Questions and AnswersQuestions & Answers

  • What is orality?

    "Orality" refers to reliance upon the spoken, rather than written, word for communication. Before writing was developed, ethnic groups passed along their cultural traditions, including their history, identity, and religion, through stories, proverbs, poems, songs, etc. These are oral art forms; that is, they are spoken, sung or chanted. They were (and often still are) woven into ceremonies, dramas and daily life. Purely oral societies pass along everything that matters from one generation to another without putting anything into writing. Today most cultures use written and oral means in combination. When a society lives primarily or exclusively by oral means, that use of language affects their habits of learning, communication, decision making, and the like. The field of orality includes the study of these other factors as well as the art of oral performance.

  • Why does understanding orality matter?

    The Bible says that Jesus “was speaking the word to [his followers] as they were able to hear it” (Mk. 4:33, NASB, emphasis added). He adapted his teaching to their ability to understand. On that occasion it meant he used parables. Good communicators use forms of communication that the audience understands. Because orality is a major influence around the world, we need to understand it in order to be effective communicators. Our message will be understood better and reproduced to others better if we put it in a format that is familiar to the culture. People from print-oriented backgrounds mistakenly use print-based approaches in oral cultures unless they understand orality.

  • Is orality a verb, noun or adjective?

    “Orality” is a noun that most people have never heard. The adjective “oral” and adverb “orally” are better known. The adjective “oral” normally refers to the mouth, as in “oral hygiene” or “oral surgery,” or speech, as in “oral presentation” or “oral quiz.” On this website we have sometimes used “orality” as an adjective, as in “orality strategies.” (English does this frequently, as in “mountain bike” and “dog food.”) Societies with pervasive orality use many forms of communication. In addition to the spoken means, they also use visual arts like painting and performing arts like dance. It is misleading to refer to painting and dance as “oral strategies,” because they are not spoken. So we use “orality strategies” to refer to various methods used for communication in cultures where orality predominates.

  • This is the 21st century and most people around the world read, right?

    Actually, even in the U. S., Canada, Great Britain, and Germany, almost half of adults have “below basic” or “basic” literacy skills. This is so even though those countries have claimed literacy rates of over 95%. Elsewhere in the world literacy skills are usually even lower. By some estimates, at least 70% of the world’s population has no literacy or such limited reading comprehension that they could not read a Bible with understanding.

  • If I know the language, isn’t that enough?

    Learning vocabulary and grammar is only the beginning of knowing a language. To truly know it, we need to master the various ways that language is used in different situations. This includes understanding how to tell stories the way mother tongue speakers tell them, using their proverbs correctly, and appreciating their other oral art forms.

  • How can understanding ‘orality’ help me with my ministry?

    We can avoid using ineffective approaches, such as outlines, lists of teaching points, fill-in-the blanks pages, and the like. We can choose culturally-appropriate oral forms of communication. These make our message interesting, relevant and memorable. Using oral methods makes it far easier for those we teach to pass the teaching to others.

  • How many oral cultures exist?

    People learn to speak their language before they learn to read it, so oral communication is the foundation of virtually every culture. (Deaf cultures would be possible exceptions.) Today there are only a small number of isolated ethnic groups who have no experience with print. But many groups who use print for government business and in schools still function largely by oral means in their day-to-day lives.

  • Where is a good starting place for me to understand orality and oral cultures?

    Here! This site is designed to help you understand the importance of orality and find practical resources. For help getting started on this site, visit the ‘Information’ tab located under the ‘About Orality’ section of our site. That section has a clear definition of orality and shows how we organize content on the site. We are constantly making improvements. So, stay connected using one or more of our many RSS feeds. These automatic feeds send you notices about any resources or strategies we add to our site. To learn more about RSS feeds, visit a ‘Beginners’ Guide to RSS’ and find a good RSS reader for your computer through download.com or searching Google for RSS readers.

  • Does the Bible teach us about oral culture?

