Cultivate: Visual Storytelling



I’ve gotten a lot of messages and requests to put something up from the conversation I was facilitating at Cultivate, because of the limited space in the room. I was honored to be speaking to a standing room only crowd.

For more than fifth-teen years I work in broadcast news employed at TV Stations around the United States. Most recently, I was the Director of Photojournalism in Minneapolis Minnesota where I developed, led, and mentored a distinguish group of photojournalists to become the 2nd best television station in the country for it’s visual product.

Currently I’m the Director of Communications and Media at Lawton First Assembly in Lawton, Oklahoma 90 miles SW of Oklahoma City. In many ways the church where I serve is a transitional church moving from traditional to progressive; we’re somewhere in the middle right now.

Here and Now:
Each week we use a variety of visual media to create a multi-sensory experience all week long on and off the platform.  We had to face some uncomfortable facts to get here, that when some-one is on our campus, they are coming from an image and media driven culture. What we found is that we were way out of touch of current culture. We were communicating in mid 90s fashion in the 21 century. We had to respect and understand that and change. Acknowledging the importance of media – at least good works – as an art form has helped us stay relevant and informed. Knowing what our congregation is consuming helped us become cultural warriors and reinterpret some of the messages through biblically based worldview.

For example, at one point this last year we ran into a dry spell, a time where we needed volunteers and we were doing everything we could recruit.  But everything thing was white noise.  So out of desperation came innovation and we used the power of storytelling coupled with ordinary people from our congregation.

We hit the mother load by having ordinary people embed learning in stories that not only increase retention, but motivated them. We took the old school idea of a testimony service and put a new spin on it; we brought sexy back! Seriously, we keyed on what every single one of us relates to: each other and our story.

When you look at the data, I love looking at research, 93% of all communication is nonverbal, and we process images 60,000 times faster than text. We found in Broadcast focus groups that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they experience visually through memorable moments.

Looking at our current zeitgeist, there are many parallels to the time of Christ. For instance no matter how much we want to ignore it and push it in the closet so no one can see it, we are living in a post-literate culture… a post-christian culture… and yes a post-denominational culture. Very similar to 2000 years ago except it was all “pre-culture;” we’ve come full circle.

I’m going to make a broad statement; so don’t tar and feather me. I believe storytelling is inspired action from God. If not then it’s the ramification of how we live our lives. If you look in the Bible there is nothing but narrative… after narrative… after narrative. And if we look closely to those stories, parables there is a virtual application, allowing participants to experience and contextualize the information on the spot.

  • Visual stories / communication engage, inspire, challenge and ultimately evoke a desire for Christ.
  • When presented with stories, we are more actively engaged than when we are just faced with facts.
  • Words are no longer enough and people communicate visually more than ever.

I believe some in the Church maintain a perception that printed and verbal media are better suited than visual media to communicating spiritual messages and advocate the model of preach, print and portray.

Why wouldn’t we when for 1500 years, preaching was the primary communication platform of the Church. The body of Christ adjusted well with the Gothenburg’s printing press which accelerated the ability to communicate to a broader audience. We now live in a visual world where it is critical to be able to portray Christ and kingdom. Preach, print and portray can and should be complimentary. The problem is too many people are still limited to preach and print and are missing tremendous opportunities to expand their impact.


  • Where are your organizations at when it comes to visual storytelling?
  • What are some problems that you’re run into?
  • Can the church use the power of visual storytelling to teach and inspire action?
  • Do you think some in the Church maintain a perception that printed and verbal media are better suited than visual media to communicating spiritual messages?

With Or Without The Church:
I believe this conversation worldwide will continue with or without the church. Even though it is uncomfortable to admit this our congregations and neighbors are spending far more time at the movie theaters in front of TV screens, and computer monitors than they are at church. Many or our people consume entertainment programing at the same rate as those who would never set foot in a church. I think these are game changing findings for a church and/ kingdom struggling to communicate the gospel.  Think about what Saint Francis said, Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.


Want to see what else you missed?  Checkout some killer photos from Antony Barlich by clicking on the photo above.

Matt Knisely

Matt Knisely is an Emmy Award–winning visual storyteller, creative director, and author who loves telling stories of the extraordinary. Make sure you check out his book Framing Faith, it helps connect the seemingly unconnected, see the beauty right in front of us, and revealing how to be present in the moment.

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  1. Dude! Thank you. I wasn't able to make it to your session at Cultivate. There were so many good ones. Yours was one I really wanted to get to too. Thanks for posting. My thoughts: I'm in total agreement with you. Being only 24 years old this is totally where I'm at. I'm the media/tech director at my church and have been here for the past 6 years. Sometimes we do visual storytelling very well. I'm thinking specifically of Christmas and Easter when we plan ahead a little more and practice things farther in advance. Some of the problems we run into is not enough 'capable' volunteers. I don't have a production 'team', it's all me. So unfortunately projects get rushed and they don't always turn out the way I would have liked them to.

    We're getting there though. We just started the process of planning our sermon series a year in advance (sermon series on "how" we're doing that is on my blog). This is giving us more time to plan ahead and up the value of our productions and storytelling.

    These are exciting times we live in!