Using Storytelling to Make Faith Sticky
by Amy Diller

I think I was in second grade when my parents began attending a weekly Bible study at our neighbors’ house. There were a number of other families with children in addition to ours, so one of the moms created lessons to do with us kids. I remember singing songs and playing games with my friends, but the most vivid memories I have are the Bible stories Mrs. Milham shared. She used flannelgraphs, puppets, props, costumes, and voices. My favorite was when she’d leave the room as herself and come back in as a Bible character to act out the story. The storytelling tools and techniques she used were so effective that decades later, when I revisit those same passages of scripture, I’m a little girl all over again, listening to Mrs. Milham share God’s word through story.


Jesus’ teachings were often in the form of stories. The parables recorded in the Bible incorporated familiar ideas and situations to help share important truths with His audience. Parables invited listeners to think carefully and to search for new, unknown concepts within the context of the known. In this way, those who heard Him were drawn in as active participants in the story.


Stories have been passed down from one generation to the next throughout all of history with the purpose of teaching intentional and important lessons. We see this numerous times in the Bible when God instructs His people to remember, to tell, to celebrate, and to share from generation to generation. And those are His instructions to us today.


As children’s pastors and directors, we want what we share to have a lasting impact on the spiritual lives of the children we lead. We all desire to help provide a solid foundation for kids’ faith journey by making biblical truths “sticky”. One of the ways to do this effectively is by incorporating tools used by great storytellers. 


Know the Material Inside and Out

You play an important role in children’s early spiritual formation. Set aside adequate time during the week to thoroughly study the scripture you’ll be teaching. Use Bible study tools, including cultural context and meanings of key words and phrases in their original language. 


Keep the End in Mind

Determine the take-away first. What is the one truth you want kids to walk away with? Use that to introduce the lesson (Today we’re going to learn about…), as an anchor point during the lesson (Remember what I told you at the beginning? What are we going to learn?), and to sum the story up (This is how God…).


Use Familiar Examples

As you’re preparing, think about experiences common to the daily life of your students – school, friendships, hobbies, TV shows, and games. Look for ways you can make connections between things they know and things you’re teaching. Every child has experienced a wide array of emotions, and tapping into the feelings characters in the story might have will help kids relate in a personal way.   

Take Brain Breaks

The general rule of thumb is that kids can sustain an attention span for a length of time that’s roughly double their age. Taking regular brain breaks can help maintain focus during a lesson. Build in pause points so kids can stand up and get the wiggles out. Mental breaks are good, too. Ask a question and give kids time to tell a person sitting near them their answer. Give them motions to do to emphasize different parts of the story. Brain breaks allow kids to maintain focus when they return to the lesson. 

Use Theatrical Tools

Wear costumes, use props, and act parts of the story out. Use your entire “stage” by walking around and among the kids as you present the lesson. Get down on their level and make eye contact. Create different voices for each character in the story. A word of reassurance and advice – You are not expected to put on a professional performance, nor should you. Engaging kids in God’s word is your goal, not entertainment, just for entertainment’s sake. Using these kinds of techniques once in a while can help you draw children into the story. 


Make Space for Detours

Inevitably, kids will blurt out questions or comments. You can figure out pretty quickly if what they have to say is unrelated and can push the pause button by saying they can tell you later after the lesson. However, there are God moments we definitely don’t want to miss. Kids have unique insights and important questions that can add far more to a lesson than any of our planning. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting in their hearts. These teachable moments are worth changing directions for. You can pick up where you left off next week so everyone can glean from what God has to say through the children.


Story is powerful. Intentional narrative can help kids make connections between things that are familiar and accessible to them and the deep truths the Lord wants them to internalize starting at a young age. I’ve seen it play out in my own life as I remember teachers like Mrs. Milham, who brought God’s word to life through storytelling. I’ve watched it make an impact on the lives of the kids I’ve taught.


I pray the Lord gives you a great deal of wisdom, insight, and creativity as you practice making faith sticky for the children you serve.