Surprise Endings

We all want our kids to remember the Bible stories we teach.  We want them to leave church talking about it.  We want them excited to come back for more.  

One effective way to achieve this is to build in the occasional surprise ending to our stories, or what I call “the big reveal.”  These aren’t surprises just for the sake of changing things up (though that’s not a bad thing), but the big reveal is a way to emphasize the main biblical truth we’re trying to communicate in an unexpected way.  

One of the easiest ways to do this is by using props to hide your message in plain sight.


A few years ago, I taught a lesson on Nehemiah that was all about how Nehemiah chose to do the right thing even when it was really tough.  When the kids walked in, I had large cardboard boxes sitting around the teaching area that I used to represent the rubble of the wall of Jerusalem.

In the application time at the end of the story, we talked about different challenges the kids might face this week. As we walked through each situation, I picked up a box from the rubble and added it to a row of boxes at the edge of our stage, having them repeat the phrase, “It’s worth the fight to do what’s right” in response.

At the very end I flipped the boxes, revealing the letters R-I-G-H-T printed on the bottom as I reminded them that God will help us to do what’s right even when it seems impossible. 

The kids went nuts when they realized the message had been hidden in front of them all along.  

John 3:16

We also use this in our teaching about salvation and baptism.  I adapted this from an old Willow Creek Promiseland lesson from over twenty years ago, but it’s such a good idea we use again and again.  

For this lesson, we use signs with the following symbols to explain what Jesus did for us and how we can respond.  

  • Cloud: God is perfect.
  • Heart: He loves me.   
  • Earth: Sin is the problem.
  • Gift: God wants to give me a gift.
  • Cross: Jesus paid for my sin. 
  • ABC: To receive God’s gift, we Admit our need for Jesus, Believe in Jesus and Choose Jesus to be our Forever Friend 

We talk about each one of these concepts for a few minutes, but at the end, the storyteller reveals that these pictures remind them of one of their favorite Bible verses, John 3:16.  The storyteller then goes from sign to sign saying the verse and pointing to the corresponding picture.  

  • Cloud: For God
  • Heart: So loved
  • Earth: the world
  • Gift: that He gave
  • Cross: His only Son
  • ABC: so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Of course all of this was visible the whole time, but it’s a fun aha moment when we get to point it out.  It’s especially fun because we do this lesson with parents in the room, who are more likely to already know the verse and appreciate the surprise.

So your challenge this week is to take this same principle and try it out in an upcoming story.  Look for ways you can occasionally use props in your storytelling that can also reveal a surprise word, Bible verse or phrase at the end that will drive home your teaching.

Here are three keys to make it work:

  1. Make the message intentional. Whatever word, phrase, verse or picture you use, it should be the payoff for the lesson, not just a random add on at the end.
  2. Hide the message in plain sight. Whatever you use to conceal the message needs to make sense with the lesson (like my John 3:16 pictures and Nehemiah boxes).  Sure you could hide the message in random set dressing or room decor, but it’s way more fun if the props seem to have a purpose. 
  3. Practice with the props several times, This will help you reveal the message smoothly and keep you from fumbling the big moment.  When I did the Nehemiah lesson, I had to be extra careful to get the boxes in the right order and to make sure none of my letters were upside down.  Without practice it would have been so easy for me to blow it.

Of course you can’t use a big reveal every week or the kids will be on to you, but when you do use, it will remind kids that God’s Word is full of fun surprise. More importantly, it will help to remember the truth you’re teaching for weeks and months to come.

In our next post we’ll talk about another fun way to end with a big reveal: using simple pictures to lead up to powerful finish!

Big Props Made Easy

When it comes to Children’s Ministry props and visuals, the bigger the better.  Ginormous props are just plain fun and can really help set the stage for an awesome lesson.  They create a sense of expectation and can be useful for capturing  kids’ attention (or recapturing it) as you teach or tell a story.   

Many of us, though, don’t have the time, money or skill to go as big as we might want.  There are several ways around this, but I’m going to tell you about a quick and cheap one today.  It’s a free website called Block Posters.  

Here’s how it works. At Block Posters you can upload any image to their site, choose how big you want to make it, and the website enlarges it and converts it into a bunch of 8 ½ x 11 pictures. At that point, all you have to do is download the PDF, print it out and put it together like a giant puzzle.

Last week, for instance, I was teaching on renewing the mind from Romans 12. At the last minute, I had an idea to have a giant brain on stage. I planned to do some silly things with it in the beginning of the lesson and then use it for application by showing how when we put worldly thinking into our brains, bad stuff comes out, but when we put God’s truth from the Bible into our heads, it can lead to good things in our lives.

So, I uploaded an image to Block Poster, printed it out, cut off the white borders and used spray adhesive to adhere it to the back of an old sign I had.  I would have preferred black foam core, but like I said, it was last minute and the white sign was free.  

Here are a few pictures to show you how the brain prop looked on stage:

Below is the brain with some black foam core strips I cut out from leftovers lying around the office with text taped on the front and back. The foam core edges and the paper I taped on aren’t perfect because I was in a hurry, but it didn’t matter because the kids only saw them for a few seconds as I pulled each one out of or put them into the brain. I had a wooden milk crate propping up the sign, and the words I needed were stashed behind it to make it convenient to pull them out of the brain.

The big brain looked awesome on stage and kids were definitely intrigued with it from the moment they walked into the room. Best of all, it worked great in the lesson.

Yes, I could have put that brain picture on a screen, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. With the sign propped up on the stage, I could get it closer to the kids and have fun putting things in it and pulling other things out.  It kept the lesson interesting, and the kids were glued to it.  

I’m not a big fan of prepping lessons at the last minute, but by the time I thought of the big brain prop, it was either last minute or nothing.  I’m glad I went for it.  It made everything better for both me as the storyteller and the kids who were watching.  

So, if you want to go big, give Block Posters a shot. It’s cheap and simple to use and can make a real impact when you need it.

If you’d like more ideas about using props to enhance your lesson, check out this earlier post, Having a Ball with Storytelling.

Don’t miss a post! Sign up here for the Bible Story Coach newsletter for tips, tricks, training and fun bonuses sent straight to your inbox.