Small children love to read the same book over and over again. I was like that. Mine was a book called “Little Witch” by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. It is a classic tale of a little witch who dreams of being a normal kid. I must have checked it out of the school library every week one year.
But have you ever wondered why kids get stuck on the same book? After interviewing lots of kids, I have whittled it down to three words: Repetition, Relevancy, and Relationship.
- Kids love reading the same story because it is repetitive. In fact, they can almost repeat the story word for word.
- There is something about the story that is relevant – meaning there is something about the book that connects to their daily life.
- Reading stories is often done in relationship with parents, grandparents, caregivers, or siblings.
These three words are how I teach others on how to tell the biblical story in worship. I mean, we want our congregants to be able to remember Bibles stories (repetition), to be able to connect the Bible story to daily life (relevancy), and hear the biblical story in community (relationship). Right? Here is what I do:
Before I tell a story, I prep for the story:
- Listen to the story. Use the King James version as it tends to the orality of the text.
- Read the story. Pay attention to the verbs, nouns, and adjectives. (Check out Anna Carter Florence’s new book “Rehearsing Scripture” for more ideas.)
- Ask yourself questions like “What God is doing in the story?” “What the people are doing?” “What is missing from the text?” “Where are the gaps?” “What do we not understand in the story?” “What is the anomaly in the story?”
- Rehearse the story. Practice reading it aloud with different voices. Notice what your hands do when you retell it. Set the scene and stay within the context.
In retelling the story for worship:
Use Repetition: What is it that you want people to remember about the story? Memorize a Bible verse, one word about Jesus, name something about God? Whatever you want people to be able to recall from the story, people need to repeat it at least 5 times. Connect your repetition to the sermon to help things stick even more. When you do a storytelling of the biblical text (instead of some abstract children’s message), read the biblical story, and then hear it preached, people start to remember the story. Repetition works.
Be Relevant: People want an emotional connection to the Bible story. Build anticipation and likable characters. Employ the Story Commandment of “Make Me Care.” People know what it means not to care; the role of relevancy is to see the “why” people should care about a particular Bible story.
Always in Relationship: Bible stories are meant to be heard in community. Churches are also uniquely gifted with several generations sitting in the same pew. Engage each other in conversation, through the senses, and repetitive actions.
Where to start? I have learned that well-told stories are like well-told jokes. It’s about knowing your punchline, where you want people to end up, and with what message. It takes practice but I started storytelling Bible stories with preschoolers. If you can learn to capture the attention of 4 year olds for 3 minutes, just think what you can do with other generations?
For the love of God’s story – try it. You may love storytelling, too.