Your Story

We would LOVE to hear your story!  If you think about, we have more God-stories in the world today than we do in the Bible, because God has never stopped working!

If you have a story that is worth telling, or if you already have one that is done well on film, or know of a story “out there” that we should know about – then please email me at brad@thememphisoutpost.com and I’ll check it out!  It may even end up on our site!

Our Criteria for Featuring a Story

1) Is the story worth telling? Now please don’t get me wrong here:  I am grateful for each and every story of breakthrough and hope, and would love to sit down over coffee and hear them all (and we will do this in the kingdom, I’m sure), but not all stories are extraordinary and worth making into a film, nor spending our precious time watching them (in our fast-paced world).

2) Is the story told well? There about 9 different kinds of testimonies out there, but we are only looking for two of them (see below for more on this).  Thus, most stories won’t qualify  due to story-telling, even if the story itself is amazing, just because its not told in the most effective way (in our humble opinion).

3) Is the film quality excellent? Honestly, if the story is good and its told well, we couldn’t care less if it was all done in a cellphone video, but in general, we are looking for good lighting, multiple angles, music that fits the story, extra footage besides just a talking head retelling a story, etc, etc.

4) Is it short enough? We hate this, but we live in a rushed, impatient, YouTube-length video world where if anything is too long or boring or even has ONE slow point in the story, the viewer will either minimize the screen and start doing something else, or will just click on something else, so we must have films that are around the 10 minute mark or less.  There can be a separate vide of “bonus footage” that we can add as a secondary button, that it will be optional for those who are VERY interested and want to see it.

Normally, we watch 20 films made by churches and ministries to pick just one.  The quality is good and the story may be ok, but normally its the story-telling that isn’t so good, so the rest of this will be about storytelling (because we want more and better story-tellers out there helping us tell these great stories and letting us feature them!)

The 9 Ways to Tell a Testimony

1) Poorly-Produced, Poorly-Told Stories. Imagine the YouTube, do-it-yourself videos done by a guys using a webcam, in bad lighting, speaking Christianese, like “Hi, my name is Brian!  I’m gonna tell you about the substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

The Message Sent: If a seeker can get past all of the Christianese, then they walk away with the feeling that this story is not worth pouring time and money into.

The YSMS Standard: Why not spend some time with some friends who can help you think through your story and then ask some folks you know with cameras to help you do this worthy of the glory of God?

2) Well-Produced, Prosperity-esque Stories. These are the most common by far.  A professional team of fimmakers make a high-quality video with great lighting, animation, multiple angles, etc, but the story either spends 90% of the plot going into how badly the witness sinned (“I raped, robbed, lied, snorted this and that…”) or was sinned against (“I was raped, robbed, lied to…”) and then spends the last minute saying in essence, “But then I called on the name of the Lord, and now my life is just fine and dandy!”

The Message Sent: No matter how bad of a mess your life is, just call on Jesus and it’ll all be fine instantly!”

The YSMS Standard: Why not spend more time exploring how you changed, what prayers you prayed, what new truths you learned, what crucial decisions you had to make, the desperate crossroads you faced, who came in to help you, etc actually giving people a pathway and wisdom from which to learn.

3) Well-Produced, Preachy Stories. These stories are amazing at first, as they grab you by the throat in the first few seconds and really explore the conflict.  You can really feel and experience what was like being that person during that season of life, and then when the upswing happens and life is better, they drop the deeply personal and relate-to-able first-person “I” and “me” for the preachy, lesson-driven, second-person “If you will just read the Bible like I did….” or “If you will just let God be your father, like I did…”  It kills the story.

The Message Sent: You viewers are too dumb and unsophisticated to interpret stories so let us explain this to you.   Also, art and beauty (good stories, well told) must have a lesson and a point attached to them (must be functional) as art is just a tool to sell Jesus, propaganda for God so to speak, because beauty itself is not worth encountering nor powerful enough on its own to transform you.

The YSMS Standard: Why not let the story stand alone?  People around the world are addicted to and bathed in stories all day, every day.  We are pretty sophisticated story consumers.  There’s no need to interpret the story for us, thank you.  Let the story do the work.

4) Good, But Slow Start Stories.  These feel like the most tragic to us.  The story is good.  The production quality is good.  But it takes 1-2 minutes before the story gets rolling.  Ugghh!  The story is something that people need to hear, but they are gonna click off of it because its too boring in the first part!

