MOLINE -- Just as lyrics of a favorite hymn goes, the Rev. Dr. Mark Gehrke loves "to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love."
But he's found a new way to tell it to members of Faith Lutheran Church, 1611 41st St., and to people he meets away from church.
Faith Lutheran will begin a 31-week series of Sunday school lessons and sermons based on a book titled "The Story" during its National Back to Church Sunday observance on Sunday, Sept. 8, and will continue through May 2014. Sunday service times, which may change before the series ends, will be at 8, 9 and 11 a.m.
"The Story" is a Bible written in novel form, Rev. Gehrke said. "As some people look at the Bible and consider reading all of it, it often feels somewhat overwhelming."
The Christian Bible has 1,189 chapters in 66 books.
"'The Story' gives us a way to journey from Genesis to Revelation together in 31 weeks, so everyone understands God's story and how their story interacts with it," he said.
"I've tried to make it clear that the book 'The Story' is not meant to replace the Bible," Rev. Gehrke said. "Rather it is to get people to enter back into the Bible in a novel, novel way.
"I believe that the Bible, unaltered, is central to our faith," he said. "But many people are intimidated by its scope and size."
Rev. Gehrke will base his preachings on Biblical Scriptures, and rely on "The Story" as an addendum. Away from the altar, he will use the book as a community outreach tool.
Ten extra copies of "The Story" from Zondervan Publishers, an international Christian media company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., were bought with church endowment money for evangelism efforts.
Parishioners can buy copies at Faith's bookstore, along with guidebooks. Books and guides are $10 each or $15 for both.
"'The Story' contains portions of Scripture that were thoughtfully and carefully excerpted and then placed in chronological order," according to the book's preface. "Transitions, which appear in italic, were written to summarize omitted Scripture text in order to help the storyline read smoothly."
Biblical timelines, references, discussion questions and "a cast of characters," also appear.
"We weren't, at first, going to use it as a sermon series," Rev. Gehrke said. "We were going to use it only in our Sunday school program. I was going to do a series on Philippians, and had even prepared the first two messages, but God changed my plans. And that's what it's really all about -- listening to God."
When he informed council leaders of the change, "I got no resistance at all, so here we go," he said.
Concerns about people losing interest over such a long time span were addressed by nationally known Christian writers Randy Frazee and Max Lucado, who wrote "The Story's" forward and appear on supportive videos, "but I don't really see much difference compared to basing sermons on a lectionary," Rev. Gehrke said.
"Other statistics that they presented also told about a church that saw a 20 percent increase in attendance when using 'The Story,'" he said.
"The thing that excites me the most is how we will cover more of the Bible and look at more of some of the minor characters than we would if we just stuck to lectionary guidelines," Rev. Gehrke said. "I'm also excited and driven by the possibilities for outreach it provides," something he experienced before the Sept. 8 kickoff.
Rev. Gehrke recently went to a Moline discount store to pick up snacks for a fantasy football league meeting and got into a conversation with an employee at the cash register. A couple days later, Rev. Gehrke stopped at a Rock Island store branch, looking for some three-ring binders parishioners could use to keep sermon notes in during the 31-week session, and met the same man in the different store.
After that second chance meeting, Rev. Gehrke decided to return to the store yet again, with a copy of "The Story" to give to the man and invite him to participate in the church's campaign.
"Whether you come or not, the book is yours," Rev. Gehrke said he told the man; "and then he said his wife and he were actually looking for a church, so it was a positive experience and a good example of what it can do."
As a Sunday school curriculum, "The Story" comes with five age-related books, DVDs and Biblical figure trading cards for the kids, Rev. Gehrke said.
In addition to the adult version, the kit includes: "The Story: Teen Edition," "The Story for Kids;" "The Story for Children;" and "The Story for Little Ones."
The books for kids and trading cards are colorfully illustrated, and "the videos are good and popular among teens," Rev. Gehrke said.
"We are also going to create an art mural based on 'The Story,'" he said. Mural boards will be displayed for a few weeks in the church foyer, before getting attached to education-wing walls.
He said he discovered, while teaching confirmation classes, that too many church youth didn't know some of the Biblical stories, such as Daniel or Samson. "This is going to change. We want our children and adults to know God's story."
Sharing "His" story's history always has been an important part of Rev. Gehrke's ministry, he said.
"My purpose is to find where our story and God's story meets," he said, and that intersection can happen at the altar and away from it.