    The Bible’s roots are in an oral setting, so it contains what oral cultures need. It is basically a single overarching story composed of many individual stories. Approximately half of the Bible is narrative. Songs (psalms), proverbs, and poetry are prominent. Even the epistles make frequent reference to stories from the Old Testament and life of Jesus. The Bible describes one person reading Scripture aloud to many (Deut. 31:9-13; Ezra 8:1-3; Col. 4:15-16; Rev. 1:3). This reminds us that copies of the Scriptures were not readily available and that most people could not have read them for themselves. The Bible exhorts people to learn its teachings by heart (Josh. 1:8-9; Prov. 3:1-3, 4:20-21) and to transmit orally the stories about God’s mighty deeds from generation to generation (Ps. 78:1-8). The early church grew rapidly by orally transmitting the stories and teachings of Jesus. By the time the four Gospels were written, the church was already well established.

  • Why is it that many people cannot read a Bible if they had one?

    Thank you for the opportunity to answer your question about people not being able to read the Bible. The statement about the number of people "who could not read the Bible if they had it" refers to people who cannot read at all or who can only read (and understand) short, simple, and familiar reading materials. A report released last month by the U. S. Department of Education said that almost half the adults in the United States (93 million people) are in this unfortunate situation.


    To most non-Christians and even to some Christians the Bible is not familiar material. Also, the Bible contains some long and rather complicated books. And, as 2 Peter 3:15-16 acknowledges, some parts of it are hard to understand. If almost half the adults in the United States, with its free public school system and long history of education, cannot read above a basic level, then it only stands to reason that at least half the adults in the rest of the world are likely in the same situation. Tests done in 22 countries, many of them in Western Europe, have shown that this is in fact the case in those countries, too. In many other countries, far more than half the adult population cannot read well enough to understand the Bible. When you add in the children and teenagers who have not yet learned to read lengthy, unfamiliar, and complicated books with understanding, then it is not hard to conclude that somewhere between two-thirds and three-fourths of the world's population should not be expected to be able to "read the Bible if they had it." This statement does assume that by "read" we mean "read with understanding."

  • What is Chronological Bible Storying?

    Chronological Bible Storying (CBS) tells selected biblical stories in the order in which they happened so as to bring people to genuine faith in Christ, mature discipleship, and fruitful Christian service. Ordinarily a CBS session includes a time of dialog after the story. In the dialog the storyteller uses questions to guide listeners to discover for themselves the meaning and significance of the biblical story.

  • Why does it matter that we tell biblical stories?

    (1) God thought storytelling was a great idea, apparently, since the Bible is basically one large story made up of many smaller stories. (2) Stories stick in our memory for later recall and penetrate into our lives. (3) Many people who would not come to hear a sermon will listen to a story. Stories are not as confrontational, so you can tell them to people who would not otherwise want to discuss spiritual topics. (4) Lots of people who would never try to preach or to teach a Sunday School class can learn to tell a Bible story, so it is a means of getting more people involved in sharing God’s good news. (5) Four billion people in the world cannot read very well, so tracts and Bibles and sermons using outlines are of little value to them. But stories are something anyone can understand and learn from.

  • Does CBS really work?

    God blesses his word when we share it, especially through storytelling. For example, in 2003 a Christian worker trained church leaders in South Asia to use Bible storying. Within 6 months 55 people reported using CBS to start 163 new churches or groups that will become churches. These groups are in both rural and urban locations. Similar stories could be told in Africa, elsewhere in Asia, and other locations.

  • How many people are doing Chronological Bible Storying?

    No one knows for sure, but for at least twenty years the International Mission Board and its missionaries have been using storying and training others to use it. CBS is being used on virtually every continent with hundreds of different language groups. It is easy to learn to story, so that many Christians have begun storying simply because someone told the stories to them.

  • What do you do, exactly?

    Bible storying is a flexible communications strategy that can be adapted to different circumstances in ministry. But at the core is the simplest activity: tell the story accurately and interestingly, and then invite the listeners to discuss it.

  • Can I learn to do this?

    Sure you can. Most of us have more experience telling stories than we realize. With a little coaching and encouragement, most people learn to tell their stories, to enjoy the experience, and to grow spiritually as an added blessing.

  • How do I (we) get started?

    Some people simply get their Bibles, learn a story, and begin. If you want more instruction, you can download instructional manuals here on this website. Or you can attend the workshops offered by various groups. Or you can purchase and work through Tell the Story: A Primer on Chronological Bible Storying, a workbook with resource CD which can be purchased through the International Mission Board (800-999-3113).

  • Where do you get the stories you tell?

    From the Bible, of course! There are many sets of stories that are available for download on this site.

  • How do I (we) decide what stories to tell?

