Bible Storying in America, Part 1: An Overview

(Editor’s note: This is the first of a 3-part article on Bible storying. Read Part 2 and Part 3.)

Gaining Perspective
The entire Bible is available in hundreds of languages in print, audio, and Internet downloads. New projects are underway to put the entire Bible onto movies. Condensed versions of the entire Bible already exist as God’s Story (animated art) and The Hope (using storytellers).

Jesus did not address the crowds unless he used parables (Mark 4:31-32). Church leaders have used biblical narratives in sermons and Bible studies for centuries. The melodic preaching found in black churches and mountain preaching predate the 1800s.

Christian movies are loved for their depictions of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Hymnody captures and conveys biblical doctrine. Poets, artists, sculptors, choreographers, and playwrights have contextualized biblical truths in each generation, bringing Bible stories alive while influencing the spiritual climate for kingdom purposes.

Yet kingdom advance is statistically on the decline. Americans experience moral decay instead of spiritual transformation. Vast pockets of lostness still exist, despite estimates that one out of four people in the United States are born-again followers of Jesus. Why are disciples not multiplying? The vast majority of those who identify themselves as Christians in America are not able to make disciples as Jesus commanded in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

And why is orality seen as something new? First-century believers had very low literacy rates (perhaps as high as ninety percent), yet the gospel advanced (Acts 9:31). Are those who genuinely seek to make disciples of all peoples in America actually making disciples?

Many Churches Today
Examine what is happening in many churches. Sermons are of the highest literate formats possible: fill-in-the-blank sermons; intense expositions of not only single verses, but word-by-word analysis in the pulpit; and overhead projection that provides outlines and pithy quotes sometimes intermingled with video roll-ins that reinforce the worship theme of the day.

In our Sunday School classes (for churches that still have them), we often find quarterlies tucked in Bibles, workbooks, and learning environments that, despite the occasional poster, have the austerity of sterile hospital wards.

Beyond the superficial appearances, the Sunday School teacher is a mini-version of the pastor. He or she gives a lecture. People listen, but passively. They read verses when called upon, but many do not comprehend what is being read. Yet the lecture drones on. And because of budget shortfalls, many churches increasingly cut back on efforts at making disciples among adults. 

Contrast this to what is underway in children’s areas. Because teachers engage young minds, the learning environments are often bright and filled with music, crafts, well-told Bible stories, teaching pictures, and wall decorations that interpret desired themes for a month or quarter. Somehow between childhood and adulthood, an incredible learning gap has emerged.

In February 2010, I led a storying workshop in Montreal. I tore pages out of a novel and gave it to the sixty people attending and asked them to tell me what they thought the book was about based on that single page. Nobody got it right. Yet Sunday after Sunday we do the same thing in our churches. We may not physically tear out pages, but we focus only on small biblical snippets to make our own themes.

Those who identify themselves as Christians are not being discipled in the manner they prefer, so whatever efforts are tried, simply do not stick. The result is that many Christians are making up their own doctrine instead of embracing a biblical worldview. There is a learning gap based on learning preferences.

In August 2008, the Barna Group reported that four out of ten people who professed to be Christian said that Satan does not exist, but merely represents evil. This same group indicated that they agreed with a statement that Jesus sinned during his earthly ministry. When it came to the Holy Spirit, more than half (fifty-eight percent) said that the Holy Spirit was not real. One-third of all Christians in America, who indicate that they believe the Bible is totally accurate in its principles, say that the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon are based on the same spiritual truths.1

Millions who claim to be Christians believe repentance for sins and belief in Christ are essential for salvation, but they also believe that a person can do enough good works to merit salvation.2


1. Barna Group. 2009. “Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist.” Accessed 23 June 2009 from

2. Barna Group. 2009. “Christianity Is No Longer Americans’ Default Faith.” Accessed 23 June 2009 form

Mark Snowden co-authored a chapter with Avery Willis in Orality Breakouts (ION/LCWE, 2010) for Lausanne III as well as Truth That Sticks (NavPress, 2010). He was the Lausanne work group facilitator in 2004 that published Making Disciples of Oral Learners and launched the International Orality Network (ION). He is the lead storying trainer for the North American Mission Board, SBC.