The Message Sent:  There’s not a message sent because few people ever finish watching it (online), unless you have them trapped in a sanctuary or living room and there’s nothing else they can do.

The YSMS Standard: Find the conflict or climax or something fascinating or shocking to begin the story with.  You gotta make the conflict POP as fast as possible to keep people’s attention now-days (think all of the action movies that begin with the hero chasing or being chased from the first scene even before the credits are displayed).  Heads up: you DON’T have to start a story at the beginning of the person’s life, nor even at the beginning of the story you want to tell.  You can go flash back and foreshadow forward and people will still put everything in the right timeline in their heads.  Find a good way to start and end your story!

5) Good, But Mulled Over Stories.   These are tragic too.  You have a good story that needs to be told, but because they will be shown at church or on TV with kids in the room, the directors have to cut out the ugly stuff or just make it seem like it wasn’t that bad.  So instead of giving the viewer an experience of what it was like to sell drugs or cheat on a spouse or think suicidally, they will just throw up a few pictures of that time in the witness’ life and then have them give an abstract description like, “Gosh it was a bad time in my life.  I did drugs, cheated on my spouse and was suicidal.”  But to be sure, that is a far cry from helping the viewer experience those things.  Thus, the story becomes impotent in that telling, since the depth of the conflict is proportional to the height of the redemption – they rise and fall together. So if the problem of the story isn’t that bad, then the climax cannot be that good or inspiring!

The Message Sent: What this witness went through wasn’t that bad, so Jesus’ work isn’t that good or amazing.  Its small actually.

The YSMS Standard: Why not find a creative way to explore the conflict more so that it creates an experience where the viewer feels what its like being in the witness’ shoes, so that the redemption can really POP too – giving the viewer an experience of the victory as well?  Of course, what to do about the kids who shouldn’t have an PG-13 (for adult themes) experience who might be watching alongside mom and dad?  I dunno.  I’d first say that most parents are already letting their little kids watch films that they shouldn’t be.  But to be on the safe side, we simply tell people that these are PG-13 stories due to the adult themes explored.  Maybe you can try to show your films in other gatherings where kids aren’t present.

6) Star-Endorsement Stories.   These are common too.  They are a testimony given by a famous person, even if the story isn’t extraordinary – just because they are famous.  Its like watching Jordan sell shoes!  “Hi, I’m Rock Star Big Shot, and I’m a Christian, you should be one too!”  I guess I can see the value of these stories if the viewer was turned off by Jesus, but because he/she so respects the witness, Christianity now has some credibility so that later he/she might be open to hearing the gospel.  Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like much hope or wisdom is passed on because the story wasn’t really a good one.

The Message Sent: We think that you viewers are so easily swayed that we both want to get your attention and move you to give your eternal soul to Jesus because this guy/gal is on TV.

The YSMS Standard:  Forget the witness.  The witness is just the protagonist, but the hero of each story is Jesus who comes in to save, inspire, rescue, protect, deliver, restore and reconcile!  The protagonist can be looked up to for his faith and courage and endurance, etc (as we do have a part to play in God’s stories and we all need more role models to follow after), but Jesus is the center and hero of the stories He’s writing.  Secondly, we are looking for good stories that stand alone as good stories whether the viewer has ever even heard of the witness or not!  Thirdly, the more superstars we put on screen, the more everyday people are ground into the shameful dust that they are small and lowly and not loved enough by God to be helped like those special, talented, first-class, beautiful people in the movies!

7) Portraiture Stories. These aren’t really stories, but they are witnessing to the life-changing and life-empowering work of Jesus.  These are documentaries.  They follow a person around on camera, while the witness explains various problems they have and the values that drive them to do what they do and stay the course.  But since they don’t really have a plot line, a conflict, complications, a climax and a resolution, they are not technically stories.  I have found that they are valuable to people, but because we are looking for stories, they don’t qualify for our collection.

The Message Sent: Jesus drives the life of the witness to be like Christ in everyday living, but how I got to this place is a mystery and is not the nature of this piece.

The YSMS Standard: Is there not a way to tell the story of the person, as well as how they live their lives now?  Affirming the values of viewers who are already living like the witness in the story is valuable, but what about the viewers watching this who aren’t there yet, yet see that life and want to get there, but don’t know how?  How will they get there without the stories of others who have gone before them?  Of course, this is not required, but very helpful…thus this is why we are doing this project!

