In the actual words of Jesus, we don’t have many statements on how to minister to children, but we do have images of Jesus with children sitting in His lap. It is very easy, in this setting, to envision Him as He told them stories. One of the keys for loving our children is taking time with them, which often can be accomplished during storytelling sessions.
There are several characteristics of a good story:
Present a single theme. Nothing confuses more than a story that has too many angles, too many twists and turns, too many characters, too many quotes. If you’re telling the story of a lifeguard dog, stick to the life guard dog. There may be other things that happen around this dog, but if they are not related to the story, you are only confusing your audience.
Develop the plot. The whole structure should make sense. Tell the story just the way you would tell someone about what you had for lunch. Don’t begin with dessert, unless it was spectacular. There should be a situation, a conflict, a predicament that is resolved at the end. Keep your audience in mind. A younger audience may require that you repeat some key parts of the story to them. Sometimes we as adults like to be reminded what the story was about.
Use proper language. In storytelling your language has to be descriptive enough to make people “see” what you are telling them. They must “feel” how cold or hot it was. They must “thirst” as the heroine in the story did because she hasn’t had a drop of water in two days. Even if you are retelling a Bible story, what you make the people feel is what they are going to remember later that day.
Stay faithful to the story. The biggest temptation is to try to make the story even more appealing than it actually is. This might help sometimes. But it is not recommended. Don’t mix places for the sake of drama. You must be creative and use your imagination. But stay within the limits of your story. A Bible story, told in an imaginative way, will cause your listeners to ponder, to apply, and to understand their Bible better. But though it’s OK to tell them King Solomon had 1,000 wives and 4,000 porcupines—instead of concubines—don’t leave young children with the impression that he truly had 4,000 porcupines.
Talk to your audience. Cable TV, Nintendo®, and Tivo® have changed the way we see things. Everything is prepackaged for us. We definitely live in an age of instant gratification. No wonder it’s more difficult to keep the attention of the audience. Storytelling is now more difficult. Our audiences are more demanding, more sophisticated, less able to imagine or visualize abstract truths. This doesn’t apply only to our children, it also applies to the adults in our congregation. To get to the adults, talk to the children. Do whatever you can to capture their attention and their imagination. And the whole audience will get the message.
Look for the right atmosphere. Sometimes it isn’t possible to choose the place where the story will be told, but if you have any say on the matter, choose the best possible place. Time is the next important factor. Have enough time to tell your story. Don’t rush it. Don’t compress it. Do not leave things out for the sake of time. This might confuse some people. It might even confuse you. Have the listener comfortably seated in front of you. Unless it’s part of your presentation, don’t allow questions or interruptions. Look directly at the eyes of the audience. Nothing is more distracting than having the storyteller looking at the ceiling or the floor while talking.
Be mindful of your intonation. Speak in simple language, quietly, and directly. Sometimes another language might be part of the story, or a very verbose way of talking, but if that is not the case, use simple, everyday, language. Speak loud enough for everyone to hear you clearly, even if you are using a microphone. Be careful to pronounce the words correctly, particularly odd and unusual words that might be part of your story.
Be aware of your expressions. Keep in mind that you are the “screen” the audience is looking at. Show emotion, concern, anger, frustration, joy, etc. to go along with your story. Help them to feel the story. But try to do it in a natural way. Do not overkill your presentation.
That’s all, folks! When the story finishes, do not go on to something else. Everybody must know that the story has ended. Move out of the way. Sit down. Go backstage. Do not follow up with announcements about the next story. Do not point to a moral lesson. End the story and you are out.*