    If you are telling the stories cross-culturally, try to select biblical stories that speak with special impact in that particular culture, meeting their needs or correcting misunderstandings. Many story sets available on this website indicate that they were prepared for people from specific backgrounds. You may find something that you can use or adapt for use. If you are working alongside people who understand the culture well, ask them for suggestions. They may have a recommended story list already. Otherwise, select a set of stories that covers the basics from creation to the resurrection of Jesus. Short-Term/ISC manual

  • You mean I learn to tell Bible stories from memory?

    The best storytelling happens when the story has become a part of our own lives first. By reading through it, hearing someone else tell it, visualizing it scene by scene, and then practicing it aloud several times yourself, you can learn to tell the story. It will be stored in your memory, but not “memorized” in a word-for-word sense. Feel free to tell the story in your own words while still being true to the Bible.

  • What if we are working through a translator?

    Telling Bible stories makes working through a translator much easier. Inform your translator ahead of time what story or stories you will be telling, so he or she will know where you are going with your presentation. Then tell the story one sentence at a time. By modeling storytelling, you also will encourage your translator to tell the stories, too. Ideally you would prepare your translator to tell the stories. That’s usually much more effective than telling them through translation.

  • OK, so after I tell the story, then what?

    Often we invite someone in the group to tell the story. This gives the group a chance to hear it again and gives us a chance to see if they understood. If they are reluctant, then use questions to guide them back through the events of the story in order. “How does the story begin?” you ask. “What happened next?” “And after that?” Once they understand the story, you then ask questions that help them discover the message of the story for themselves. Resist the temptation to explain the story to them.

  • How do we lead people to commit to Christ, then?

    You can lead people to commit to Christ by using stories like Nicodemus (Jn. 3) or the raising of Lazarus (Jn. 15), where the issues of believing in Christ are explicit. Dialog with people about who God is, who Jesus is and what it means to believe (trust in) him. Ask if that is what they want to do and lead them to express that faith to God in prayer.

  • How do we use this on our mission trip?

    Ask your co-workers at the destination what you and your group could do to fit into their existing ministry. Be good team players in your use of Bible storying. Sometimes we sow the seed, sometimes we water seed someone else sowed, and sometimes we harvest. We use storying differently depending on the task, the situation, and the skills of our team. See the ISC Manual for Short-Term Workers for suggestions. Short-Term/ISC manual

  • Does CBS work in the U. S.?

    Yes. Chronological Bible Storying is being used effectively in many locations across the U. S., among all kinds of people, for evangelism, discipleship, and support groups. An Idaho church has 600 home groups using CBS for discipleship. Another ministry is starting new house churches in Tacoma, WA using CBS.

  • Is there anyone who can help us learn more about these things?

    Yes, there are a number of people across the United States who train Bible storyers. Check out the events section of the website for some additional contact information. Missionaries on stateside assignment may be available to provide training to you and your church group.

  • Is this information (and more) available on the internet?

    Yes. See OralityStrategies.org in addition to this site. Many other sites are listed in the Links section.

  • What is Chronological Bible Storying?

    Chronological Bible Storying (CBS) tells selected biblical stories in the order in which they happened so as to bring people to genuine faith in Christ, mature discipleship, and fruitful Christian service. Ordinarily a CBS session includes a time of dialog after the story. In the dialog the storyteller uses questions to guide listeners to discover for themselves the meaning and significance of the biblical story.

  • Why does it matter that we tell biblical stories?

    (1) God thought storytelling was a great idea, apparently, since the Bible is basically one large story made up of many smaller stories. (2) Stories stick in our memory for later recall and penetrate into our lives. (3) Many people who would not come to hear a sermon will listen to a story. Stories are not as confrontational, so you can tell them to people who would not otherwise want to discuss spiritual topics. (4) Lots of people who would never try to preach or to teach a Sunday School class can learn to tell a Bible story, so it is a means of getting more people involved in sharing God’s good news. (5) Four billion people in the world cannot read very well, so tracts and Bibles and sermons using outlines are of little value to them. But stories are something anyone can understand and learn from.

  • Does CBS really work?

    God blesses his word when we share it, especially through storytelling. For example, in 2003 a Christian worker trained church leaders in South Asia to use Bible storying. Within 6 months 55 people reported using CBS to start 163 new churches or groups that will become churches. These groups are in both rural and urban locations. Similar stories could be told in Africa, elsewhere in Asia, and other locations.

