might be really cool. More importantly, it would stay with our people longer than any three-point sermon. Why? Because we’re not hard-wired for three bullet points.
We’re hard-wired for story.
First, we need to identify WHEN we begin unfolding the story. From the beginning of the service, or in the middle somewhere?
Second, we need to identify WHAT story we want to tell. Is it a Scripture passage? A doctrine? A topic?
Third, we’ll need to develop the basic storyline for the worship service.
So let’s develop a story arch for a worship service that addresses the important issue of granting forgiveness to those who’ve hurt us.
Topic: Granting Forgiveness
The Introductions- Our task here is to simply introduce the concept of forgiveness. Keep it safe. Keep it general. Make people smile. What if a middle-age woman walks onto the stage and starts reading Ephesians 4:31-32 - "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
And then perhaps she looks at the congregation and says something like, "But it's never really that easy, is it?" Or if you want more of an edge to her comment, she might say something like, "Not sure what world they're living in, but it's not mine."
The Conflict - What if, as soon as the woman makes her comment, you play a video that tells the story of someone who chooses to forgive, but where it does NOT go as he/she hoped? Or maybe a song about trying to grant forgiveness when the offending person doesn't care. The important thing here is to allow people to SIT in a feeling of conflict WITHOUT resolving it. We want to hurry to a resolve, but our lives just don't work that way, and our people already know that.
The Turn Toward Redemption - This is, most likely, where a sermon begins. There is no introduction of the topic, because you're ALREADY in the middle of a story. The preacher simply begins by saying something like, "Granting forgiveness may indeed be the most difficult thing any of us ever do." And the sermon moves through the next few minutes, pushing towards hope. Many pastors will want to go back and retell the Introduction and the Conflict, so you'll really need to be aware that you're simply carrying a story forward that began 10 minutes prior.
Closing - As you close your services, make it meaningful. I always like to ask people to do one thing in the service (i.e. pray for someone who you've offended, or who has offended you), and then one thing during the coming week (i.e. read the Ephesians passage every morning before your day gets too crazy).
In my experience, any move toward telling more great and compelling stories is a move in the right direction. And the greatest thing about this model is that you don't have to change your entire worship service to experience the benefits. Start small, and see what happens.
And our Team would LOVE to know how this works in your unique setting.