8 ) Good Story, Newspaper-Type Stories.  Ok, we will accept these stories and like these stories.  They are the spiritual equivalent of “The World’s Most Amazing Videos” TV show.  That is, they are wild stories of things that have happened TO people – healings, miracles, visitations, spiritual warfare, supernatural protection and provision, etc.  The story is pretty much all told on the level of external events that unfolded.  They are awesome and cool to watch!

The Message Sent: Dude, God is awesome!  Look what He did for this guy!

The YSMS Standard:  To feature one of these, we normally ask for documentation of some kind as these stories get a bit wild sometimes and we don’t want to fall into the trap of exaggerating a story to be more amazing than it really was.  Really, God is amazing enough that we don’t have to make up stories and even make them better!

However, these stories have a few weaknesses.  Because there is often no internal exploration of the witness’ heart, emotions, desires or thinking while the event(s) unfold, there is not much love for the witness (which is key if you want the viewer to care about what happens to him), there is normally no me-too moment in the story since the viewer will probably never be in a situation like that (which is crucial if you want the viewer to open up and relate to the witness so that the story can have its affect), and there is little wisdom passed on (which is key if you want the viewer to gain anything to help them live their lives after hearing this story).

9) Good Story, Well-Told, Explores the World of the Internal Witness. Ok, here is the jackpot.  It would take a long time to describe all of the moving parts here and all of the effects that these kinds of stories have, but here are a few elements:  These stories are worth telling and are extraordinary in some sense.  They are told well, meaning they make you fall in love with the witness, give you an experience of the life, conflicts and victory of their lives, really explore the conflict/tension and redemption/climax, and leave the viewer emotional satisfied and praising God!  They normally focus on a very narrow slice of time (and not the entire lifespan – just one or two crucial moments/decisions/crossroads.  Notice that most movies focus on just a few hours, or days, and yet you get a sense of the person’s whole life story through reference in the dialogue).  They are well-lit, have the right music at the right places (and its not illegally used).  The video is visually stimulating with effects, animations, graphics, angles, extra-footage (b-roll), etc.  The witness is honest, real, soulful and speaking in real, every day words (not Christianese), and scripture is laced throughout the story in appropriate ways (remember its the Word of that is powerful and bears fruit, so let’s use it!)

Three Things to Do IF You Want Your Story Clicked On

1) Titles. Ok, you need to understand that web titles and cinema titles are two different things!  At the movies, they are creating a higher art and they have huge marketing budgets to get the word out so even if the title is dumb, because you see the trailer, you will go watch it.  But on the web, not so.  Your title is the headline of your film.  If it’s bad or boring, they will skip it by, no matter how good the story is, or how hard you worked on it.

Read: for God’s sake (literally) don’t name the story the witness’ name (e.g. “Sarah’s Story”), because no one knows her!  Even if she’s famous, most people still won’t know her!  Plus that title tells you nothing, nothing, nothing about what kind of story it is, if its worth your time, or if you will relate to it!

So what do you name a film?  Something that is both 1) descriptive of the problem like “Ambushed By Bandits” or “Trading My Baby for a Degree” notice that its not solution-focused or filtered with Christianese like “Victory Once Again” or “On Mission For Jesus;” or that is mysterious/fascinating, like “Rescued By Angels” or “Thrash Metal Jesus” or anything that might make the viewer go, “Uh?” or “Cool, let’s check this out!”

2) Thumbnails. Ok, the thumbnail may be the most important thing if you want clicks!  I once posted an ok story that had multiple witnesses but used the hottest chick in the video as the thumbnail, just to see what would happen, and you guessed it, it exploded to the top as the most watched story on our site.  I know its sad that we are drawn to beauty like that, but it true.  The point here isn’t to put a hot chick as your thumbnail, but to find some image that represents your story well (NOT the witness’ face!…unless they are famous or gorgeous!), and make that your thumbnail because it only has ONE purpose, to draw eyes over to your story and get them to click!

3) Descriptions. Here again, do not focus on the solution, nor give the ending away like, “Janie had it rough in her life, but Jesus came through!”  No, listen, all you are to do is to describe the problem that the protagonist is facing and let the viewer think, “Uh, I wonder how they get out of/through that situation!?”  That is the whole point.

Good luck.  Write Brad at the email above if you have questions.