  • How many people are doing Chronological Bible Storying?

    No one knows for sure, but for at least twenty years the International Mission Board and its missionaries have been using storying and training others to use it. CBS is being used on virtually every continent with hundreds of different language groups. It is easy to learn to story, so that many Christians have begun storying simply because someone told the stories to them.

  • What do you do, exactly?

    Bible storying is a flexible communications strategy that can be adapted to different circumstances in ministry. But at the core is the simplest activity: tell the story accurately and interestingly, and then invite the listeners to discuss it.

  • Can I learn to do this?

    Sure you can. Most of us have more experience telling stories than we realize. With a little coaching and encouragement, most people learn to tell their stories, to enjoy the experience, and to grow spiritually as an added blessing.

  • How do I (we) get started?

    Some people simply get their Bibles, learn a story, and begin. If you want more instruction, you can download instructional manuals here on this website. Or you can attend the workshops offered by various groups. Or you can purchase and work through Tell the Story: A Primer on Chronological Bible Storying, a workbook with resource CD which can be purchased through the International Mission Board (800-999-3113).

  • Where do you get the stories you tell?

    From the Bible, of course! There are many sets of stories that are available for download on this site.

  • How do I (we) decide what stories to tell?

    If you are telling the stories cross-culturally, try to select biblical stories that speak with special impact in that particular culture, meeting their needs or correcting misunderstandings. Many story sets available on this website indicate that they were prepared for people from specific backgrounds. You may find something that you can use or adapt for use. If you are working alongside people who understand the culture well, ask them for suggestions. They may have a recommended story list already. Otherwise, select a set of stories that covers the basics from creation to the resurrection of Jesus. Short-Term/ISC manual.

  • You mean I learn to tell Bible stories from memory?

    The best storytelling happens when the story has become a part of our own lives first. By reading through it, hearing someone else tell it, visualizing it scene by scene, and then practicing it aloud several times yourself, you can learn to tell the story. It will be stored in your memory, but not “memorized” in a word-for-word sense. Feel free to tell the story in your own words while still being true to the Bible.

  • What if we are working through a translator?

    Telling Bible stories makes working through a translator much easier. Inform your translator ahead of time what story or stories you will be telling, so he or she will know where you are going with your presentation. Then tell the story one sentence at a time. By modeling storytelling, you also will encourage your translator to tell the stories, too. Ideally you would prepare your translator to tell the stories. That’s usually much more effective than telling them through translation.

  • OK, so after I tell the story, then what?

    Often we invite someone in the group to tell the story. This gives the group a chance to hear it again and gives us a chance to see if they understood. If they are reluctant, then use questions to guide them back through the events of the story in order. “How does the story begin?” you ask. “What happened next?” “And after that?” Once they understand the story, you then ask questions that help them discover the message of the story for themselves. Resist the temptation to explain the story to them.

  • How do we lead people to commit to Christ, then?

    You can lead people to commit to Christ by using stories like Nicodemus (Jn. 3) or the raising of Lazarus (Jn. 15), where the issues of believing in Christ are explicit. Dialog with people about who God is, who Jesus is and what it means to believe (trust in) him. Ask if that is what they want to do and lead them to express that faith to God in prayer.

  • How do we use this on our mission trip?

    Ask your co-workers at the destination what you and your group could do to fit into their existing ministry. Be good team players in your use of Bible storying. Sometimes we sow the seed, sometimes we water seed someone else sowed, and sometimes we harvest. We use storying differently depending on the task, the situation, and the skills of our team. See the ISC Manual for Short-Term Workers for suggestions.

  • Does CBS work in the U. S.?

    Yes. Chronological Bible Storying is being used effectively in many locations across the U. S., among all kinds of people, for evangelism, discipleship, and support groups. An Idaho church has 600 home groups using CBS for discipleship. Another ministry is starting new house churches in Tacoma, WA using CBS.

  • Is there anyone who can help us learn more about these things?

    Yes, there are a number of people across the United States who train Bible storyers. Check out the events section of the website for some additional contact information. Missionaries on stateside assignment may be available to provide training to you and your church group.

  • Is this information (and more) available on the internet?

    Yes. See OralityStrategies.org in addition to this site. Many other sites are listed in the Links section.