by Gordon Brown
Graphic Designer | LifeWay VBS
One of the most rewarding things in my life is sharing the gospel with kids. Telling Bible stories is another. I’m guessing the same is true in your life. Since we have been commissioned to share the Good News, and entrusted to tell these life transforming Bible stories, shouldn’t we strive to be as engaging as possible when doing so?
In an article entitled, “The Art of Bible Storytelling,” Brian Dembowczyk has put together a few tips that will help us do just that. While the tips Brian shares in this article are geared toward storytelling to adults, many of them can apply to storytelling for kids. At the very least, if you’re like me, you will be inspired to look for ways to improve your storytelling skills.
My prayer is that you and I, to the best of our abilities, will tell kids the story of Jesus in a way that brings about a hunger in their hearts for more! Telling a child about Jesus—what greater thing can we possibly do with our time and God-given talents?
THE ART OF BIBLE STORYTELLING (featured on Adult VBS CD-ROM)
We’ve all been there. Perhaps it was a lecture. Or a conversation on a plane. Perhaps it was even … gulp … at church. That’s right. I’m talking about listening to a real bore. You know, the person who made you struggle to stay engaged—perhaps even to stay awake. Go back to one of those times in your mind and try to relive that experience. Really try to remember everything you can about it.
Now, what was it about that person that was so boring? For some, it might simply be they were talking about something boring. But for many others it wasn’t the subject at all—it was how they were talking—Monotone. Expressionless. Passionless. Not everyone is a natural or trained storyteller, so we want to provide you with some tips on how to tell the story in as engaging of a way as possible—to help you with the art of storytelling. As you know, story is critical to the gospel and we want you to be able to tell the amazing story of Jesus in powerful ways that draw your audience in. Here are a few tips to get you started.
PREPARING TO TELL THE STORY
Telling compelling stories begins long before you sit or stand in front of your kids. It begins when you first rub shoulders with the Bible story and prepare to tell it. Here are six steps to guide solid, meaningful preparation.
- Read the story. Begin by reading the story several times. Once you are able to outline the story from the top of your head, you are ready to move on to the next step.
- Know the story. Read the chapters around the story to get a better feel for the big picture of what is going on.
- Know the point of the story. By this point, you have a solid grasp of the details—the “what”—of the story. Now it is time to go the next step and know the “why” of the story. Spend some time praying and asking God to help you understand the point of what you are reading. What are you learning about God? About Jesus? About the gospel?
- Finalize the story. Decide if you need to add more details to the story, remove some, use a word or phrase from your preferred Bible translation, or make changes to fit your time and storytelling style better. Stay as close to the Bible text as possible. It might be tempting to add details for added color and storytelling interest, but the more we add, the more obscure we make God’s Word.
- Read, record, and listen to the story. Record yourself reading the story out loud. Then listen to it. Don’t worry as much about your storytelling technique at this point. What you want to listen for is flow. Does the story make sense? Did you leave anything out? Is there anything that is not needed? Is it too long? Make any necessary edits and repeat this process until you have your final script.
- Memorize the story. OK. Now things are getting serious. I know that this idea strikes fear into the hearts of many of you who just read this—me included. But if you want to be the best storyteller you can be, you really need to memorize the story. Once you have that Bible story memorized, you are ready to go to the next step and begin thinking about how you will tell it in an engaging fashion.
CREATING AN ATMOSPHERE TO TELL THE STORY
A good story should immerse the audience fully into the story. As we are developing ourselves as Bible storytellers, we want to keep that goal in mind. We want our audience to engage fully with the Bible stories we are telling them so they get the most out of them. Here are four tips to help you do just that:
- Develop different storytelling styles. There are different styles you can employ depending on your resources, talents, and space. For example using props and sound effects; dramatic conversation where you engage in a monologue or dialogue; simple drawings to enhance the story; and so forth.
- Consider the story. Developing several different Bible storytelling styles will not only help you engage in different ways, it will also give you some flexibility for telling each Bible story. As you are preparing to tell a story, think through the different styles and consider which would work the best.
- Get the most out of your space. No matter what style you use, be sure to maximize your space. We mentioned moving around on the stage or in the room where you tell the story, but don’t limit yourself to that. Try to use the entire room when you can.
- Involve your audience when possible. One last tip to consider is to involve your audience as much as you can. They might act out a story, provide the sound effects, draw the pictures, and so forth.
USING YOUR BODY TO TELL THE STORY
Setting an engaging atmosphere goes a long way in the nonverbal part of the story, but we also have to consider how we can use our bodies as we tell the story. Let’s examine three aspects of this: posture, eye contact, and movement.
- Posture. If standing, avoid slouching or shifting your weight side-to-side from foot to foot. Don’t sway back and forth as you talk. If sitting, try leaning forward slightly with your hands on your knees.
- Eye Contact. Smiling warms the audience up, making eye contact cues them to pay attention, and scanning the room pulls everyone into the story. But there are times when you may want to take a different approach—such as when you want to make a dramatic entrance to begin the story. As you are telling the story, continue to scan the room and make eye contact with different people. But don’t forget to use your eyes as another storytelling prop when you can.
- Movement. The rule of thumb is once again pretty simple: generally stay stationary. However, as we have already seen, movement is important. Short agitated movements accentuate intense moments in the story. On the other hand, slow and deliberate movements emphasize important points, especially when matched with your vocal pattern. Be strategic in the gestures you use.
USING YOUR VOICE TO TELL THE STORY
At last, we get to what people think of first when it comes to storytelling: using your voice to tell the story. With a few tips and a little practice, you will be able to use your voice to effectively tell the Bible story.
- Voice Basics. It won’t matter what you do with your voice if the audience can’t hear you, so be sure to speak up. The people on the back row should be able to hear you fine. Try to keep your manner and voice natural and informal. Be sure to speak clearly and enunciate. A common struggle for many people when it comes to public speaking is speaking too quickly, so be careful not to rush through the story.
- Use your voice as an instrument. Know or make an educated guess as to how each person was feeling in the story you are sharing. Were they afraid? Convey that in your voice. Angry? Happy? Confused? Amazed? Use your voice to communicate those emotions. Use volume likewise. As we said before, the general rule of thumb is to speak naturally so that you can be heard, but there is a time for you to lower your volume.
- Change your pace. There are times when you will want to speed up, or slow down, for effect based on the flow of the story.
- Use pauses and silence. The ultimate slowing of pace is a pause or stop—a highly effective tool if used correctly. However avoid overusing silence. When used sparingly silence gives meaning and impact to important points.
- Use tone and contrast for emphasis. As you look over the story, look for what words and phrases you want to emphasize, then plan on using tone, pace, inflection, or some other way to make them pop. The power of contrast is another useful tool in your storytelling toolbox.
So there you have it! Nothing really revolutionary, but hopefully this article has gotten you motivated and given you a foundation to build your storytelling skills upon.
This article is adapted from a series of blogs on “The Art of Bible Storytelling” by Brian Dembowczyk, which first appeared onwww.gospelproject.com in the Fall of 2016. Brian is Managing Editor of The Gospel Project and author of Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry and Cornerstones: 200 Questions for Teaching Truth. Before coming to LifeWay, Brian served in churches in Florida, Kentucky, and Maryland for 17 years. Brian lives in Murfreesboro, TN, with his wife, Tara, and three children, Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb.