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The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie brings a whole set of unique experiences, but through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time.

Steven Spielberg
I like narrative storytelling as being part of a tradition, a folk tradition.

Bruce Springsteen
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Processed Foods Are Killing the Local Church…

Story is core to the human condition. We use story to connect with family, friends, and even strangers. Story drives our entertainment, leads our culture, and has embedded itself in nearly every facet of our lives.


We’re all familiar with the amazing stories we hear from celebrities, major brands, sports teams, musical artists, movies & TV, video games, and so much more. But there’s one important entity missing from that list: the church.

So why isn’t the church known for story?

When the Industrial Revolution began, the church was at its peak. Then came the advent of the modern assembly line. Its repetitive, automated sequences were a brilliant way to bring so many modern conveniences to the world.

As the collective mindset evolved, we started applying the same automation principles to people. Imagine what we could accomplish if we created systems and processes for every stage of life!


  • Our education system from preschool through college
  • The modern workforce
  • The church


The problem is, this approach ignores the individuality of each person sent “down the line” and is not geared to adapt to deviations from the prescribed process. Let’s look at a few ways assembly line culture impacts the church’s ability to lead today’s culture.

1) The Church Has Over-Systemized the Faith Journey

Our definition of stewardship has been skewed into the idea that an assembly line is the most effective way to produce something.

Case in point, many churches prescribe an automated spiritual formation path that turns out fully-devoted followers of Christ at age 18:

  • We come together weekly to worship
  • We batch our kids by age
  • The kids are “moved down the line” and hit every milestone along the way
  • They decide to follow Jesus as a direct result of the system
  • As young adults, they integrate seamlessly into church culture


Theoretically, it’s foolproof: implement this set of steps, and you’ll get the same end result, every time. It’s efficient, it’s predictable, and it feels safe. And clearly, it must be the best process for churches because it’s the most efficient way to make disciples.

To that end, a McDonald’s hamburger must be the best burger in the world. After all, they’re the most efficient burger chain… right?

2) The Church Has Forgotten How to Tell Its Story

Christians seem to struggle with putting the church’s story into practice themselves and replicating it to others.

That’s because the assembly line system in the church:

  • Is devoid of creativity
  • Discourages divergent thinking
  • Demands a reproducible and repeatable process, every time


By virtue of this process, church leaders, staff, and attendees have become cogs in the machine who find it difficult to function outside their understood roles. For example, most church members simply depend on the senior pastor to tell the church’s story at a designated time each week. But did you realize the role of the senior pastor in the church is only a little over 100 years old?

If Walt Disney had been the only person at the Walt Disney Company to effectively tell their stories to the world, the media giant would have fizzled out long before it became a household name. Instead, Walt championed a big idea and ethos, lived that out in different expressions with his team and designed environments that helped communicate the story.

3) The Church Has Become a Follower of Culture

Until the Industrial Revolution, the church was a cultural leader for centuries in the arts, technology, and science.

The modern printing press that printed the Gutenberg Bible was an invention of the church. But we’ve allowed history to be rewritten. We’ve lost touch with our creativity and individuality. We have stopped intentionally and strategically thinking through our story and how it impacts our brand and culture. It’s time to break the cycle and become cultural trailblazers again.

If we get so caught up in the systems and processes, we forget the “why” of our work and the story gets suffocated.


What Can You Do Right Now to Reduce the Harmful Preservatives in Your Church Story?

It’s no accident that the first verse of the Bible is about creativity. We’re created in the likeness of our Creator; therefore, we’re creative beings. Let’s reconnect with the essence of God to find ourselves again.

The first steps to shutting down the assembly lines in our church culture are to:

  • Define who you are and what you stand for
  • Revisit your “why”
  • Appoint “champions” who will be good stewards of your story
  • Help the champions of your story to pass it on


Instead of having a stringent, one-size-fits-all system or policy governing the movements of the body, build in frameworks, agile systems, and supporting story cues that people can carry on their own.

Don’t let assembly line processes and cheap story substitutes dictate your progress (or lack thereof).

Dig deep to find your story, pass it down from generation to generation, and share it with the world.

*Originally posted here.

Media Contact

Mel McGowan
P: 949.892.7004

PlainJoe is a multi-disciplined design studio connecting story across 3 dimensions:

  • Spatial Storytelling: Architecture & Environments
  • Digital Storytelling: Interactive Media & Web
  • Strategic Storytelling: Brand & Identity