You have likely heard that storytelling or personal testimonies are an effective way to evangelize others. Have you ever wondered why that’s true? There is a scientific explanation. When we hear a story that resonates with us, our levels of oxytocin — which boosts our feelings of trust, compassion, and empathy — increase, so stories have a unique ability to grab our attention and build connections. Studies have shown that when listening to a well-told story, the exact same areas of the brain light up on an MRI in both the storyteller and listener; when you hear a well-told story, your brain reacts as if you are experiencing it yourself .
You never see a child get ready for bed faster than when you offer to tell him or her a story. When kids have this to look forward to, their eyes light up, they quickly brush their teeth and get changed into their pajamas. Stories are magical, both to children and adults! Ask any speaker or teacher – the easiest way to get a room’s attention is to open with, “I want to tell you a story.” People stop talking and pay attention.
We tell stories all the time. It takes no special training or talent. This is good news for parishes who are looking for simple ways to broaden and strengthen their evangelization efforts! The personal testimonies of your parishioners are compelling ways both to attract newcomers and to strengthen the faith of those who are already engaged in the parish community. These stories can arouse interest, stir up questions, create an increased desire for God, and provide a platform to invite listeners to consider taking the next step in their faith life. A story doesn’t have to be a big moment, and it doesn’t have to be perfect — there is real beauty and authenticity in the fact that all people are “in process” and that we are all on the journey of faith together.
This summer, as you finalize the plans for programs, activities, and ministries for the upcoming year, consider intentionally incorporating personal testimonies into what you’re already doing. Help those who walk through the doors of your parish or those who visit your website or social media pages see that God is alive and well and at work in the day-to-day lives of the people in your faith community.
Here are some opportunities to start incorporating personal testimonies:
- Encourage someone whose faith life has grown as a result of a small group or program speak once per month at the end of Mass
- Begin a marriage prep or baptismal prep course with testimony from a couple who witnesses the importance of Christ in their marriage and home
- Have someone who was received into the Church last year speak on that impact in their life as you begin RCIA
- Introduce a family whose faith life has grown since setting Christ at the center at the beginning of Religious Ed parent meetings
- Begin Youth Ministry gatherings with a high school or college-aged person sharing about the difference Jesus has made in their lives
- At staff, council, and commission meetings, have someone share each week how he/she lived the Gospel that week
- Invite someone whose faith has grown as a result of their liturgical ministry at Mass to speak at lector, eucharistic minister, or altar server trainings
- Ask children in classrooms to share how God has been active in their lives each week
- Have a former student speak about embracing their faith life at a school assembly
- Feature an individual in the bulletin who wants to share a story of conversion or growth
- Include in a retreat or professional development day an individual who has had a conversion to Christ
- Following service work or a mission trip, invite participants to share how they saw God in the faces of those they served
- Share video testimonies of those who have encountered Christ through your community on your social media and website
As Archbishop Vigneron writes, “Personal testimony has an indispensable role in evangelization. Testimony has a unique power to touch hearts, since it is almost impossible to ignore the witness of someone who has encountered Jesus personally and whose life has been transformed by him.” ( UTG, Marker 2.3 ) Sometimes parishioners may need a bit of encouragement to share how their lives have been transformed by Jesus, and it’s important to remind them that we never know how God will use something we say to inspire another person. Let the personal testimonies of your parishioners be the catalyst to open more hearts to God and to continue to unleash the Gospel in your parish community.