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Five Storytelling Techniques for Youth Ministry
By: K. Sean Buvala

I know you might be surprised to think about storytelling techniques when communicating with teens. After all, isn’t storytelling for children? You can probably think of many children’s bible stories, but might be challenged to think about bible stories for teens.

I’ve been using storytelling for teens since I was called to youth ministry back in 1985. Faced with a group of really unruly kids, I learned quickly the power of using storytelling to ignite the imaginations of adolescents. As a ministry tool, I have learned that I don’t need to have piles of tools and gimmicks. I just need the two tools most often chosen by the Master that I follow: storytelling and pizza. Okay, maybe he didn’t choose pizza, but he sure spent a lot of time eating with disciples and friends.

Here are 5 getting-started tips for being a sacred storyteller with teenagers.

1. Don’t announce your intentions. A sure way to get anyone over the age of 10 to close their minds is to announce that "it is story time." Just begin your stories. Avoid saying "once upon a time." In monologues, don’t have your characters introduce themselves. Let the story identify the character. We tend in ministry to follow the homiletic rule of "first, tell them what you are going to tell them" rule. Stop following this rule that might have been great for a 1950’s congregation. It is a poor preaching technique and it is a killer for your storytelling with teens.

2. Practice your storytelling. Tell your stories to yourself. Watch videos of your telling. You can not rehearse storytelling by just reading the story over and over again. The stories of the bible require your attention and your dedication in order to be a good biblical storyteller. After years of coordinating drama in church, I could tell you the disasters I have seen when folks think that "God will make us good" is enough. Teens are sophisticated consumers of presentations. Although you might believe that your message transcends "consuming," or even find that idea offensive, your listening audience will have a hard time changing their hearing habits.

3. Start simple. As you begin, work on telling the simple parables or short stories of the bible or your sacred texts. Don’t take on an entire book or chapter, just work with short stories. You want your youth ministry programs to be memorable for their impact. Be brief to start. The old vaudeville truism of "leave ’em wanting more" applies here.

4. Use your natural voice. Your natural voice is your gift. The "story lady" voice will close the ears of your teens. And, gentlemen, our sisters in ministry are not the only ones who use the "story lady" voice. That sing-song, guess-what-comes-next affectation has no place in telling for teens.

5. Re-image bible stories. In many of our congregations, large numbers of teens have heard the same stories, told the same way, for more than a dozen years. Think about ways to refresh and rephrase the stories. Remove the shellac that keeps the bible-story people stiff, predictable and uninteresting. For teens, bible stories are not dead and do not need to be brought to life, but in most churches, they sure could use some new breath.

I’ve learned that storytelling is a sure method of preaching and teaching to impact young people with The Message. Use these five tips to get started in effectively reaching teens in your youth ministry.

Sean Buvala is a veteran of decades of youth ministry from within a Christian faith system. He is an in-demand teacher and leader for retreats, workshops, worship and other events for sacred storytelling. When he’s not working in that arena, he teaches and trains storytelling techniques to corporate and private coaching clients. Follow him at Twitter @storyteller

Author Information:
Name: K. Sean Buvala
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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