He used stories from people’s everyday experiences.
He used visual illustrations from the scenery around him.
His stories were short and memorable.
They pointed to God’s love and grace for people.
He let people think about the meaning for themselves.
People could listen to Jesus’ stories all day long.
Why do we have children’s stories in Church?
Children’s stories are the sermon for the children.
It needs to tell them about God’s love for them and to encourage them to want to have a relationship with Him, following Him because they are drawn by His love – this is what will build their faith and help to protect them from rebelling against God later.
It needs to teach about God’s grace – not His punishment. Children have usually already learned the lesson of ‘Be sure your sins will find you out’ from their own life experience!
The story is not about scaring children into good behaviour because this doesn’t encourage children to follow God because they love Him. Remember that ‘there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ 1 John 4:18 NIV. The story needs to make sense for the children – to connect with their experience of life and the world around them.
Remember that the story is for the children, and it’s to meet their needs – it’s not there to entertain the adults.
Think about the children
What are the usual ages of the children who come forward for the children’s story?
Where do they sit during the story? Are they comfortable, can they see you easily?
What is their world like – what are the things they enjoy and are interested in?
How long can they concentrate? Probably 5-7 minutes is enough.
Think about the story
Does the story tell of the love of God and His grace?
Does it teach a positive choice in a positive way?
Often the greatest resources are your own personal experiences.
Keep your ears and eyes open for stories everywhere, and keep a notebook of your ideas.
Tell Bible stories from different perspectives – the animals, different people, the children etc.
Does it have to be a story?
Think about the power of useful object lessons, experiments, even ‘tricks’ with paper, or bringing in caged pets, etc. Sometimes there are useful stories in the strangest places!
Think about yourself
Smile! Look warm and approachable. Use vocabulary the children will understand, and use a microphone so that everyone can hear.
Speak with a clear voice.
If you can – wear something bright and cheerful, or dress in costume.
Be where the children can see you comfortably without craning their necks. Come down to their level. It’s better not to be seen by the adults than for the children to feel uncomfortable looking up at you.
Practice the story before hand and learn it well so you can tell it creatively and with feeling.
Bob Hartman is one of the world’s best Christian story-tellers. Search for his books, and watch him tell stories on YouTube to get ideas and to learn from him.
Pastor Dwight Nelson’s children’s stories are available to listen to on his church’s website. You can also subscribe to his children’s story podcasts: www.pmchurch.org/article/490/family/mp3-children-s-stories
Search the BBC website for unusual stories or key words to find true stories from their vast archives. Or www.bbc.co.uk/oddnews
Read the small and interesting stories in newspapers. Listen to people’s personal stories. Ask your church members for the inspiring stories of their lives when you visit them, and, if they agree and are willing, interview them or retell their story as a children’s story.
Do an experiment that illustrates your message. Search the Internet for simple experiments you can do with children – there are lots of these. Google something like ‘fun science for children’ and you will find lots of useful websites. Or ask a science teacher in your church to help you.
Search your local library for simple picture books that have a good message that you can apply to your sermon.
Adapt one of your sermon illustrations to become a children’s story - you could even tell the story in the middle of your sermon so that the children realise the sermon has stories for them too.
Stories come to life when you tell the story as if you were a character in the story rather than telling the story from an outsider perspective.
Invite members of your congregation to tell children’s stories – create a rota of good storytellers and liaise with them about your themes.
Visit www.lightlive.com and search ‘lightlive activities’ to find story scripts related to Bible stories – some of them even come with visuals, sound effects and crafts, etc. This is an excellent website to help you plan services that involve your whole congregation in worshipping God and learning about Him.
Be active, take the children on a walk around the church looking for the lost sheep and have a ‘party’ at the end. Invite some children to be Israelites and some to be the walls of Jericho and have the ‘wall’ fall down at the appropriate time. It can help children to be less fidgety in the rest of the service if they can move their bodies during the children’s story.
Visit the sites of excellent Adventist children’s magazines, such as www.primarytreasure.com (for under tens) and www.guidemagazine.org (for pre-teens). Both of these sites have lots of true stories written by Adventist writers.
Gather together your own family faith stories and make a list of them – these can be very inspiring.
Look for the old ‘Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories’ books or purchase the new range of Miss Brenda’s Bedtime Stories from 3ABN, which have been written by Adventist authors.
SDA Adult and child devotional books are full of interesting and inspiring stories that can be adapted to meet the needs
Or use a creative worship, memory verse or prayer activity instead of a story. There are lots of ideas that can be adapted to use in the children’s story time - you don’t always have to tell a story to inspire the children and help them learn about God’s love.
‘100 Creative Prayer Ideas for Kids and grown-ups too!’ Karen Holford, 2003, Pacific Press
‘100 Quick and Easy Worship Activities for Kids’ Karen Holford, Pacific Press, 2004.
‘100 Creative Ways to Learn Memory Verses,’ Karen Holford, Review and Herald, 2009.