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.

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Pictures That Pop

In an earlier post I talked about how fun visuals can make your teaching time much more engaging. 

Personally I prefer real 3D objects over pictures (and research suggests that real objects are more memorable), but there are times when a picture is exactly what you need.

If I’m telling a story about going fishing, I’d much rather have a real fishing pole in my hand instead of just showing a picture. If, however, I’m telling a story about the first time I rode a roller coaster, then obviously a picture is what would work the best.

If you have the technology, you can show pictures using programs like ProPresenter or PowerPoint, which we do a lot in our ministry. 

However, sometimes the best choice is a physical picture.  For example to introduce a story I taught on courage, we played a game called “Name That Fear” using the photos pictured at the top of this post.

I told the kids I would name some things they might be afraid of and they had to yell out what it is (yes, there’s a squirrel in there which always gets a big laugh). I would hold the sign up really fast and yell, “Name that fear!” and kids would respond.

Sure I could have done that on a screen (and have for this same game) but the physical signs are way more dramatic and fun. For this game in particular I would only put it on a screen if I couldn’t get the pictures big enough for everyone in the room to see them.

Another time I might choose screen graphics over a physical picture is if I needed my hands free to tell the story. Otherwise I would with go physical pictures every time.

However, if you don’t have the capability to project screen graphics, have no fear, physical pictures work just fine (and in the case of this game are preferred).

To really make pictures pop, however, I love to mount them to black foam board or poster board using a spray adhesive. Poster board is okay (and cheaper) but I always prefer to use black foam board whenever possible. It’s stronger and doesn’t flop around. It also works great if I need to display pictures on easels instead of just holding them up with my hands.

How can you use pictures to help tell your next story? If you have the option to use screen graphics or physical pictures, which would work better for the story you’re telling? Or would is there a real object you could bring in and use in its place?

The Tale of the Story Cake

What does it take to craft and deliver powerful Bible stories? The best way to answer that is to tell you a story about three bakers.

Once upon a time a very wealthy man held a contest for his daughter’s seventh birthday. He commissioned three bakers to bake the most spectacular cake they could create. Whichever cake his daughter preferred would earn its creator a $100,000 bonus.

The first baker was a master pastry chef. He experimented with his favorite cake recipe, tweaking the ingredients until he had crafted his most delicious creation. Once he had baked the cake, he spent hours frosting and decorating it until it looked like an absolute work of art.

Carefully the chef loaded it into the back of his delivery van just hours before the party. He jumped in the driver’s seat, turned the key and was horrified to discover his battery was dead. He lived in the country and had no phone and no way to call for help.

His cake was the most incredible dessert he would ever create, but because he didn’t have the means to deliver it, no one at the party would ever get to enjoy his finest masterpiece.

The second baker had no such problem. He was a brilliant showman and bought a brand new delivery truck just for the party. It was customized with with vibrant colors, flashing lights and a vinyl wrap emblazoned with his logo across the hood. The truck even had a loud speaker that would play a personalized hip hop version of “Happy Birthday” he had recorded by a professional jingle company just for the occasion.

When he pulled up to the party, every head turned. The guests ooed and aahed over his fancy delivery truck. Surely this was going to be something special, but when he served the cake, it collapsed on itself. Those who dared to try it thought it tasted bland. The baker had put so much effort into his delivery, that he had paid little attention to the ingredients he had used or how he had prepared them.

The final baker, as you may have guessed, avoided the excesses of the first two. She carefully crafted the finest cake she could bake in the time she had, but was also mindful to make sure her delivery truck was freshly washed, in good working order, gassed up and ready to go.

When she arrived at the party, the guests were excited to see the simple but elegant cake the baker wheeled into the dining room on a silver serving cart. The presentation was beautiful. The cake itself looked irresistible.

When the birthday girl took her first taste, the child’s face lit up with pure joy, signaling the entire room that this was the confection they had been waiting for, a treat for both the eye and the palette. It was magnificently decorated, moist but substantial and perfectly sweet.

The third chef walked away much richer that day because she had balanced the art of baking and delivery, much to the delight of everyone who enjoyed her marvelous creation.

The Moral of the Tale

In the same way, those of us who want to bring the Bible to life for kids have to focus on both content, baking the cake, and presentation, our delivery. Powerful storytelling is a combination of what we say and how we say it.

How confident are you in your content? Are your stories and lessons engaging and relevant for kids? Are they powerful and fun? If not, what’s one thing you can do to improve your content this week?

How about your presentation? Are you able to deliver your content in a way that captures a child’s attention and holds it until the very last word? If not, what can you to better utilize your voice, facial expressions or body language to make your delivery more compelling? What kind of props or visuals could you utilize to help bring your story to life?

Over the coming weeks we will cover a ton of practical tips to improve both your content (writing or adapting curriculum) and your presentation (delivering that content in a way that kids will love). With a little bit of intentionality, you will be serving up stories that your kids will find absolutely delicious.

