The Story

A survey finds that while two in three Americans say they want more Christ in Christmas, most cannot give all the details of Jesus’s birth story.

The Background

According to Lifeway Research, slightly more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they could accurately tell the Bible’s Christmas story from memory. A plurality of U.S. adults (31 percent) say they could tell the story but may miss some details or get others wrong. Another quarter (25 percent) could only give a quick overview and 17 percent say they couldn’t tell any of it.

“While fictional Christmas stories seem to multiply each year, the biblical account of Jesus Christ’s birth is unchanged since it was recorded in the Bible,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Yet almost half of Americans do not think they could share the Christmas story somewhat accurately from memory. Of all the Christmas programs churches offer in December, possibly the most important is simply reading the biblical account of the Christmas story itself.”

What to Do

The reason many of us do not know the details of the nativity story is that we were never taught how to tell it—or any Bible story. A helpful way to learn the story better is by teaching it to the children in your life.

Storytelling is a useful method for anyone who wants to engage and communicate God’s Word. But it can be an especially powerful tool for children and teens who are learning how to share their faith with their peers. The story of Jesus’s birth is an ideal place to start, since it is likely to have a special resonance with children. The more invested they are in the story, the easier it will be for them to learn to tell the story on their own.

Here are a few tips to help them get started with the practice of telling the story of Jesus’s birth.

Learning the Story

Choose the appropriate version of the story—For younger children, the narrative of Jesus’s birth found in ​​Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 2:1–21 will likely be sufficient. Older children may want to include more of the prologue, such as Luke 1:26–45.

Read the story aloud—Have children read the story aloud, or read it to them, from three to 10 times. Then test them by having them recite as much of it as they can from memory. At this stage, the focus should be on getting the order and structure of the story in place.

Recite and review—Once they have the story and details in place, have them recite it and review their progress. Make note of what the children missed in their retelling. Did they leave out essential points or significant details? Here are the main points they should include:

  • The census that brings Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.
  • When they arrive in Bethlehem, there was no room available for them.
  • Mary gives birth to Jesus, wraps him in cloths, and places him in a manger.
  • Some shepherds were living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
  • An angel appeared to the shepherds, and they were terrified.
  • The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
  • Suddenly a great company of the angels appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
  • When the angels went back to heaven, the shepherds decided to go find baby Jesus.
  • The shepherds find baby Jesus lying in a manger. They tell everyone about what the angels had told them about Jesus, and they go back to their flocks praising God for all they had seen and heard.
  • On the eighth day, he was given the name Jesus.

Encourage children by reminding them that forgetting to include parts of the story is to be expected the first few times they tell the story.

Practice, practice, practice—Have children spread their practice over several days so that they don’t become overwhelmed. But remind them that it will take effort. The best storytellers hone their craft through practice.

Record and analyze—Once they are able to recite the story from memory, make an audio recording and carefully scrutinize the content with them. Did they leave out any details? Are they clearly communicating the main point of the story (that God has come to be with humanity)?

Practice, practice, practice (again)—Spend sufficient time practicing the story. Once they’ve sufficiently memorized the story, have them work on the delivery, focusing on the variation in tone and inflection.

Telling the Story

Start with a pre-story prayer—Whether aloud with their audience or silently to themselves, have them say a prayer that the Holy Spirit will help them tell it accurately and compellingly and that hearers’ hearts will be opened.

Set the opening context—Having a standard opening line will help both your children and their audience know they are moving into the story. For example, they could use an opening such as  “Now here is a story from God’s Word about the birth of Jesus.”

Recreate the story—When telling the story to an audience, they may grow nervous and forget to include the details that set the scene. Prod them to use vivid imagery. Show them how to include emotion and variation in their voice and gestures for emphasis.

Pace the story—Dialogue slows a story while action speeds it up. Have them use pauses to underline main points. Show them how to maintain variety in pacing.

Have a clear ending—Help them choose an ending line that bookends their opening. For instance, they can conclude by saying, “And that is the end of the story from God’s Word about the birth of Jesus.” Having a clear opening and ending can help provide a framing device and can prevent children from feeling awkward about not knowing how to end the story.

Interpret and follow up—After the story, encourage them to interpret and explain the lesson of the story. Have them ask questions of the audience to verify that the listeners understand it and know how to apply it to their lives. Respond according to listeners’ responses by confirming correct answers, removing doubts, and clearing up misunderstandings.

By using this process, children can learn a non-threatening way to talk about their faith and share it with others. Biblical storytelling not only teaches them valuable communication skills, but can help children prepare for other helpful spiritual disciplines, such as Bible memorization, meditating on God’s Word, and sharing the gospel.