Have a Ball with Storytelling

Twenty-two years ago John Noel, the Children’s Pastor who mentored me, gave me some fantastic teaching I’d advice I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If you want kids to be interested in what you’re saying, use real objects whenever possible. If you’re telling kids a story about a ball, bring out a ball.”

It sounds simple enough, but you might be surprised how many storytellers just stand up and talk. Their Bible story and illustration may be loaded with the possibilities for props and and interesting visuals, but they miss an opportunity to engage kids because they don’t think about using real objects.

Over the last two decades, I’ve used hundreds of different props and visuals, and every time I pull one out, I can see the kids immediately perk up. I’ve used balls and ladders and swords and cookies and nails and crosses and toys and crowns and so many things I could never remember, but each one enhanced the Bible story or the personal story I was telling for an illustration.

My all-time favorite object I’ve used to tell a story is a kayak. Several years ago I was teaching a large group of 3rd-5th graders about Peter walking on water so I borrowed a kayak from a guy in the church, lugged it up a couple of flights of stairs and dragged it on stage.

When the kids came in for the large group program, they couldn’t believe it. Why was there a real live boat in their worship space? Their curiosity was kicking into overdrive, and they were begging me to tell them why it was there. I kept it a mystery until the Bible story, and stepped in and out of the kayak as I was telling Peter’s tale.

The cool thing is that the kids were completely engaged before I even said a word because an intriguing visual piqued their curiosity and brought the story to life in a way I never could have done without it.

So if you don’t remember anything else, remember this. If you’re going to tell a story about a ball, bring out a ball. If you’re going to tell a story about a guy walking on water, bring out a boat or a life jacket or some flippers or anything else that would help you set up the story and draw kids into the world of the Bible in a way they will never forget.

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