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The Most Entertaining Version of You

Probably the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard someone give a storyteller is to just be yourself when you’re teaching. The thing that makes this advice so terrible is that’s it’s half right.

God made each of us with a unique personality. Your storytelling style is going to be different than mine. The way you deliver a lesson probably won’t look exactly like the teacher in the next room, and that’s a good thing. That part of the advice is accurate.  

However, I’ve seen lots of people get up to teach kids and just be themselves, and guess what? They were pretty boring. Most of us don’t naturally communicate in a way that is engaging to kids. So forget the advice to just be yourself. What you have to be is the most entertaining version of yourself.  

Be you, but be engaging. 

Don’t worry. Everyone has an entertaining version of themselves. Even you. The trick is you just have to tap into it.

We see this every day when someone starts talking about their passion. Their voice gets louder and they talk faster. Their face lights up and they become more animated. They gesture with enthusiasm. Their body language tells me this is the thing they’re more interested in than anything else on the planet. 

It doesn’t matter how laid back or quiet a person is, if you can get them talking about something they love, they immediately become more interesting. 

So how about you? What do you get super excited about when it comes up in conversation? Your family? A sport’s team? A favorite movie?

Imagine yourself when you’re talking about that thing. How does your voice sound? How much are you gesturing? What kind of facial expressions are you using? That’s the version of you to bring to your teaching.

As Christian communicators, God’s Word should bring us to life.  When we step onto stage to tell a story or teach a lesson, kids should hear the passion in our voices, see our faces light up and read in our body language that the Bible is the most exciting thing ever.

That starts with us getting excited about the Bible ourselves. When we care about what we’re teaching, it bubbles over in the way we teach. Next, we have to learn to use our voice, our face and our body intentionally to make our stories fun and engaging.

Practice your next lesson in front of the mirror or if you’re really feeling brave, video yourself teaching. Do you look excited about the Bible? Is your enthusiasm contagious? If not, think about what needs to change. Something on the inside, like your passion for the sharing God’s word? Or something on the outside like your voice, facial expressions or body language, the way you’re sharing the word?

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What’s Your Favorite Story?

What is your favorite story?  

Is it a book, a movie, a TV show, maybe something you binge watch on Netflix? Maybe it’s a Broadway musical or even a story told through a video game or a comic book.

Whatever the medium, what is a story you love?

I asked that question to a group of ministry leaders at a storytelling workshop I led last month and heard everything from Lord of the Rings to Nacho Libre. Some people mentioned beloved picture books from their childhood while others chose epic Hollywood blockbusters.

The stories the audience listed were very different from each other in many ways – different genres, different mediums – but there is one thing they all had in common – the same thing they have in common with your favorite story too.

Something about these stories engaged us.  They grabbed our attention and held it. They captivated us and swept us into another world.  In fact, they was so entertaining and memorable that we would even say they are our favorites.  

Pretty powerful stuff.  

And yet, as powerful as those stories may be, we know there is an even greater story, in fact, the greatest of all time.  It’s God’s story, and not only is it mind-blowing and amazing, but it actually happened.  

These incredible adventures of God are actually true and, get this, they’re still going on today. The story is still unfolding. 

And the best of all? We are invited to be a part of it. This story – we can actually step into it and get swept up into an adventure with God that leaves us and the world around us changed forever.  

With that in mind, when it comes time step up in front of a group of kids and teach the Bible, we have to bring our best.  This isn’t just any old story we’re talking about here.  It’s God’s story and it is spiritual dynamite so we have to give our best to bring this story to life in a way that kids will never forget.  

Remember what we said about great stories?  We said great stories are engaging and captivating.  They sweep us off your feet into another world. They are fun and entertaining and they grab out attention and they don’t let go.  

But sometimes that’s not how we tell God’s story is it?  Sometimes we make it sound dull and lifeless and boring. Like it’s just a bunch of dusty old facts to be memorized.  All history and no mystery.  

But this is the Bible we’re talking about here! It’s the greatest story of all time and it demands the greatest storytelling to do it justice.  

That’s what this blog is all about, helping you hone your creative storytelling skills so that you can give God and the kids your very best.

Over the coming months we’re going to talk about how to engage kids, how to grab their attention from the beginning, how to sweep them off their feet and take them into the world of the Bible and introduce them to the greatest character of all time, the God who loves them and died for them and wants them to know Him more than anything in the world.  

In fact Jesus said knowing God is what his story is all about.  In John 17:3 Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (NIV).

Then, in John 5:39 Jesus said to the religious leaders, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” 

Together we’re going to talk about how to tell amazing Bible stories that point kids to Jesus, and leave them wanting more.  And when someone asks them the question, “What’s your favorite story?” they may just name the one you told Sunday morning.

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